1/ The overall look
Image by Patina Photography
It’s useful to start off by envisioning what you want the overall effect of the table setting to be so that you can ensure all the individual elements are working towards a harmonious whole.
Often this will be in line with your theme if you have one, whether that’s a modern rustic Mediterranean (with simple ceramics and lots of flowing greenery) or elegant minimalism (sleek and uncluttered decor, perhaps with luxurious touches of gold or silver). Other factors will affect decision-making too, from the season to the shape of the tables to the kind of service you’re having. Have all this information on hand before you start weighing up options.
If you have the option to do so, you may also want to use an array of items from the venue itself – including linen, glassware, dishes and cutlery. These will affect further decision making, too, as you’ll want to ensure subsequent rentals or purchases complement these basic elements.
2/ Linen and runners
Image by Fineline Photography
You can use tablecloths to very different effects, depending on your style. Plain white tablecloths (or even patterned white) produce a classic, very understated look. On the other hand, a cloth with colour, pattern or interesting texture will create a much more striking impression. Having a fabric runner (more usually suited to a rectangular table) atop plain linen can serve as a midpoint between the two – adding a touch of drama to an otherwise simple base.
Of course, the visual effect isn’t just dictated by material, colour and pattern. You’ll also want to think about the shape and size you’ll need for your tables (will the linen or runner skirt the floor, stop just above or cover only half of the table leg?).
3/ Plates, glassware, cutlery
Image by Jana Williams
These are the fundamentals of a table setting and a great way to elevate the whole table look. The styling here will also be more conspicuous since your guests will handle or use each element.
- Plates – for the plates you’ll want to choose how many you’ll set together and compare different combinations to ensure they complement one another to your taste. Some table top designs, for example, include a larger, often more decorative charger beneath the main plate. Others place the bread plate atop the main plate, though of course, it’s absolutely fine to choose a single plate for the setting.
- Glassware – the drinks you’re serving will have the most bearing on the number and kinds of glasses you choose. If there will be champagne, flutes may be the most appropriate choice, otherwise, wine glasses are an excellent choice. Beyond this, you can elevate glassware by opting for crystal, or perhaps coloured or patterned glasses. Those with a gold rim along the top can look especially pretty for a wedding. Don’t forget to include a glass for water, as well as the more celebratory drinks!
- Cutlery – as with glassware, it’s the food that will determine your specific cutlery needs (e.g. whether soup spoons, steak knives or dessert forks are required). As for the styling, cutlery should complement the other pieces rather than make a standalone statement. So if the rest of your setting is modern and minimal, you probably want to avoid the ornate gold-coloured variety in favour of something sleeker. Usually, these are laid beside the plates in the traditional order, but you can also tie them and place them decoratively on top of the plate or napkin if you prefer.
4/ Napkins, menus, place cards, table numbers
Image by Lisa Woods Photography
At restaurants, these items tend to be functional rather than decorative. At a wedding, however, you have the opportunity to turn them into something a little more special.
- Napkins – you’ll want to decide the material and colour first, but don’t forget the impact of location and presentation. There is a whole host of different ways to fold, twist or otherwise present them, whether on top, beneath or beside the plate.
- Menus – it’s a personal decision whether menus are necessary for your meal and, if so, how many would be appropriate (opting for one or two per table rather than one each is a simple way to cut costs here). Though not necessary, keeping the colour scheme, fonts and style similar to that of your invitations is a nice touch to maintain consistency across your paper goods. The location of the menu will depend on the number. If there’s one for each guest, keeping it atop the plate or tucked in the napkin are popular choices. Otherwise, place them towards the centre of the table to make them accessible to all.
- Place Cards – place cards are optional. It’s perfectly fine to designate guests to tables and leave specific seats unassigned. If you do assign seats, however, you’ll want a small named card at each place setting. The most popular are plain folded card with a name in calligraphy set on the napkin or one of the plates. There are several more creative options, though. For an eye-catching look, you could write the name on another material, perhaps a leaf, agate/quartz, slate or wood. Or have your wedding favours do double duty and place them on the plate with a name tag attached.
- Table numbers – if you’re having multiple tables, it’s wise to give each a number or name to help guests find where they’re supposed to sit.
5/ Centrepieces and candles
Image by Kylee Yee
Centrepieces are the anchoring feature of most tabletop décor. Depending on table shape and size and the look you’re going for you may prefer one larger (or longer) centrepiece or several smaller ones. Flowers are the go-to choice. You can go for something as simple as blooms in glass vases (or mason jars), but for something more elaborate you’ll likely want to consult with your florist and/or wedding planner to create something you’ll love.
Alternatively, you can develop beautiful centrepieces from almost any item, from food (towers of doughnuts, arrangements of fruit or vegetables) to balloons, personal displays (framed photos) to potted herbs or seedlings.
If your reception will go on into the evening, you may want to add some unscented candles in amongst your tabletop décor to supply a warm and romantic ambience. Be sure to enquire about the venue’s policies to ensure candles are permitted, and check whether there are any requirements for glass containers.