David Stark's Guide to Choosing the Right Reception Tables
Curious about stepping outside of the classic round table at your reception? Here are some things to consider, from New York-based event producer, designer, author, and Martha Stewart Weddings contributor David Stark.
The shape and size of a table can determine everything from the scale of your centerpieces to how your guests socialize. Being open to possibilities and understanding the different types of seating arrangements will give you the tools to craft the perfect floor plan for your needs, be it casual or elegant or both. As a rule of thumb, you can fit 10 people at a classic 60-inch round table, which is the most common, most efficient, and often most cost-effective table choice. However, there is a case for considering diverse shapes.
Things to Consider
Different shaped tables-square, rounds, and rectangles-can be appealing aesthetically because they provide opportunities for visual interest in the room. Rectangles allow your guests to talk to people next to and across from them, whereas rounds and squares limit your guests to speaking only with the person to their left or right.
Both 36 inches and 42 inches are good widths for rectangular tables; anything wider is too much distance for your guests to interact easily and anything narrower will make it difficult to accommodate a centerpiece along with the necessary tableware. Rectangles can be linked together to create a long dramatic table, but be sure to talk to your caterer about how service will flow in the room, as this can sometimes make it harder for staff to pass through easily. Squares provide more real estate for centerpieces and table décor (which we love), and they are ideal if you have ample room. If you are tight on space, skip the squares and use rounds.
When designing a centerpiece, make sure it fits with the shape and size of your table in combination with the dinnerware. A centerpiece for a round table can be in a large urn, for example, but that same urn would not work on a long, narrow, rectangular table. We find that a mix of table shapes provides a great opportunity for visual variety. You might choose a large floral mound for rounds and a lovely still life for a rectangle.
Pro tip: If you are seating people at the ends of a long table, don't forget to leave ample room on the sides of the table to accommodate an entire place setting for those end people. You should account for an average of two feet of space per person at a long table so your guests can easily get in and out of their seats. Don't trap Aunt Sally in! Open space between tables for wait staff to move around is equally as important. We've found the ideal space between tables is five feet or two feet from chair back to chair back.
For those looking for a less traditional arrangement, lounge furniture is a great option because it allows guests to move around the party freely, and no one feels the pressure of an assigned seat. It's important to select a menu that will be easy for your guests to tackle seated on a couch or perching at a high-top table. Make sure that you have enough seating for at least half of your guest count, keeping in mind that Grandma may not do so well on an ottoman all night-have an alternative ready for your older guests.
How will you design your floor plan? We'd love to hear!