“Look, Ma! No Plates!”: Dressing Up the Tables

OK, hive, I need your advice! Apart from my post on choosing our caterer and our menu, I don’t think I’ve mentioned that our meal will be served buffet style. I know, I know-a “black-tie” wedding…buffet style? Well, yes, dagnabbit!

We chose to go this route for a few reasons. While the price was right, cost effectiveness was truly not the only reason—I liked the idea of our guests being able to try a bit of everything and loved the idea of not having to fuss with keeping track of who’s eating what.

My only concern was the dreaded buffet line, but once my lovely catering coordinator informed me that we’d be running two, separate, double-sided buffet lines, I was sold. Considering she has done several weddings at my site before, I was confident there would be none of this:


Image via DetroitNews/Photo by Clarence Tabb Jr.

So why do I need your help?

Well, in choosing to have a buffet this has left me PLATELESS! Ahhhhh. Well, we’ll have plates-pretty ones in fact, just not set out on the table. (I’m really still not clear why-I guess because it’s easier for everyone to grab their plates at the buffet station? Bride brain! Must…remember…to ask caterer.) For the sake of giving you a mental image, I should mention that, though there will be no plates, we will have our centerpieces, table numbers, silverware, and three different types of glass drinkware pre-set at the table.

Anyhow, this is where you come in. Which would be the best way to dress up the table to make up for the lack of plates? Here are a few of the options I am considering.

Option 1: Chargers


Image via TheKnot/Photo by Tamara Lackey Photography

I absolutely love the look of these chargers-they’re classy and elegant…and fit my vision perfectly. However, they are very costly. If we had room in the budget to add them on (which we really don’t), I’d feel much more responsible spending that money on food or videography. Sigh. So pretty.

Option 2: Napkin + Menu Card


Image via Choco Studio/Edited by me

This image was taken at our venue (and I think I’ve blogged it like a billion times already). I didn’t even notice that there weren’t any plates on the table the first 356 times I stared at this image, so I’m thinking that bodes well for this option, no? The only issue I have with choosing to go down this path is that I had originally planned to put only one menu on each table—if we go this route, I would need to print menus for everybody.

Option 3: Get creative. Doilies anybody?


Image via Geographics


Image via StyleMePretty/Photo By Heather Elizabeth Photography

I think the doilies are absolutely adorable, but I could only feasibly afford foil or paper doilies (like the ones above). Do you think they would look out of place in our big ol’ ballroom?

So what do you think, hive-is there an option you like best from above? Have any creative ideas I haven’t thought of?! How are you dressing up your tables?


Mrs. Seal

San Francisco
Wedding Date:
November 2011
A Sweet Pop of Color
Mission Impossible: Operation Registry

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  1. Member
    xtatic1 783 posts, Busy bee @ 2:49 pm

    I think napkins and menus…people love something to read when they sit down! You could even print something fun on the back like a wedding mad-lib or fun facts about the bride and groom.

  2. Member
    bRooklynRocks 4048 posts, Honey bee @ 2:52 pm

    You still have time before the wedding. I ALMOST always see other bees selling their chargers for about $1 or so. I’m sure you can find one in San Fran. I prefer the charger and even though I’ve said this before, I shall say it again, your venue is gorgeous!

  3. Guest Icon Guest
    Nicole, Guest @ 2:52 pm

    I definitely like the napkin and menu card idea. It gives guests time to drool over your menu options and get themselves hungry before its their turn at the buffet line!

  4. Member
    KCheer 370 posts, Helper bee @ 2:55 pm

    I say option #1 or #2. I had chargers and loved them (and they are currently for sale on the classifieds here!), but I definitely think #3 might not work as well in a ballroom. Just my opinion though!

  5. sweetcream Member
    sweetcream 216 posts, Helper bee @ 2:55 pm

    I think that all of these options are great! I am actually doing a buffet too (for the same reasons!). I am dying to use plates (and not have them stacked by the buffet) with the menu – but you have other great options here I never thought of…

    Hmmm…I think that the doilies are adorable and something I never saw before… but the napkins folded are equally nice! Tough choice, Seal! They are all great options.

  6. Member
    Honeycake 7 posts, Newbee @ 2:56 pm

    Maybe you can get cute doilies in a color that matches your color scheme? Or DIY them yourself like making snow flakes as kids – could be really pretty if you choose a fun paper. I quite like the doilies + napkin + menu.

