Tablescapes: Setting the Scene

Fresh florals and an artisan cheese board team up to create an eye-catching centerpiece. Photo courtesy of culinary crafts

Wedding pros’ tips for creating tablescapes that elevate your wedding to the luxury level.

When dreaming up the look of your wedding’s dining tables, the very first element to consider is your dining style. Work with your caterer to determine what best fits your event, as the style of service will affect your event’s flow, the amount of design space on the tables themselves and the number of tables needed in the venue. 

“Preselected plated dinners always require assigned seating to ensure each guest gets the correct meal,” explains Meagan Crafts-Price, Marketing Manager with luxury caterer Culinary Crafts. According to the pros, assigned seats thoughtfully arranged by the couple and their planner speed up the transition into dinner, ensuring every guest knows exactly where to go. 

The sweetheart table is rapidly gaining ground with modern couples as a chance to go all-in on lavish design. Photo by Ashlee Brooke Photography
Photo by Heather Nan

To elevate the look and feel of your reception layout, planner Michelle Cousins of Michelle Leo Events almost always recommends a mix of table shapes, sizes and finishes to create a striking visual impact. 

“Assorted table dimensions present opportunities to create a variety of designs, while providing a similar enough vein that they all complement each other,” she says. 

“In especially large spaces, this can be a very impressive look for guests to take in all at once.” 

Then comes the fun part: the trimmings. According to Cousins, when getting into the nuts and bolts of your table design, the linen is the foundation. Therefore, tablecloths and coverings should be the first step in your design journey. This allows you to anchor your design with a playful pattern or a bold color, if desired, without overworking the final appearance of the table. 

“I wish more brides were brave enough to utilize patterns in their event design,” says Cousins. “It will be more memorable, and it doesn’t have to be trendy. It’s all in how you use it.” 

When zooming in to the tablescape design itself, both pros agree that family-style dining is the service style that most heavily impacts your tabletop layout. 

Photo by Pepper Nix
Wedding planner Michelle Cousins encourages couples to embrace a mix of table shapes, as well as bold colors and patterns in their table designs.
Photo by Kenzie Victory

“With a traditional family-style service in which platters are left on the table, you have to provide real estate for those platters,” says Cousins. “Often, that means you have to cut back on candles and floral.” 

But never fear—a reduction in traditional decor needn’t equate to ho-hum event design. Rather, catering pros like Price encourage couples to let the food deliver beauty to a tablescape. 

“Food is the social catalyst at your wedding,” Price explains. “Tablescapes that include food as part of their design provide an exciting way to get your guests to interact with each other.” 

Photos Courtesy of Culinary Crafts
Photo Courtesy of Culinary Crafts

While paring down or removing floral arrangements from tables altogether gives your catering team an empty canvas for creation, you don’t have to be without blooms. For alternative floral flair, consider suspending a lavish floral installation from the ceiling above.

“Giving us tables for use as pure culinary creative spaces makes the service itself a more elevated experience for your guests,” says Price. When it comes to service, Cousins agrees, “When platters of food double as the table’s decor, it gives vendors the cue to be very conscientious about presentation. The caterer becomes a designer, and all vendors must collaborate closely to make each table full and lush, beautiful and presentable.” 

You may also want to consider adorning your tables with gorgeously decorated cakes rather than centerpieces. Or for a banquet setting, you could opt for an impressive, table-spanning sprawl of charcuterie and artisan breads. Embrace the true spirit of “family-style” and let your guests interact by serving themselves and others from truly breathtaking platters of food. 

Regardless of service style, Cousins suggests a full place setting for every guest to heighten the level of design at a wedding reception. “The minute a table is set, it immediately looks like the couple spent more and thought more about it.”

And whether your celebration includes a family-style meal, buffet stations or a full-plated experience, individual place settings can be arranged accordingly to provide that final polish. “If detail shots and all the little things that go into a polished, finished look are a high priority to the couple, I suggest a plated dinner experience,” explains Cousins. 

So what elements actually compose a luxury plate setting? Michelle Cousins lists the proper ingredients: Most high-end settings begin with a charger stylized to match the event’s palette and mood. This is the largest item in each setting, and  it will add finalized sparkle to your table design. Atop the charger sits eye-catching china for each guest, but often only if family-style dining is your pick. “Plated dinners will see individual entree plates served to each guest, and buffet services typically host plates at each station as guests serve themselves,” Cousins says. 

Next, a napkin provides a wonderful opportunity to invite fresh color and pattern into your design. Then come the paper goods. 

No place setting is complete without luxurious layers: chargers, fine flatware, color-coordinated napkins and personalized paper are all must-haves for Cousins. Photo by Heather Nan

For plated meals and family service, a menu at each seat informs guests of what to expect of the meal. On your buffet or bar, menus can be customized and framed for a well-organized service flow. Paper elements can also include a tasteful place card, leading each guest to their designated seat with personalized flair. These stationery items are yet another layer of your design to help infuse your personal style. Cousins suggests repeating elements from your invitation suite for design continuity, whether it be the palette of your event, a personalized motif or even portraits of pets.

Once your table cloth or covering is determined—whether it’s classic white or something more daring–you then select your charger and china, followed by flatware and glassware. Floral and other statement design pieces become the final “wow-factors.” Each layer delivers a new level of beauty to your design, and a wedding planner’s trained eye can help establish an ideal balance of elements.

“Naturally, everyone wants to start talking about floral and candles, because that’s what the eye sees first,” Cousins says. “But from a design standpoint, that is the icing on the cake. Begin with the piece that people notice least, and let it serve as a prime backdrop for what’s most important.” 

These simple-yet-wildly-influential details—and the professional planner who imagines them— are the true mark of a luxury wedding. Increased thought and investment into each small vignette promises a more elevated and high-end experience.  

Clever combinations of crystal, candles and colorful blooms create unforgettable centerpieces on guest tables. Photo by Heather Nan
Photo courtesy of Culinary Crafts


1. Find Your Flow

Your event space, guest count and service style will be the biggest determination of your reception layout. Start there! 

2. Build Your Base

Begin with your linen selection to establish a firm foundation upon which to build the rest of your
table design. 

3. Ready, Set… 

Stack your settings with chargers, flatware, florals and fineries for
each guest. 

4. Final Fill 

Whether you delight guests with a full charcuterie centerpiece, dazzle with a dessert spread or show off with mountains of candles and blooms, choose a wow-factor as your final puzzle piece for a sleek and cohesive design. 

Photo by Heather Nan

“When platters of food can double as table decor, it gives vendors the cue to be conscientious about presentation. The caterer becomes a designer, and all vendors must collaborate closely to make each table full and lush, beautiful and presentable.”

Michelle Cousins, Michelle Leo Events

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