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Five Tips For Designing Your Reception Floor Plan

Image by  Kate Little  for Harlow Garland

Image by Kate Little for Harlow Garland

Many couples spend months creating the perfect seating plan and often overlook the importance of having an effective floor plan at their reception. A good floor plan will not only allow for a smooth flowing celebration but will also help to create a good energy, happy guests and a full dance floor! Keep reading for our tips on how to design a successful reception floor plan.

Table Shape

Before you can decide where to place your tables, you need to choose which shape of tables you want to have – typically this would either be round tables or elongated rectangles. Round tables usually seat eight to ten people and are a good choice because they encourage conversation between guests and allow for guests to move around the space more freely. Long rectangular tables resemble a family style dining table and are a good option if you have many guests. They also work great for buffet style dining.

Table Arrangements

Your tables will need to be arranged thoughtfully. It is best to ensure each of your guests and tables have a good level of visibility and access. If it is possible, try to arrange your tables in a “U” form around your dance floor area. This makes the dance floor also the centre stage which can make for a much more involved crowd as there will be no tables too far away.

Keep Tables Away From Any Speakers

It is important that you do not place your speakers directly next to any of the tables – especially where any elderly may be seating. This would mean the music would be too loud for the guests seated next to the speakers and too quiet for the guests seated away from the speakers. Instead, try to have your speakers and DJ set up on the dance floor. While this may seem obvious, you may find that venues will often try at place your speakers (and DJ) in a corner.

Don’t Over Estimate Your Dance Floor

When it comes to deciding on the size of your dance floor, bigger is not always better. If your dance floor is too large it may result in the area looking sparse. Opt for a smaller space which will be more inviting to your guests. Remember to adjust the size accordingly to your number of guests.

Have Clear Pathways

Having clear pathways is an important floor plan aspect as guests need to be able to move around the venue comfortably. Keep in mind where your entrance is, the bar, restrooms, dance floor and buffet (if you have one), and ensure you have clear walkways to and from these areas.

Setting And Styling Your Reception Tables

The way in which you choose to set and style your wedding reception tables can largely impact the evening's ambience. You will have to decide on linens, silverware, centrepieces and much more, while still ensuring your tables are balanced and set in the correct manner. As this can be an overwhelming task, we have put together some of our top tips to help you establish your perfect reception tables.

Mix And Match

Do not be afraid to mix and match your silverware, glassware and plates. While styling a table that is harmonious exudes formality, mixing and matching different elements can help your tables to be more unique. If you choose to mix and match your plates by using different colours or patterns, we recommend that you ensure that they are kept to the same size around your tables. This will help to tie the elements together despite their differences.


Centrepieces are an important element for your tables. Consider mixing in your centrepieces at different heights to create interest at your tables and across your venue. Often if styling is placed all at one height, the table can look flat and dull. Although, whichever kind of centrepiece you decide upon, ensure that they are not placed at eye level as this can make conversation at the table difficult.


Your table linen should not be overlooked. Linen can add texture, colour and an overall element of warmth to your venue. Tablecloths and napkins come in an array of colours, textures and prints. When choosing yours, keep in mind the style and formality of your wedding. If you opt for a traditional white tablecloth, try adding a nod to your wedding style or colours through your choice of napkins. Table runners are also the perfect option for layering and adding texture.

Basic Table Setting Guidelines

When it comes to setting your table be sure you are aware of everything you need and know where it will go. This includes different types of glasses, silverware and china. For a formal setting, set the silverware on the table in the order it will be used – with the farthest away from the plate being used first to be used. For glasses, set the table with all the glasses that will be used during dinner – starting with a water glass and followed by wine glasses. In most cases, the only piece of china that would appear on the table would be a bread plate, and if preferred, a charger plate.


Lastly, ensure your tables are balanced. Over styling your tables by using excessive colours, patterns, and touches of décor can risk your tables looking messy. To ensure balance, know your space, focus on symmetry and ensure your tables have enough “white space” to avoid them looking too busy and unbalanced.

Creating Your Wedding Reception Seating Plan

Image by Danielle Bohane for a Harlow Garland real wedding

Image by Danielle Bohane for a Harlow Garland real wedding

Arranging your friends and family into a seating plan for your wedding can be a tricky task – especially because it can only be done once you have received all your RSVPs and finalised the guest list. There are many different things to think about, should you have a table dedicated to children? Do certain family members not get along? To help you with the process, follow our basic guide to creating your seating plan.

Formal Seating Plans

Typically couples opt for a formal seating plan for their reception to create ease. Guests like to know where they will be sitting and it will take away their anxiety over everyone having to find a seat. A seating plan is also helpful for caterers. If you have guests with dietary requirements, having a seating plan will help to get their specific meal to them with ease.

Bridal Table

The bridal table is usually a long, rectangular head table that is situated at the focal point of the venue. The Bridal table seats the bridal party. Traditionally, the bride will sit to the groom’s right, the maid of honour on his left and the best man to the bride's right. The rest of the party follows, alternating male and female. Although, you can configure this table how you please. Quite often, couples opt to have the bride's party to the right and the groom's party to the left.

Parents Of The Bride And Groom

Traditionally the parents of the bride and groom are seated together at a table along with any grandparents. However, couples with divorced or separated parents would not be comfortable with this arrangement. Instead, you could seat each set of parents at different tables with their parents and any other close family or even friends.

