How to Start Planning Wedding Table Settings

Antique plates and warm colored flowers on a rustic wedding table setting.

If you’ve never planned a formal dinner party, table setting may be a foreign concept. But you’re not alone; the party planning world has a whole set of rules and ideas that most aren’t privy to. So, when it comes to tablescapes, what should you do? Are there specific rules you need to follow? Of course, it’s always up to you whether you follow the rules or not. You could just have no tables at all and make everyone stand. But if you decide you aren’t cool with a standing-only party, read below for all the tablescaping info you never knew you needed to know.

Utensil Order

A rustic table setting with greenery down the center of the table.

You may be thinking, “There’s an order you have to put your utensils in? Are you serious?” Deadly. Now, there are different schools of thought when it comes to this rule. There is the traditional way where forks are placed to the left side of the plate with the fish fork, dinner, and salad forks set from the outside in. Knives and spoons are placed to the right of the plate as well as an oyster fork if shellfish is served.

If you want to go more simple, you can always go by the order of use which is still proper and functional. The third order choice is: do whatever you want. Go with your whim. Who’s going to stop you if you want to do knife, spoon, fork, spoon? There’s also a good chance your caterer or venue will have this type of thing already planned out. It’s totally up to you whether you want to micromanage every table detail. However, the order of utensils may effect your overall table look, so you may want to organize it in the way you think best.


Tall rose and leaf centerpieces on a wedding reception table.

Do thoughts of table decor keep you up at night? Centerpieces may be at the center of that stress. There are just a few things you need to decide to escape tablescape hell. Are you going tall or short? What will your centerpiece include: flowers, accessories, or both?

I’ve seen some beautiful centerpieces that include lots of handpicked accessories like books and candles. You can even make edible centerpieces with food! You could take this modern approach and forgo the traditional flower arrangement. That doesn’t mean flowers are boring, though. Flowers are classic for a reason. You can easily match them to your color scheme or wedding style. If your wedding is bohemian, you can place loose and trailing arrangements with bold dark colors. If you’re having a summery wedding, you can set looks that shine like the sun with touches of bright and lovely colors.

Whether you’re going to create tall or short centerpieces really depends on your taste and your tables. How are you sitting your guests? If your plan includes guests who know each other, you may want to consider short centerpieces so everyone can chat across the table. If guests are sitting at long tables with places for centerpieces to sit without interrupting the view, feel free to pile them high.

Special Touches

An ocean-themed wedding table scape with a succulent, starfish, and blue glasses.

With any tablescape, there are opportunities for special touches such as sparkly china or colored table runners. I attended a wedding once where each centerpiece included favors that guests could take home. They personalized small milk jugs with their etched wedding date and filled them with chocolates. Find out what your venue’s plan is for the tables. Some venues provide most of the table accoutrements and you’ll just want to add some decor. Some venues provide only the basics. Depending on what the caterer and venue are planning, you can base your plan and how far you can go with looks vs. function.


An elegant wedding table setting with candles and white flowers.

Speaking of plans, it’s important to consider all reception details as well as your tables. So far you have an idea about what will be provided and what type of tables you’ll be working with, but what about the little things? Does your venue allow candles? Is your caterer going with family style, a buffet, or table service? How long are the tables? It’s the little details you need to know. This way, you won’t waste any time or money when gathering decor and planning your final table look. Decide before the big day where everything will go. Try to get everything organized so the table setting will go smoothly. This way you can avoid questions and confusion.

Once you know the context surrounding your tablescapes, you can plan your way to tablescaping glory. Gather the information, make a plan, add your special touches, and you’re all set!

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