  7. Member
    sn2bmrsmntgmry 1118 posts, Bumble bee @ 2:57 pm

    My vote is for the napkin and menu card option. I, too, am having a buffet and plan to do exactly that. Napkin, menu card, favor.

  8. mspony Member
    mspony 9265 posts, Buzzing Beekeeper @ 2:57 pm

    I vote napkin/some sort of card. I love the doily idea, but it doesn’t seem to fit the feel of your wedding to me. And I don’t really understand chargers (you don’t eat off them, but they look like plates, wtf?!)

  9. Member
    AlmostMrsReed 53 posts, Worker bee @ 2:58 pm

    My wedding is just close family… I think our total number will be around 35. We elected to do a buffet style for our full sit down dinner so that everyone can choose what they want :) I think it will also serve to have a more relaxed feel which is totally the goal.

    That being said, part of our decor is the plates. They are mix-matched blue and white print china so give a very vintage feel. If they werent on the tables, the table would look really odd and would lose the appeal. So what our venue is doing is each person goes to their table number. They grab their plate and head for the buffet. We are doing it in order… head table, then tables 1/2, then 3/4 etc. We only have 10 tables, afterall! so that will keep us from having a HUGE buffet set out (wasting food) or having people waiting in line.

    I think this will work well for us so I thought I would just share it. :)

    How many people are you having?

  10. elephant Member
    elephant 6339 posts, Bee Keeper @ 2:58 pm

    We did chargers (because our planner provided them), but I also really like the look of just the napkins and menus!

  11. Member
    TheEdge 35 posts, Newbee @ 3:01 pm

    LOVE the menu/napkin option. It looks so great, and I couldn’t tell there weren’t plates there either. I think this would really tie in all of the formal.

  12. Guest Icon Guest
    CameraGirl87, Guest @ 3:03 pm

    What are you doing for favors? You could do the napkins with the favors on them at each seat. That way, you’re also guaranteed that everyone will at least SEE their favor. (I’m only saying this because, as a BM, I spent hours upon hours once making favors, and then didn’t see them at the wedding AT ALL).

    Or, depending on how you’re serving your appetizers, you could do app plates on each table, esp. if people are mingling and apps are being served but dinner is buffeted (is that a word?!). I also noticed that the doily one has the silverware on each napkin on the places. That’s also possible. Or you could have all the napkins folded prettily into origami shapes at each setting. There are endless opportunities!

    Also, if you’re not doing the menus on each place, I’d recommend 2-3 menus per table, that way they get passed around more quickly. :)

  13. Member
    tea 2414 posts, Buzzing bee @ 3:15 pm

    i like @bRooklynRocks suggestion. if you don’t want to chance that, then i say a folded napkin and menu/favor is fine enough. i attended a wedding where they had a buffet but left the plates at the table and it was kind of awkward having to lug my plate up to the line.

  14. Member
    Courtnee 153 posts, Blushing bee @ 3:26 pm

    For our recent wedding we placed a salad on top the napkin at the place setting. That way when they went to the buffet they were only getting the entree and not carrying a salad plate too. (for us–we did plates at the buffet so it didn’t feel like you were at a cafeteria walking up with holding your plate)

  15. Member
    Courtnee 153 posts, Blushing bee @ 3:28 pm

    Oh–to finish my thought–don’t do the chargers! It looks great without them so don’t spend the money. And I think the doilies are too casual for your venue.

  16. Guest Icon Guest
    Jmlock, Guest @ 3:48 pm

    We had a buffet but still put the plates on the tables. I had rented really pretty plates and wanted them to part of the display. We also then did the menu and napkin on top of the plates. On the menu I put a note at the bottom saying to please bring their plate with them to the buffet, and then also had the dj make an announcement before he started releasing tables. There was no problem with people leaving their plates behind. One thing that helps is if just one person at the table reads and follows the directions, everyone else at the table will follow suit.

  17. Member
    chelles07 1179 posts, Bumble bee @ 4:03 pm

    We are doing napkins with menus.

  18. Member
    kmnowlan 207 posts, Helper bee @ 4:14 pm

    I say do the napkin and menu. I too, as a buffet bride, had to make this tough decision! While chargers make me drool, I couldn’t justify spending the extra money on something that would be taken off the table almost right away! (check with your caterer about this. It is ultimately what made me decide.) Also, you might want to ask if they do salads first. I spoke with caterer who said that the salads will already be on the tables when the guests sit down so they have something to snack on as they are calling tables up to the buffet. Maybe, your caterer does this too? While aesthetically, it is not my favorite option, I do like that my guests will have a little more in their bellies during their wait. Good luck with the decision! and may I say, your reception location is BEAUTIFUL!