Create A Mixture

For your remaining friends and family, it is always best to mix and match people around. Try to seat people with others they are comfortable around, as well as adding in people they may not know as well. If you have a few guests that don’t know anyone else attending the wedding, try seating them near people that might have similar interests to them.

Children’s Table

If you have a number of children attending your wedding you may want to seat them all together at a children’s table. If you have only a few children attending, it is best to seat them next to their parents.

Seating Chart and Place Cards

A seating chart is usually placed near the entrance of your reception. Here your guests will be able to see a list of all guests with their designated table. Place cards with everyone’s names are to be arranged on each table to show the guests designated seats at the table.

Questions to Ask Your Caterer

Whether you're planning to have your caterer come to you, you're choosing a venue that is BYO Caterer or you're simply exploring a new venue and chatting the chef, you're bound to miss out a few pertinent questions, so we've compiled a range of them here for you to pick and choose the questions that are most relevant to your choice of caterer.


  1. Can we see a range of sample menus and prices?
  2. Can we see some pictures of your work?
  3. What can you provide within our budget?
  4. Can you cater for guests with special dietary requirements?
  5. Can we have a taste test of the food?
  6. Are there any extra costs i.e. glassware, linen etc.?
  7. Is there a minimum charge?
  8. Do you require a deposit?
  9. What is your refund / cancellation policy?
  10. What happens to our deposit if you close down the business?
  11. When do we need to pay the balance?
  12. When do we need to advise numbers?
  13. Do you have the necessary food preparation licenses?
  14. Could you tell us about a wedding you did where something went wrong and how you handled it?
  15. Do you specialise in a certain cuisine or type of menu?
  16. Where is the food prepared? Do you bring it ready-cooked or do you need the kitchen?
  17. Do you take care of the cleaning / washing up?
  18. When does the menu need to be finalised by?
  19. How will your wait staff be dressed?
  20. For buffet meals, how often will food be replenished?
  21. How long do you serve food for?
  22. Can guests help themselves for as long as they want?
  23. How many wait staff will we have? (Rule of thumb: 1 per 16 to 20 guests for a sit down meal or 1 per 25 for buffet or cocktail receptions.)
  24. How is the cost of beverages calculated?
  25. How is usage confirmed?
  26. What brands will be served? If they offer house wine - Can we taste it?
  27. Can we bring our own beer, wine etc. and will there be a corkage fee?
  28. What alternatives to alcohol do you offer?
  29. If we arrange a cash bar, what prices will be charged?
  30. Do you provide a bar person? When will they be staffing the bar?
  31. Are you familiar with this venue? Will you confirm kitchen facilities, clean-up rules etc.?
  32. Who will be responsible for any problems, breakages etc.?
  33. (If they are coming to your venue) - How will you transport and store the food?
  34. Is the price quoted guaranteed for our wedding day?
  35. Do you organise the cutting / serving of the wedding cake? Is there an extra charge for this?
  36. Can you provide boxed meals for us both to take away with us? (You might be so busy chatting with your guests or extra nervous that you may miss the meal).
  37. Who will be there on the day making sure everything runs smoothly?

Beverage requirements

(based on 100 people)

  • Champagne - 48 bottles
  • Wine - 100 bottles
  • Dessert wine - 17 x 375ml
  • Beer bottles - 200-300
  • Punch - 5 bottles of spirits + 60 cups of mixers
  • Non Alcoholic - 50 litres
  • Canapés - 200-300
  • Full canapés - 1200 – 2400 for 2hr party

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Deciding When to Marry

You're engaged! Congratulations! Now comes the intensive Pinteresting, haggling and organising en route to your big day! Some of you may already know exactly when and where you'll marry while others may be struggling to work out the best time, style and place - we posted earlier about the style decision, so how about today we chat about the when?

Tips from Harlow Garland:

  1. Try to visit venue options around the same time of day and year to really get an accurate view of what you can expect from the lighting, road noise and traffic, to be like on the day.

  2. If you’re planning on marrying outdoors, choose a bad weather back up as a contingency in case the weather turns unexpectedly.

  3. Saturdays are the most popular day to get married as it’s convenient for those who work full-time and for out-of-towners and also because there’s a day leftover in the weekend for most guests to recover after the big event. It’s also ideal if you’re planning on holding an après-wedding barbeque or brunch (which are gaining popularity), especially for those with a lot of out-of-town guests with whom they want to spend a little more time.

  4. Saturdays do tend to book up well in advance and there are two other weekend days to consider – perhaps a Friday afternoon wedding that runs late into the evening or a Sunday morning celebration.

  5. Weekdays are infinitely cheaper than weekends and you’re more likely to book your first choice vendors and save money, however it may be difficult for some guests to get time off work – especially if the event is out-of-town or quite a hike from their place of work.

  6. 43% of marriages occur in summer (Statistics NZ), which is naturally because of the slightly more predictable weather, the Bride’s penchant for backless or sleeveless gowns to match the wonderful summer heat and the higher availability of guests over the summer months.

  7. Don’t discount the winter months simply because of the cooler weather. Think Romanov inspired white weddings or candlelit / lantern-lit affairs by open fireplaces. You’ll also find yourself privy to off-peak discounts and an access to your first choice venue that is slightly more difficult in summer.

  8. Public holidays may seem a good idea from the outset but may also incur additional surcharges from suppliers. Also take into account that the price of roses will skyrocket around St. Valentine’s Day. It will pay to also check your year planner for family and close friends’ birthdays to try and work around them.