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Building Your Reception Table and Place Settings Thursday, November 10, 2011 ~ 11:40 a.m.

You may or may not remember that I did a blog post a few months ago all about the event walk-through and rentals. The questions you should be asking your vendors, deciphering the different lighting options that are usually available to you and extras that you may want to integrate into your wedding decor. I like to think of today's post as the "Part II" to that post, where I break down all of the elements and rentals that you may require for your reception tables, specifically. This often includes the glassware, plates, utensils, linens and chairs. This is obviously a huge undertaking, so I'll just get right to it!

Rustic place setting with striped napkins


If you're starting with a pretty blank palette, a sure-fire way to add color and interest to your reception venue is by adding linens. Table cloths, chair covers and even napkins can make a large impact on the reception space. Some important characteristics to consider when looking at linens are the colors, patterns, texture and the fabric's weight, and how they all play into your wedding theme and most importantly, the season or time of the year.

Tablecloths should be large enough to go all the way down to the floor so that the table legs won't be showing, and often have pickups, overlays, runners, ruching and swagging to add style and texture. Because the tablecloths can have such a large impact on the look of the reception, you'll definitely want to make sure that the fabric that you select will look good on not only one table, but on many, all in one room! The size of the room will also make a difference. A smaller reception venue may not be the best p to use all black and white damask linens! Generally, I think that if you're looking for a tablecloth with a bold pattern, go with one in a lighter color. The only exception being stripes, which can look great in a variety of colors, from dark navy blue to pale green. For stripes, you should pay close attention to the width and frequency of the stripes...obviously, a thinner stripe is going to be less dramatic than a thicker one! If you're planning on a fall or winter wedding, a solid tablecloth in a bolder color, such as plum, chocolate brown or even black, can be really impactful. Remember that if you fall in love with a particularly bold fabric, but you're worried the pattern will be too much to use on all of the tables, you can opt to use it on one of the extemperaneous tables, such as the cake or guest book table, or you could also choose to use it on the "Sweetheart" or bridal party's table. I've also seen several wedding receptions decorated using a few different coordinating tablecloths, in both solids and prints, which are divided amongst the tables in sections.

Tablecloths Tablecloths
Pinterest | Photoshoots Vallarta via SMP | Wendy Laurel Photography via SMP | La Vida Creations via SMP | Aaron Snow Photograph via SMP | Shannon Lee Photography via SMP | Anne Marie Photography via SMP | Sarah Rhoads Photographers via SMP

A lot of tables are going "bare" too, as brides and stylists start to lose the tablecloth and runners all together!

Reception tables
Jagger Photography via SMP | Yvette Roman Photography via SMP

Table Runners & Overlays
If you're a little shy and worried that using a printed or colored tablecloth will be a bit too much, a runner or a table overlay is a great alternative. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a table runner is an extra strip of fabric that is thinner than the tablecloth beneath it, and typically lies down the center of a table, lengthwise. While I was hunting for photos, I noticed that there also seems to be an emerging trend in using table runners only and forgoing the tablecloth all together. I only recommend trying this look if your reception tables are particularly interesting underneath though - a pretty wood or maybe a more modern glass tabletop.

Table runners on wooden table
Anna Kuperberg via SMP | Abby Ross via SMP | Onelove Photography via Style Unveiled | Pinterest

On rectangular, banquet style tables, I've also seen a move toward using more, shorter cut runners, which are then spaced out and arranged across the width of the table. Essentially, each pair of guests sitting across from one other at the table are sharing one table runner, if that makes sense.

Table runners trend
Tumblr | Pinterest

If you're looking for inspiration here, I actually pulled together a bunch of table runner ideas several months ago. There are literally so many fabrics and ways to go about creating table runners, using anything from a long slab of aged wood, to lace, to burlap, to kraft paper and ribbons! So fun. I kept the ones below pretty simple though :)

Table runners

| Jen Huang Photography via SMP | & unlimited via Elizabeth Anne Designs | Acres of Hope via SMP | Jessica Claire Photography

Unlike a runner, an overlay can come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and can be arranged on the table on top of the tablecloth, to add a splash of color to the center of the table underneath your centerpieces, for instance.

Burlap table overlay


If you really want to make a statement, opt for a nontraditional style of chairs for your reception! The clear lucite chairs are really popular right now for a super modern look, vintage weddings seem to be all about the mixing of different chair styles, and you can jazz up the more traditional Chiavari chair by changing up the fabric on the seats or by painting them a bold color like the ones shown below.

Shandro Photo via SMP | Jessica Claire Photography | Gabriel Ryan Photographers via Design*Sponge | Brea McDonald via SMP | Picotte Weddings, Inc. via SMP | Avangard Photography via SMP

Place Settings

Obviously, renting things like plates and wine glasses is more of an added luxury and is in no way required. Most caterers will provide dishware along with the food they're serving. It's definitely easier than having to worry about what utensils you need for each meal course. However, glassware can make a great impact on the overall look of your table! Check out this reception table, which is completely white with the exception of the pretty green water glasses at each place setting. Pretty simple, but really adds so much to the overall look.

Modern white reception table decor

Assembly & Proper Placement
Before you decide on what glassware, china and utensils you'll require for your reception, you'll want to make sure that you have finalized your menu. The assembled place setting below is a bit larger than the typical place setting, so keep in mind that you'll only want to include dishes and utensils that you'll actually be using during your meal. If you're not serving seafood, then you obviously don't need a fish knife or an oyster fork. If you're not serving champagne, then don't put flutes on the table! Also keep in mind that if you're serving food buffet or family-style, it can be a good idea to use the heftier charger plates and even stemless wine glasses, which tend to go along with a more casual dinner setting. Before you get too carried away with colored plates and printed napkins, it's a really good idea to make sure that your table linens and centerpieces are selected and (pretty much) finalized. You want your plates, utensils and glassware to compliment all of the other elements on the table, not overpower them.

