Expert Advice: How to Design Your Wedding Reception Floor Plan and Layout

When you tour a wedding ceremony or reception space for the first time, the venue representative will explain how they typically layout the space and set up the sweetheart table, cake table, dance floor, etc. This is useful because it helps couples who may not be able to visualize things get a clear understanding of how the space can be used. It's the same reason that a staged or occupied home for sale tends to sell quicker than an empty house. Most people can't visualize anything, so don't worry; you're not alone!

While it is useful to understand how the venue uses its space regularly, I am not a fan of the word “usually” or “typically,” as I believe it causes limitations in your creative imagination. If you aren't interested in becoming just another wedding at that venue, then you need to look at the venue with fresh, new eyes. This is the exact reason why you should never shy away from a vendor that hasn't worked at a particular venue before, especially when it comes to planners, designers, florists, etc. Their lack of experience with your particular venue becomes a benefit for you, as they are going to view your wedding space with virgin eyes and not create the same wedding that was held there last weekend.

Once you make the final decision on your location and hire your foundation vendors (catering, photographer, DJ, etc), you want to tour the property again to start the design process. If possible, schedule a tour when the space is empty, as this can help you dream up your personalized layout. Since your original visit was probably months prior, you may not remember where everything was originally placed. If you are in a room that's already set, then your eyes will go straight to an item in a particular location, and it will be more challenging not to be swayed in that direction.

Tips for Creating a Personalized Reception Layout

Push yourself to think outside of the box when it comes to your wedding layout. Jump on Instagram, TikTok, Pinterest, etc. to see different ways that your space has been used. When you are taking the time to choose each item for your customized menu and are reviewing tons of flowers to create your perfect centerpiece, you should look at the layout of your wedding venue with the same detailed eye. It's easy to just do the status quo, it takes a creative person to truly be UNIQUE.

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Meet the Expert:
Staci Mandikas is a wedding and event planner and designer and the owner of UNIQUE Weddings & Events. Staci has an extensive background in interior design and is renowned for creative concepts, strong attention to detail, and creating unforgettable experiences.

Focus on the Views and Backdrop

If your venue has a wall of windows or an amazing backdrop, use this as the focus when compiling your setup. There's a reason why this venue made the final cut, and my guess is that the view or backdrop was a major factor, so focus on it! Use an architectural element within the space to frame off the sweetheart table or over the dance floor, making for an epic first dance photo. Also. think about how windows impact the look of your wedding as the evening progresses. For example, windows over the city skyline would be a gorgeous backdrop into the evening, but the wall of windows facing the gulf will be nothing but black when it gets dark.

Consider the Ceiling Height

Sometimes, it's not the room that dictates how a space needs to be set up, but rather the ceiling. If your venue has a huge chandelier in the middle of the room, I can give you one guess where your dance floor should probably go. Think about that first dance photo! Venues that have cathedral-height ceilings create more volume in the center of the space, which generally will lead to setting up a centrally-located dance floor (not required, but expected). Also, if there is an area of the venue that has a lower ceiling, this is an ideal location for dining tables, as the lower ceiling will create a more intimate feel.

Vary Your Table Sizes/Shapes

Be willing to explore other options besides a room of round tables. By introducing rectangular and/or square tables, you create an opportunity to have different centerpiece designs and to seat your guests in unique groupings. Also, by incorporating different sizes of tables, you may be better able to divide up your unique groupings of guests. For example, ten tables of 8 may be a challenge for your family, but two tables of 16, five tables of 10, and three tables of 8 may work out better for seating your guests.

Think About the Flow

Think about how you are going to serve your meal. If you are doing a buffet, you want to make sure you are allowing ample space in front of the buffet, as well as at the beginning and end of the buffet, for flow purposes. If you are doing a plated dinner, you need to have ample space between tables so the serving staff can easily move throughout the room. Also, when it comes to your bar, be sure to accommodate space in front of it for those “thirsty” guests.

Add Additional Gathering Areas

If you only have a room full of guest tables and a dance floor, your guests have limited locations to land, but by adding a few high cocktail tables near the dance floor or a comfy lounge area, your non-dancing guests have options to gather with other guests that weren't seated at their table.

Highlight the Focus Points

When compiling your layout, go back to your original wedding goals and priorities. If you’re adding a ceiling treatment over the dance floor, make sure that is the focal point by placing the dance floor in the center of the room. Did you splurge for a gorgeous specialty bar? Then make that sucker front and center! Ensure that your wedding layout is honoring your priorities.

Position the Sight Lines

Whether you do a head table, sweetheart table, etc., you want to make sure that the couple will be able to see all of their guests and all of their guests will be able to see them. Position yourself in different areas of the space to ensure that there isn't a column or wall in anyone's way. Also, you control your guests' eyes, so identify less-than-desirable areas within your venue: a kitchen door, service entrance, storage closet, etc., and use your setup to bring attention away from these things.

Plan for a Higher Guest Count

When compiling your preliminary layout, base the amount of seating needed on your “worst-case scenario” guest count. It's much easier to remove guest tables than to add them, so plan accordingly.

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Know Your Vendors' Needs

DJs and bands both need access to power, as do photobooths and live painters. Most bands also prefer risers, unless the ceiling is low, so check their contract to determine the amount of space that they need. You’ll want to keep the music close to the dance floor, especially when it comes to the band. Their energy and interaction are the reason why you hire a band, so take advantage of it!

Understand Your Venue's Perspective

Don't be afraid to ask your venue questions as to why they “usually” or “typically” set something up in a particular location, as there can sometimes be a very specific reason. For example, a hotel may only set up its dance floor in a certain location of the room because it will sit above the gym rather than a guest room. Or, the venue may require the bar to be in view of a camera for monitoring purposes. Be sure to include the venue as you evolve your personalized layout so there are no sudden changes needed close to the wedding day.  

Look at the Little Things

Be conscious of other elements within the room: the fire extinguisher, signage, light switches, etc. You don't want to set your cake right in front of a bank of light switches or your sweetheart table in front of a fire extinguisher, as these will end up in every one of your photos.

Accept The Outcome

Sometimes, even after considering different options, you determine that the “typical” layout becomes the perfect configuration for your wedding. And, that's totally ok too! But you’ll have the confidence in knowing that you took the time to consider what works best for you and your wedding and that you made the best decision to accommodate it. 

Staci Mandikas is a wedding and event planner, designer, and the owner of UNIQUE Weddings & Events. She has an extensive background in interior design and is renowned for creative concepts, strong attention to detail, and creating unforgettable experiences.

“We are the go-to wedding planner and designer for clients who truly want to do something different. All of our UNIQUE Wedding & Events clientele share a passion for ‘something different.' We utilize our extensive design background by taking our client’s vision to a new level and incorporating new ideas, color schemes, and innovative details. Each client’s event should showcase their voice, style, and personality and not be restricted by the standard event rules or traditions.

Whether it's a zombie flash mob, a floating cake topper, or an inverted centerpiece, we can make it happen! We are not your typical wedding planner, but rather, we are designers who plan events!

Staci Mandikas Headshot

Quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.