The Importance of the Layout

When planning a wedding, one of the things you don’t really worry about until the last weeks leading up to the event is the layout.  Where will the tables go?  Who will sit with who?  Where will you put the DJ?  ‘Sweetheart Table’ or ‘Head Table’?  How big of a dance floor will you have?  In this blog, I’ll cover some of the more important items relating to the layout of your venue.

Perhaps the first and most important decision you’ll have to make is how many guests you will have at your wedding.  The more guests you have, the larger the venue you’ll need to rent.  Also, the more guests you have, the more expensive the venue will be, as many venues will charge you based on the size of your party so that they can adequately staff the event, as well as provide food for each person, should you choose a venue that has that as an option.

Once you’ve created your guest list, or at the very least determined the maximum amount of people you intend to invite, the next step is to find the venue.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the venue you choose will be a direct reflection of both your ideal wedding, as well as your budget.  Restaurants have back rooms that can be rented for special events, country clubs typically have venues that they like to rent out for events, hotels have banquet halls, and sometimes family members have large backyards that can be utilized for your special day.  In addition, there are specialty venues that are a bit more expensive that cater specifically to special events that may be rented for the day, weekend, etc.

Once you have found your venue and received all of your R.S.V.P.s, it is time to start creating your layout.  In most cases the venue will have a representative that is an expert in their space and can help guide you in the process of deciding what will go where.  It is important to note, however, that some venues simply are not conducive to certain layouts, and if you have something specific in mind, it would be wise to discuss those ideas with the catering manager prior to signing a contract for a particular venue.  In relation to a venue, there is nothing worse than to lock yourself into one particular place, only to learn after-the-fact that the picture of the layout you had in your mind is either too big, or simply not realistic for the venue you chose.

Are you looking to have a long ‘Head Table’ where your wedding party will join you for dinner?  Are you going to have a ‘Sweetheart Table’, where just you and your new spouse will sit, typically in a central part of the room?  Or will you and your new spouse simply sit at a regular table, perhaps in the relative center of the room at the edge of the dance floor?

Having a ‘Head Table’ is perhaps one of the oldest traditions for wedding receptions.  The bride and good sit in the middle facing the dance floor and the crowd, while the groomsmen sit on the side of the groom, and the bridesmaids sit on the side of the bride, typically in order from the Best Man and Maid/Matron of Honor sitting immediately on either side of the bride and groom, to the last couple in the wedding party sitting furthest apart.  The ‘Sweetheart Table’ is a newer, yet very popular tradition, where the bride and groom are given a small table just to themselves where they can be seen by a majority of, if not all of their guests. (Sometimes this table is put on a small stage so they are more easily visible to their guests.)  The third option, simply having the bride and groom sit at a regular table on the edge of the dance floor, is not something I have seen more than perhaps a handful of times, but it is certainly an option.

Now that you have decided who will sit where, it is time to start thinking about the “extras” that will be in the room.  At most weddings, there is a bar, a gift table, a DJ table, a cake table, and a dance floor.  Additional items include photo booths, projector screens, projectors themselves, guestbooks, etc.  The location of each of these is strategic and can effect the energy of your event as well as traffic patterns of your guests.  (It probably sounds a little strange and perhaps a bit overwhelming to be thinking about “traffic patterns” at your wedding, but bear with me and I promise I’ll explain in detail.)

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The dance floor is relatively easy to place.  In most venues, the best place for the dance floor is roughly in the middle of the room, closer to one wall, with guest tables on at least two sides, and the DJ’s table between the wall and the dance floor. (I’ll discuss the importance of the location of the DJ in a bit.) There are a few things to remember when placing things like bars, the DJ, the cake table and the like.  First, remember that, if you are like most weddings and you have a bar, it will likely be an extremely popular destination at your wedding reception.  People will be visiting it multiple times throughout the night, so you want to make sure that it is situated in such a place that it does not detract from the rest of the event.  As a rule, I suggest to all of my clients, and I reiterate it as I am lining up their wedding parties for the Grand Entrance, that they do their best to stay on the dance floor as much as possible once the dancing has started.  Not only does this encourage their guests to join them on the dance floor.  Because it is their wedding, it is natural that nearly all of their guests will want to have a conversation at some point in the night.  If they are on the dance floor, it is highly likely that their guests will make their way to the

dance floor to have an opportunity to say hello, and if the bride and groom are dancing, the energy becomes contagious and organically begins to populate the dance floor.  As well, if your bar is located outside of your main banquet room, people will be forced to leave the room to get themselves another drink, which means they will be taking all of their positive “party” energy with them.  Not only does this detract from the dance floor, but it also means that, should the bride and groom decide that they themselves want to visit the bar, though, as I said, this is something I try to discourage to all of my clients, they too will be forced to leave the room.  When they do, those same people that would join them on the dance floor will follow them out to the bar, making it that much harder for them to get back in to the room and that much more likely that the dance floor will begin to empty out.  The best way to attempt to mediate this is to keep the bars inside the main banquet hall.