Place setting

a. Charger plate
b. Butter plate
c. Dinner fork
d. Fish fork (optional)
e. Salad fork
f. Dinner knife
g. Fish knife (optional)
i. Soup spoon (optional)
j. Oyster fork (optional)
k. Butter knife
la. Water goblet, lb. Champagne flute, lc. Red wine glass, ld. White wine glass and le. Sherry glass
m. Napkin

It's kind of crazy how impactful the dinner napkins can be! It's not only the color or pattern, but the arrangement of the napkins that can make a bold statement at your reception. I usually prefer the simply folded napkin (which I later learned is called an "At Your Service" fold), that's simply set on top of the dinner plate with the menu; however, there are a million and one ways to present the napkins, really! I found a great collection of napkin folding tutorials over at Delish, in case you're interested in trying some out for yourself!

Dinner napkins
Anna Kuperberg via SMP | Sam Gibson Wedding Photography via The Boho Bride | Photography by Bethani Lynne Photography & Pam Scott via The Collection Event Studio

There's also a great, modern trend toward folding the napkins once in half, placing them beneath the dinner plates and allowing the napkin to hang off the edge of the table. It seems to really add a little something to the rest of the linens used on the table. I've also included a couple of the more common ways to present the dinner napkin as part of the place setting, one using the At Your Service Fold and the other standing Taper Roll. Also, when it comes time to clean up, make sure that the cleaning staff knows to collect all of the dinner napkins and count them at the end of the evening...they are often overlooked!

Dinner napkins
Stephanie Haller Photography via SMP | f8 Photo Studios via SMP | Ever Whim Photographs via Grey Likes | Mary Swenson via Project Wedding | 13:13 Photography via SMP | Joielala Photographie via Grey Likes |

Of course, your safest bet here is to go with the standard white or bone china plate. However, you can also choose to dress it up a bit by adding a metallic banding around the china and glassware. Gold is going to compliment the warmer colors like burnt orange and browns, while silver is better for cooler tones of blue and white. To lower the cost a bit, you can also choose to rent just one special plate orglass, like a striking charger or a brightly colored water glass.

Dinner plates
Elizabeth Messina via Mindy Weiss Blog | 1. art beauty life via Design*Sponge | Coral pink plates | Rachel Moore Photography via Love & Lavender | Floataway Studios via SMP

Make sure that you keep in mind that your glassware is going to be used not only at the reception, but at the cocktail hour, as well. It's important to keep in mind what beverages you'll be serving, of course. You can't put a margarita in a champagne flute, after all! Don't forget that many after-dinner drinks or "late night snacks" will require special glassware like mugs and cordial glasses. If you're having young children at your wedding reception, you might want to offer a limited amount of more durable plastic or paper cup options for them. Choose sturdier glassware if your serving your meal family-style, or if you know that your guests will be moving around a bit more at your buffet style reception.

Glassware is a great way to add height to your table, as well, so make the most of it and aim to collect a variety of heights for your water, wine and champagne glasses. They don't have to be matching, either! A very big trend in vintage style weddings, in particular, is collecting wine glasses of all shapes, sizes and colors for the reception. It'll help your guests distinguish which glass is theirs, too! I'm also a huge fan of the stemless wine glasses :)

Allan Zepeda via SMP | Jen Huang Photography via SMP | Souder Photography via SMP | Maria DeForrest Photography via SMP | W.Scott Chester via 100 Layer Cake

Insert Comment | View Comments (9)




Colleen {Soundtrack To I Do} (Salinas, CA)

Nov 10, 2011 4:45 PM

So many beautiful photos and amazing ideas and information!! Great post.

Jenna @ Heartcarry Press (Annapolis, MD)

Nov 10, 2011 9:53 PM

Definitely a must read- so many gorgeous ways to bring personality + color to your tables! I love that you do these detailed guides, it makes these details less overwhelming! And the inspiration eye candy definitely helps :)

Shaun (UK)

Nov 11, 2011 2:06 AM

So many beautiful photos and so inspiring. Love the details and the photographs. Amazing!!

The Perfect Palette (ga)

Nov 11, 2011 6:34 AM

Oh my goodness... what a round up. I'm loving these creative linens. The stripes are AWESOME. There really is so much you can do to dress up a table...

Cris of Kiss My Tulle (my desk)

Nov 11, 2011 8:37 AM

What an incredible amount of infortaion! THANK YOU!

Jessica@TWB (Philadelphia)

Nov 11, 2011 10:47 AM

Pretty inspiration photos and a great rundown to start building your tables from the ground up. Just really great!

amanda @ baci (OH)

Nov 11, 2011 10:58 AM

Absolutely wonderful post with so many beautiful images!!!! Thanks for sharing :o)

Holly Cromer (Blacksburg, Virginia Photographer)

Nov 14, 2011 11:40 AM

So many lovely photos! My favorite idea is the map used as a table runner, just gorgeous!

Stephanie Haller (San Francisco)

Mar 21, 2012 3:32 PM

This is THE most comprehensive post I've ever seen about a reception table. So many great ideas. I hope to see more outdoor dining setups this year.

Thanks for featuring an image from Cydney & Bart's wedding! :)