  19. Member
    CassidyR 298 posts, Helper bee @ 4:39 pm

    I went to a reception that was buffet style with no plates on the table (it was easier to grab them at the station). They had the favor (chocolate bar) and a folded napkin there. Didn’t even think there was supposed to be a plate.

    Relax and stop over thinking this, as a guest- I didn’t even notice!

  20. Member
    lisamarieloves 19 posts, Newbee @ 4:44 pm

    I seriously LOVE the chargers. I am, in fact, getting those exact same ones for my wedding reception. They were quite a bit of a an extra cost but once I saw them I knew I had to figure it out. They weren’t so expensive that if I didn’t use them, I would be able to get a videographer. Videographer is like 6 times the cost of some chargers. That being said, I found that renting the chargers was almost the same cost as having menus for each guest printed. So I have opted not to have menus and instead have the chargers. For a black tie event, please please please do not use a paper doily. Your reception venue is so aboslutely gorgeous that you would be fine with a nice table cloth and nothing else. Don’t feel you must fill the space. But if you must, then spring for the chargers.

  21. tartlet Member
    tartlet 3227 posts, Sugar bee @ 4:52 pm

    The pocket napkin is a great option! And, as an alternative to printing a menu card for each setting, maybe you could tuck a flower stem (or something) into them instead.

  22. Guest Icon Guest
    Christina, Guest @ 4:57 pm

    I agree with most of the other responses. just do a napkin and favor or menu, or just a prettily folded napkin. If you do chargers you will inevitably have guests who think the chargers are just monster plates and they will take those with them up to the buffet and then have to juggle two plates or they will totally ignore the provided plates and use their charger as their plate. If you think I’m making this up I gotta say that I’ve seen three of my friends and my fiancee do this at a wedding we went to. I couldn’t stop laughing.

  23. marmalade Member
    marmalade 296 posts, Helper bee @ 5:14 pm

    Hmm..tough call, I like all of them! I think I would go with a napkin and a card though. You’d still have the freedom to personalize everything and you wouldn’t have the added expense of chargers!

  24. Member
    Season 99 posts, Worker bee @ 6:54 pm

    We’re having the same problem. The chargers are just unreasonable for such a (sorry to say this) useless thing. We have decided to put our money into things that truly add to the day (like the photo booth). With that in mind, we’re just doing a nicely folded napkin, the silverware, water glass, and seating card. With the centerpiece that is already a ton of stuff on the table. You might actually like not having it look so cluttered for pictures.


  25. Member
    spinningstars 264 posts, Helper bee @ 7:38 pm

    While I love those doilies, I think the napkin and menu are the best option for your space. But in all honesty, I’ve never sat down at a buffet wedding and thought “why is there nothing at my place setting?” Just having a centerpiece and maybe some votives there is fine until dinner, I think!

  26. Member
    MissSealsMOH 45 posts, Newbee @ 8:29 pm

    Stupid question, do you need menus? I know I have not been to many weddings but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a menu card at the table. Maybe I just have not been to nice enough weddings.
    What about a napkin and the silverware inside it? I think the last picture with the doilies has that? I do think I like napkin/menu idea. The picture looks amazzzzing and it doesn’t have chargers. Either way it will look great.

    I think plates at the buffet makes most sense. It seems odd taking your plate up to the buffet. Here I am at a black tie wedding walking around with a plate? Hello there, let me awkwardly hold my plate while I stop to talk to you on my way to food. Plus, when someone wants seconds they go up and there are fresh clean plates there!

  27. macarons Member
    macarons 241 posts, Helper bee @ 11:19 pm

    Screw ease! We’re doing stations but I didn’t like the idea of naked tables. Our guests will just have to remember to grab their plates before getting some food.

  28. msseal Member
    msseal 1179 posts, Bumble bee @ 2:46 am

    Thanks for all the lovely suggestions everyone 😉 Right now I think I’m leaning towards the napkin + menu option…or perhaps @Mrs. Tartlet‘s lovely suggestion of napkin + flower? Ahh..so many choices. You all have given me so much food for thought—thank you, thank you, thank you.You guys are the best.

