How to Set a Wedding Reception Table

A rustic-themed wedding reception table decorated with greenery and wine glasses.

There are certain things that most of us come to expect from a wedding: champagne, dancing, and (of course) dinner. In fact, dinner makes up a pretty significant portion of most receptions. This is why most wedding venues design the reception space around the guests’ dinner tables—and why the perfect place setting is so important.

So, how do you set the “perfect reception table”? The answer will vary depending on the type of wedding you’re having. Are you having a formal, plated dinner? A buffet-style soirée? While different wedding styles require different reception tables, there are still a few basic rules you can follow for any reception table setting.

Set the Scene

A wedding reception table decorated with blue glasses and pink and white flowers.

Whether you’re having a formal reception, a laid-back dinner, or a highly themed event, it’s important that you properly set the scene for your meal. Your reception tables should reflect the theme of your wedding—and the best way to do that is by choosing the right linens and centerpieces.

Work with your vendors (your venue, rental company, florists, etc.) to find pieces that perfectly suit the vibe of your big day. Are you going for something elegant and extravagant? You’ll want classic white linens and a tall, gorgeous centerpiece. Doing something more relaxed? Look for linens in your wedding colors and a few cute centerpieces with personal significance (photos of you and your new spouse, for example). Having a Game of Thrones-themed event? It’s time to bust out the faux fur swatches and long taper candles!

Obviously, the details of your wedding décor are entirely up to you. Just make sure that your centerpieces and linens mesh well with your overall theme. This will help you really create a cohesive look for your big day.

Place the Dinnerware

After you’ve placed down your linens, smoothed them out, and arranged your centerpieces just so, it’s time to get to the table settings. This is arguably the most important part of the reception table; after all, the whole point of these tables is to give your guests a place to eat their meal!

Once again, the details of your place setting will vary from one wedding to another. A buffet-style event might skip the place settings altogether, leaving only water glasses and a small plate for the dinner rolls. A formal dinner will go all out, including forks and knives of every possible size. Choose the setting style that’s right for your wedding—and if you do decide to set the table, make sure you include these basic dishes:

Charger: The charger is a large plate on which all the other plates rest (you don’t eat off it). This plate is solely decorative, but it’s a great way to add a pop of color or fancy flourish to your table.

Dinner Plate: This is the standard size plate on which your guests will enjoy their meal.

Salad Plate: This is a smaller plate (usually around 8”) on which the salad is served.

Bread Plate: This tiny plate is usually reserved for dinner rolls. You can include one at each place setting or put a stack of them alongside the table’s bread basket.

Flatware: How much cutlery you’ll need depends on how formal the meal will be and what you’ll be serving (do you need salad forks? Fish forks? Soup spoons?). At the very least, make sure you have one fork, knife, and spoon at each place setting.

Water Glass: This glass should be full and waiting for your guests when they take their seats.

Wine Glass: Wine glasses are a great place to put your guests’ napkins, and they make the table look extra refined.

Champagne Flute: What’s a wedding without a champagne toast? Putting champagne glasses at each place setting is sure to put everyone in the partying mood.

Put Down Place Cards

A rustic table at a wedding reception set with a black placecard and gold flatware.

Now that your table is set and ready for guests, it’s time for the last step: putting out those place cards. You and your partner probably spent a lot of time creating your seating chart, finding the perfect groupings of friends and family members for each table. And whether you’ve decided to simply assign tables or to assign individual seats, it’s important that your seating chart vision is clear to your guests.

Make sure that your table assignments are clearly labeled and easy for guests to read. Put up a poster or display the place cards on a table at the entrance to your reception hall. Make sure your table numbers are large and easy to see (don’t hide them under your centerpieces). And if you do have specific seats for each guest, make sure their names are clearly labeled at their chair. This will help avoid any confusion and make the reception run much more smoothly—and the reception tables will look absolutely lovely.

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