Planning a wedding in 2021 comes with a whole new set of concerns — including how to space guests appropriately during your ceremony and reception. Here, wedding pros share their favorite ideas for a socially-distant reception seating plan.By: Kristen Klein
Photo: Megan Rei Photography
Draw inspiration from restaurants and use a variety of table sizes throughout your reception, seating guests according to their household rather than trying to shoehorn guests into fixed 12-person tables.
"The idea of a socially-distant seating chart sounds like a lot of different negative things, but we look at it like an opportunity!" says AnneMarie Austin of Something Blue Productions. "You have the best excuse to introduce tables of different sizes and shapes! Spread the tables out, add some candle light, and you have an intimate, safe, and still beautiful space."
"Consider setting up your seating similar to restaurant style seating, still six feet apart, but in clusters of four or six. This seating plan not only provides a safer environment, but gives the illusion of a bigger wedding," says AJ Williams of AJ Events.
Photo: Megan Rei Photography
Think of your reception room as a checker board, and place tables at diagonal angles from each other. "Your impulse might be to spread seating out along a perimeter, but this counteracts a sense of togetherness," says Sage McRae of Sage McRae Event Design. Diagonal angles allow you to add extra space between tables while still creating an inclusive feel.
Full-Size Tables with Reduced Chairs
If your venue doesn't have the capacity to offer you multiple sizes of tables, simply seat fewer guests per table! Stick with the standard table size, but cut the number of chairs in half to give everyone more space. “It gives people space to spread out around the table and feel safe,” says Juls Sharpley of Bubbles & Bowties.
Photo: Lorely Meza Photography
With a smaller guest list, you may be envisioning placing all of your guests at a single table — but even a micro-wedding may be over the per-table limit in some states.
“The bride's dream was to have one big table for all of them to dine together. However, with COVID restrictions, they had to be at two tables, six feet apart, with a max of eight at each table,” explains Sharpley. "She understood but was really disappointed, so we had an idea! We had two long, rectangle tables facing each other and only seated guests on the perimeter of each table, so no one's back was to another. We left a gap in the middle of the tables, but it felt like everyone was at one big King's Table, giving them the experience they were looking for.”
Photo: Megan Wynn Photography via Bubbles & Bowties
Your wedding theme can help remind guests to stay distant. "Pull inspiration from past travels by designing seating areas as islands or popular cities — maintaining a metaphorical ocean between tables," says McRae.
Pods at a Long Table
Always dreamed of seating all of your guests at one long table? It's still possible – just ensure proper spacing between family groups, and try to avoid seating guests directly across from one another.
Photo: Blancorazon Wedding Photography
Clear Tents or Igloos
Climate-controlled igloos are all the rage at restaurants right now, providing families with a safer way to dine out. The igloos aren't just convenient — they're also beautiful, which makes it no surprise that they're showing up in weddings, too. "Having clear-sided tents per household group will allow for beautiful opportunities for varying décor in each tent and still provides a sense of unity between the entire group," says McRae. "Keep air flowing with circulating fans at a distance from guests, which can be partially concealed in floral and plant installations."
Photo: Congress Hall
To gain more distance in a smaller space, consider raised platforms to create different layers. "If you can manage it, consider outdoor theaters or stadium space, and arrange tables in the same general section but on different levels (vertically) so that you can look above or below to see fellow party-goers," says McRae.
Instead of just assigning each guest to a table, take it a step further and gain even more control over social distancing by assigning each individual seat. "While it is not a new concept, it's extremely helpful to manage social distancing. With a table meant for seating 10, by assigning the seats, you can do a party of two, two, and three by spacing in between the groupings rather than having to space all of the individual place settings," says Shannon Tarrant of WeddingVenueMap.com.