Wedding Decorations for Rectangular Tables | Part 1

Sometimes we choose to use a table shape that is different than the normal round tables that are found at most wedding receptions in the U.S. That’s part of what makes us unique. But, if you are unfamiliar with this size and shape of table, it maybe challenging to come up with a decor plan — tablescape — without some information. Making informed decisions is a better way to go.

This is a bit long, so I broke it into two parts — table setting a rectangular table and table decor for rectangular tables. Stick with me — the more you know about your rectangle table set-up, the better.

Dimensions of Rectangular Tables

A standard rectangular table (a.k.a. banquet table) with folding legs is usually one of the following sizes.

  • 30″ wide x 72″ long  (2 ½’ x 6′) — commonly referred to in the industry as 6 foot banquet table
  • 30″ wide x 96″ long (2 ½’ x 8′) — commonly referred to in the industry as 8 foot banquet table

Be sure to check with your venue or rental company to verify dimensions. There are some places that stock a 36″ table but they are not  as common as the 30″ width.

Anatomy of a Place Setting

You need to figure out how much space you will have available for table decor after the place settings are set. You’ll need to have an idea of what the width and depth of your place settings are so you can calculate what is left over for table decor.

Here are a few general guidelines –

Calculating Width:

  • Most place settings allow a 24″ width per person or chair.
  • More formal affairs can use up to 30″ per person.

Calculating Depth:

  • Most charger plates are 13″ in diameter. Even if you aren’t using a charger plate, allow at least 11″ to 12″ for your dinner plate. This gives you a couple of inches to play with when centering it at the guest chair.
  • Another 3″ is needed for glassware but by placing it above the flatware, you can cut that down to about 2″ added to the depth. Glassware will need to go toward the right, rather than straight back (drawings below).

So, from calculating our place setting, we know what it will be in the neighborhood of 24″ wide x 15″ deep.

Now, if you’ve been following along, you realize that with the total table width measurement of 30″ and at most, 15″ deep place setting needed for each chair, place settings that are facing each other are going to take up the 30″ of the total table width.

Hmmmm, that doesn’t allow for any centerpiece or table decor, does it? How do you make sure you have a strip down the middle for centerpieces and what kind of centerpieces can you use?

Good questions — let’s investigate…

Setting Your Rectangular Table

There is no question that you won’t have as much room for a centerpieces and table decor on a rectangle table as you do with a square or round table. This is where you get a bit creative with your tablescape.

Below is a diagram of a traditional table setting applied to a 6 ft banquet table. You can see that there is virtually no room for decor.

standard place setting

Use a more “informal” place setting that will take up less room.

informal place setting

The horizontal is not really a problem (the 24″ to 30″ per guest along the side of the table). It’s the depth of each place setting that we have to change or rearrange a bit. Some things you can do to ensure you will have enough room for guest dinner plates and glasses as well as your decor:

  • Talk to your caterer — forgo charger plates and ask if they have 9″ to 10½” dinner plates they can use. This will buy you 2″ to 4″ extra space you can use in the middle.
  • Only use the dishware and glassware you really need — The meal you have chosen to serve will require certain utensils and dishes. Don’t use extras your guests won’t need. (For example, informal place settings don’t use bread plates.)
  • If you are serving wedding cake as dessert, the waitstaff will deliver it on the dessert plate and can add the dessert fork to the plate so neither has to be pre-set on the table.
  • If you are using a buffet, the plates should be at the buffet and not set on the tables. In this case flatware and napkin would need to be set at the tables only. (Note: avoid have flatware on the buffet. It’s one less thing a guest will have to juggle when filling their plate at a buffet.)
  • If you have opted for a drink station or waiter served drinks — glassware should be at the drink station or the waiter will bring them. Glassware won’t be needed at the place setting.

Keep in mind — being unique does not mean forgoing the comfort of your guests. Choose your meal, decide what guests need to consume the meal and set the table accordingly. You’re just getting rid of “fluff” that is not necessary — not getting rid of items that are needed.

Also, check with your caterer about what other items they need to put on the tables — baskets of dinner rolls, salt and pepper, butter pats, pitchers of water (or other beverage), any other condiments (salad dressings, etc…). See if this can be cut down but still be offered by maybe:

  • serving the roll on the dinner plate
  • serving the drinks or having a drink table
  • choose one dressing that will be served already on the salad
  • etc…

Knowing, in advance, how and what your caterer needs to serve will allow you to come up with a better decor plan. A table that is loaded to the gills will lose any style it had prior to the have-to’s being placed on it.

What’s Next?

So, now you have an idea of how much space is need by your caterer and your guests. The remaining amount of space can be decorated. For ideas about linens and decorating for rectangular tables, see Wedding Decorations for Rectangular Tables | Part 2.

For help with choosing the right sized table linens, see What Size Table Linens Do I Need? 

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About the Author

About the Author: With 20+ years in the wedding and event industry, I have seen a lot of unique, unusual and funky weddings. Every one of them were a journey of discovery and a reflection of the bride and groom. I had a ball and am now passing along some of those pearls of wisdom to today's brides and grooms. A wedding is personal -- it's about the two of you and your relationship -- let's make it as unique and offbeat as you each are! .


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  1. What Size Table Linens Do I Need? | DIY Weddings and Events | June 4, 2013

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