Setup Ideas for a Wedding Reception

Time of day, wedding theme will determine party planning

By Danita Fausek

Evening Wedding Reception Venue
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Setting up your wedding reception has as much to do with the venue itself as it does with the number of guests and the entertainment you are planning. Be sure you allow enough space for everything you have planned. This will require a coordinated effort between you and the banquet or facilities manager.

Planning Your Wedding Reception

Step 1:

Map Out Your Space Needs: A full reception usually includes dinner, the cake cutting and dancing. If you are planning a buffet-style setup, you will need to make sure there is enough room for the food line and the tables. There needs to be enough space for your guests to comfortably sit at the tables, move around to visit and mingle, and participate in the after-dinner dancing. With your estimated number of guests in hand, make an appointment with the venue coordinator, banquet manager or facilities manager. He or she should be able to give you a diagram of the space you are renting and the maximum number of tables and people that will fit. You will need room for the following:Head table for the bride, groom and wedding party-- Table for the wedding cake (in a prominent location, but not close to the dance floor)-- Dance floor-- Buffet table (if having one) and bar locations-- Stage for band, disc jockey or other entertainment-- One table for every 6-10 guests

Step 2:

Cocktail Reception: Whether your wedding cocktail reception is a prelude to a seated dinner or it's the main event, you must consider the size and shape of the cocktail reception room. You will need to plan for the bar area, cocktail tables for guests to rest their glasses, seating or lounging areas, and room for catering staff to roam and serve appetizers. A cocktail reception is designed to keep people moving and mingling, so make sure your floor design isn't cluttered and has plenty of free space.

Step 3:

Buffet Dinner and Dancing: A food buffet can be set to the side of the room or on a balcony, depending upon the design of the venue. Be sure to number the tables for your guests. If you are using escort cards, they should be set on a table outside the room and should contain the name of the guest and the number of the table they are assigned to. The wedding cake table should be in a prime location where guests can ogle over it, but it should not be in a heavily-trafficked location where guests can bump into it (like near the dance floor).

Step 4:

Full-Service Dinner and Dancing: This type of reception is set up much the same as the buffet reception. However, with a full-service dinner reception, more guest tables can be added or they can be spread out to allow more room in-between. You will need to allot space for all of the elements in the Buffet Dinner section above, except the buffet line. Keep in mind that the banquet or facilities manager will have the most knowledge about how many people they can seat in an area. Work with your venue to decide the best layout for your reception.

Step 5:

Outdoor Party: A spring, summer or fall wedding (or winter in the right locale) might afford you the option of an outdoor reception. If you proceed with an outdoor plan, make sure that you have a backup location firmly in place and keep your eyes glued to weather reports in the days leading up to the event. While outdoor receptions often offer more space for your party to spread out, it's still important to design a layout that encourages mingling and dancing. Of course, an outdoor celebration presents new challenges, namely electricity and lighting. Assuming all goes right with the weather, you still need to make sure that sunlight is not directly in your guests' (and photographer's) eyes. For an outdoor setup, it's a great idea to provide the wedding coordinator, important vendors and venue managers with walkie-talkies so they can communicate while they are running from location to location.

  • Tips & Warnings
  • If you're having an outdoor reception, you can use canopies or umbrellas to help block the sun and keep your guests (and yourself) cool.
  • Whether indoors or outdoors, be sure there are enough electrical outlets and extension cords to reach your band or disc jockey. Your photographers and videographers may need to recharge batteries for their equipment too.
  • You want to make sure the table where the wedding cake sits is well-lit, but also be sure that the light shining on it is not too hot, otherwise the frosting and cake will lose its shape and texture.

About the Author

For more than 15 years, Danita Fausek ran her own business doing weddings and event planning.

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Wedding Glossary


A folk dance, usually performed at Jewish weddings, where guests hold hands and dance in a circle together. The wedding couple is sometimes raised by friends and family on chairs.

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