    @bRooklynRocks: That’s a great idea! I’ll have to check out the classifieds if I end up deciding to spring for chargers.

    @Miss Pony: Oh, Pony. You crack me up. So right.

    @CameraGirl87: I promise I’m writing a favors post soon! Buuut, I will leak that they aren’t favors that can be put on the table! Thanks for the suggestions, lovely!

    @Courtnee: I’ll have to ask my caterer how they were planning on serving the salad! Thank you 😀

  29. msseal Member
    msseal 1179 posts, Bumble bee @ 2:47 am

    @lisamarieloves: I’m so jealous! Those chargers are lovely, aren’t they?!

    @Mrs. Tartlet: LOVE THIS IDEA! Must research now.

    @Christina: LOL. The thought of someone eating off of a charger seriously just amused me for the last 5 minutes. I totally believe it though!

    @MissSealsMOH: YES! Menus are so pretty! BUT…I DO like the idea of the silverware being tucked into the napkin…even though I saw (obviously) that picture…I don’t think it really registered how they had the silverware arranged. You’re getting good at this wedding thing! <3

    @Miss Macarons: Bahaha. Love you, Mac.

  30. Member
    julies1949 36159 posts, Honey Beekeeper @ 3:23 am

    You can use doilies under clear glass charger plates. see pic
    Save on crafts has 10″ clear glass charger plates at $17.40 per dozen.

  31. Member
    julies1949 36159 posts, Honey Beekeeper @ 3:27 am

    I don’t know how to add a link in a post here on the blog section. Just google “doily under clear glass charger plate “and see the first pic that comes up under images from designdazzle.

  32. Member
    stephbonthego 710 posts, Busy bee @ 12:17 pm

    I also love using chargers but am not sure we’ll be able to squeeze them into our budget. Grateful for this post b/c I had never considered the ~big empty gap~ that will be our table settings with buffet-style dinner! I am very much in love with the doilies (I have been collecting hand-tatted ones for some time starting with my grandmother’s and was not 100% how I would use them.
    Solved! Thanks Seal!!

  33. Member
    Chocolatte 198 posts, Blushing bee @ 3:50 pm

    we are doing chargers!

  34. Member
    Kcoleybear 683 posts, Busy bee @ 12:14 am

    I am voting for option #2, because I would think it’s more cost effective than the chargers and I don’t think the dolies will look right.

  35. Member
    msbryt 331 posts, Helper bee @ 4:24 am

    @Courtnee: I love that you had the salad already placed. I bet this was a real help as far as hungry guests not going crazy and keeping the line from growing too long.

    On a second note I really like the chargers but completely understand the added expense! I’m lucky enough my venue came with all the rentals included. I think the napkin/favors as a few have suggested is a fabulous alternative!

  36. gazelle Member
    gazelle 1019 posts, Bumble bee @ 12:03 pm

    I say go with menus and napkins! I am printing up personalized menus for our guests instead of going with escort cards.

    As for chargers, I think it is spending a lot of money on something that you won’t actually wind up using. Chargers are supposed to be removed for the main course (seriously trying to cut beef on a plate on top of a plate is a pain) so you’d basically put them out to pretty the table up then take them away right away.

    Also, if you are doing favours you can put them where a plate would sit in front of the guests?

    Q.When should charger plates be removed from the dinner table?

    A. The charger plates should be on the table when the guests are seated. The soup, fish or salad course are served on top of the charger. It is customary for the charger plate to be removed prior to the serving of the entree or dinner course. Some people however, prefer to leave the charger plate on the table during the entree because they enjoy the appearance of the charger. Regardless of if you remove the charge after the soup, fish, salad or entree, the charger plate should always be removed before the dessert course.

  37. Guest Icon Guest
    Marianne, Guest @ 3:03 am

    Printing menus does not need to be that difficult or expensive. However, why must the napkins be accompanied by menus? For example:










    Okay, I will stop now;) Menu-less napkins do not look ridiculously naked to me. That said, I am printing out menus myself….

  38. Member
    Merry Berry 23 posts, Newbee @ 9:38 pm

    Hi Miss Seal. I’m in the Bay (SSF to be exact) and am actually selling my gold chargers for $1 each (my wedding was May 2010). I have about 360 of them–all in like-new condition. Although they aren’t as gorgeous as the chargers in your post (mine are the regular gold chargers), the gold chargers really dressed up our table setting with that little extra “umph” and elegance. Pls PM me if you’re interested. =)

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