Though not quite as importance, the placement of the cake table is something that should be addressed as well.  At some point in the night, you and your new

spouse will make your way to the cake table and ceremoniously cut your wedding cake for the cameras.  A good DJ will have pre-selected music to allow you to make your way to the cake table where your photographer, videographer, and friends and family are probably already waiting.  In relation to the dance floor, you probably want your cake table to be either at an opposite wall than the Sweetheart or Head table, in a corner, or against a side wall, with enough room surrounding your cake table, typically a small round or square table, for your photographer and videographer to have space between your cake table and your guest tables to come take pictures and video.

The gift table is most likely going to be six feet long and covered with some sort of table cloth or skirt.  The most common place for the gift table is against a wall near the entrance to the room where you will be holding your reception.

The placement of the DJ table is probably as important as the placement of the dance floor.  Because your DJ/Emcee brings some specific skills to your event and will have specific duties, it is important to ensure that it is not too difficult for them to what

you are paying so much for.  First, in most circumstances, your DJ will also act as your Emcee, which means that he or she will be making announcements, introducing the new couple, as well as playing music and working with your coordinator to ensur

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ut the night that event is going as smoothly as possible.  As you see in the photo above, the DJ booth is on the edge of the dance floor, facing the Sweetheart table.  Personally, this is my favorite place to be for a few specific reasons.  First, as I will be making a few trips to the dance floor and around the room throughout the evening, being in that location makes is a short distance from the dance floor to the DJ equipment so key songs may be played quickly without lag time between my leaving the dance floor and getting back to the DJ table.  Second, people are going to be looking at the couple all evening.  If I were placed to their side, as a habit, people would turn to look at me as I was making announcements.  However, if I am directly opposite the couple, and since a majority of the people will be seated facing the couple, they will be forced to naturally look away from me.  Since the bride and groom should be the main focus of the event anyway and not the DJ, band, etc., visual and otherwise, it forces the spotlight on them and away from me.  The last reason has to do with the dance sets.  Once most of the special events have concluded, i.e. first dance, bouquet and garter toss, etc., I turn to DJ mode.  Now, for most of the night, my job is to keep the dance floor as full as possible!  This is achieved by playing music that will keep people dancing, as well as allowing my enthusiasm and energy to permeate the dance floor.  Though it happens on occasion, it is very difficult to do this from back corner of the room with multiple guest tables separating me from the area where people are dancing.

As for additional items like photo booths, dessert tables, guestbooks and the like, the more things you keep in the room, the more you’ll encourage your guests to dance…and after all, people don’t typically remember the cake, the food, or e

ven the ice sculpture!  What they remember is how much fun they had at your wedding, which is typically a reflection of how much dancing they and everyone around them were doing at your wedding!

As with everything related to planning a wedding, the layout is a bit more than one might expect, but if you use those suggestions as a guideline, you will maximize the ease of keeping your room full and the energy thriving!

***Geoff Maddox has been a professional wedding and event emcee and DJ for over 15 years.  He has appeared on TV and has been interviewed by various news outlets about his books and how he helps couples avoid vendor scams and advises them on ways to have their dream wedding without breaking the bank.  more information and booking, please visit http://gmedj.com.

About GME DJ and Event Entertainment

I have been a DJ for about 10 years. Though my main business is weddings, I've DJed everything from corporate parties, to clubs, to sweet 16s, bar and bat mitzvahs, and more! I began singing when I was really young which jump-started my love of music! Not only does this give me a unique perspective, but it also allows me to more accurately assist clients with their music selection! My main philosophy is that a wedding or other event should be a reflection of the bride and groom or the person whom the event is for, and because of that, at the end of the night, they should feel like it was "The best party they've ever attended!", and I go out of my way to ensure that experience!
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