Getting Started: Table Settings 101

Hosting a seated reception? Create a welcoming atmosphere with spellbinding centre pieces and considered table settings. 

  • Story by Sarah Heeringa
  • Photography by Amanda Reelick

Table settings at seated events perform several important duties for your guests. On a purely practical level they offer a place to sit and relax and a guarantee that each diner has the necessary cutlery, plates and glasses with which to enjoy their meal.

On a subtler psychological level, place settings provide a kind of ‘home’ for guests during the reception; seeing their name card when they arrive at their designated table reassures them that they are truly welcome and in the right place. In terms of aesthetics, tables also provide great opportunities for setting the scene. Do you want your reception to be formal or relaxed, rustic, retro, classic or quirky?

Whatever you choose, table settings are a great place to showcase your intended style and help shape the mood. Wedding reception possibilities are endless, so start by considering the season and time of day that the reception will be held, the style of venue, size of the crowd and menu you wish to serve. Choose a colour palette that complements the bridal party and some key words that sum
up your desired effect. Using these as guides for your planning will help maintain a coherent look and feel across elements such as lighting, flowers, fabrics, cutlery and crockery.

For instance, if you’re planning a romantic late afternoon rustic Italian-themed winter reception, then a warm accent colour (such as lemon yellow) and generous use of vintage wood pieces, olive tree foliage and fairy and festoon lights could work together well.

Above: Chairs VITRINE ; Lights LA LUMIERE

Love the look above? Here's how to get the look:

  • Choose a guiding theme for your table setting, such as rustic Italian (pictured above). Set the scene by teaming a traditional long white-clothed table with vintage wooden chairs.
  • Make a simple yet effective table runner with foliage, like fresh olive tree branches.
  • Add light accents with a string of seed lights along the table combined with white candles secured in upcycled anchovy jars.
  • Colour comes from a scattering of fresh lemons; nametags are attached to extra fruits with string and double-sided tape.
  • Extend your theme with bunches of olive tree foliage hung from a rustic wooden ladder suspended above the table. Drape the ladder with festoon lights or a string of vintage-look Edison lights.

With the scene set, you can consider how the table feels for the guests using it as their ‘home’ during the reception. The way you set it can help facilitate interaction between guests,

so think about the vibe you want to encourage. Tall centrepiece decorations such as large floral arrangements or stately candlesticks can create a fabulously dramatic look when repeated across a room, but aren’t ideal for allowing conversations between guests seated across from each other. Or if you’re aiming for a formal feel and would prefer guests to sit and listen to speeches or other entertainment then this may be less of a consideration.

For a relaxed mood, using short candles and low floral arrangements allows for greater intimacy and easier conversation. Seating guests at small round tables can also help conversation flow, or at long tables with bench seats for an even more casual vibe. Runners made from sheets of your favourite music, or place names that incorporate pages of favourite books or classic comics are quirky conversation starters too.

It also pays to consider how the type of meal served at your reception will impact on the table settings. A formal meal such as a three-course, silver service affair with individual servings for each guest allows space on each table for larger, dramatic centrepieces, but if your caterers are providing family-style shared platters then you may need to keep space in the centre clear for use. In this instance you might choose a series of small table decorations that can fit around platters, such as a scattering of fairy lights, a series of small lanterns or small floral arrangements in low containers. For simple floral arrangements, lay dried foliage directly onto the table or choose robust flowers that won’t wilt quickly, such as succulents, lisianthus, dahlias, chrysanthemums and orchids.

Above: Table VITRINE ; Crockery, cutlery, napkins and glass FRENCH COUNTRY; candles ILLUMINA SOY CANDLES

Love the look above? Here's how to get the look:

  • Mix it up a bit by combining rustic with a touch of glam, such as the combination of a vintage German Beerfest trestle table, hessian table runner and luxurious soy candles in crystal vases.
  • Create rustic table runners by cutting strips of hessian, loose weave linen or a muslin fabric. Pull away loose threads on either side to create a frayed edge.
  • Are colourful clusters of flowers the order of the day? Set the stage with linens, stationery and candles in neutral hues – think creams and light sandy browns.
  • Set candles at regular intervals and add a simple floral touch with eucalyptus leaves and partially dried hydrangeas laid directly along the centre of the table runner.
  • Go more casual by stacking plates and placing napkins and cutlery on top.
  • Create name tags using paper and brown card, and wrap the napkins in strips of frayed linen, secured with twine.

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