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Setting the Stage

Optimum Room Set Up

Are you enhancing the experience of your guests, or hindering it? Let's discuss....

A symmetrical room with your guests surrounding a centrally located dance floor creates a centerpiece and focal point. Your guests will be able to see and hear every memorable moment without feeling like they are miles away from the excitement. We call this staging, and how it's chosen is very important to how connected your guests will feel during your reception.

Too often I hear about venues setting things up a certain way because “that’s just how we’ve always done it”. Well, pardon me, but how you’ve always done it isn’t necessarily the best option. And typically their default way of setting it up is to make their jobs easier, not necessarily make the experience for the client and their guests be the best it could be. I however, view things much differently than most. I view it from an entertainment perspective, just like if you were to go to a theater to watch a stage play or an arena to watch a concert. There is a reason and theory to why those locations are set up the way they are. It’s for optimum enjoyment and comfort of those in attendance.

In September 2009, I saw Metallica in Cincinnati OH at the US Bank Arena. Instead of the usual set up - the stage being at one end, and the people on the floor in front of the stage, and in the bleachers in a U-shape fashion around the arena, Metallica’s stage actually filled the entire floor of the arena. There was a limited “floor” area for concert goers around the perimeter of the stage, and then everyone else was in the bleacher area. But here’s the cool thing…there honestly wasn’t a bad seat in the place. In fact, where I was seated, up a ways (but not in the true nose bleed level) allowed me to see the floor of the stage, which had a lot of cool lights built in and patterns going at certain times of the show. People on the direct floor couldn’t see that, since they were at head level with the stage.

My point in telling you this is everybody that night enjoyed the show from where they were standing or sitting, because when a room is set up for optimum view for those in attendance, it makes it a much better experience for everyone involved.

Your wedding reception should get that same type of treatment. We’ve all used the phrase “attention to detail”. This typically refers to something positive which means you have a greater chance for success when all your t’s are crossed and I’s are dotted. So let’s talk about how to set your reception room up for success!

Below I have created a birds-eye view of 2 different IDEAL room layouts:

Ideal Room Layout #1

The above is set for 104 people at 8 guests per table, 117 at 9 per table, or 130 at 10 per table. The 2 grey tables are optional additions, if needed for a head count over 130 (at 10 per table).

This is the most ideal room layout because of the centrally located dance floor (center stage!) and the location for the MC/DJ. It creates a very nice symmetrical layout, which is very aesthetically pleasing, and keeps it nice and open for everyone to easily see everything. If those 2 extra (greyed out) tables are not needed, then you could shift those 2 inner rows of tables up a bit so that they are not side by side with the outer row of tables.

Cake

Notice that the cake is set up on the dance floor, as a “centerpiece” to the room. Too many venues default to putting the cake in one of the corners of the room, because “that’s where we always put it”. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that there is meaning and history to the cake cutting, whether they/you care about it or not. The cake cutting is a ceremonial part of the reception and shouldn’t be brushed over. Your cake cutting ceremony will be more fun when you can have everyone around you to share in this moment, rather than you being over in the shadows of a corner and making it harder for everyone to see. Everyone will have a better memory of it, and you’ll have some fantastic photos to boot!

MC/DJ - Speaker Location

In the above layout, having the Master of Ceremonies / DJ booth across the dance floor from the head table is ideal because as your MC, it is important that person not only has quick and easy access to the dance floor for leading and directing the reception that evening, but when it’s time to open the dance floor, the DJ can connect with the dancers better, and the dancers can have better access to him for song requests.

Gift Table

It is best to put your gift table in an area that is not near a main door. We trust that your guests wouldn’t walk out stealing a gift or two, but with people walking in off the street to check out the venue, maybe even possibly popping their head in your room during your reception (let’s hope not, but it happens), the chances of theft are much higher if your gifts are easily accessible to a quick exit.

This is also the best for the love story: If you plan to have me share your Love Story, the above layout is the best for this, just because of the symmetrical design. It is very important that your guests are able to see you, as you sit in front of my booth, during the Love Story.

Ideal Room Layout #2

The above is set for 96 people @ 8 guests per table, 108 @ 9 per table, or 120 @ 10 per table. The 3 grey tables are optional additions, if needed for a head count over 120 (@ 10 per table) .

Cake

Notice that the cake is also set up on the dance floor in this layout too, as a “centerpiece” to the room. Again, this is always your best option. After you two are done cutting it the catering staff can remove the cake from the dance floor to cut it in another area of the room and to place the individual pieces on a table for guests to grab (be sure to read the previous set up info about cake too).

MC/DJ - Speaker Location

In the above layout, the Master of Ceremonies / DJ booth is to the left (or can be to the right) of the head table when the other side of the dance floor is needed for additional tables. No matter what, your MC/DJ set up next to the dance floor is always best. So do not put tables between him and the dance floor. If the 3 grey tables are not needed for your head count, then refer back to EXAMPLE #1 for the best MC/DJ placement.

Tables

In this particular room design, it’s best that you don’t put your two closest tables TOO CLOSE to the MC/DJ, because your MC/DJ will need easy access to the dance floor, and not having to squeeze between his booth and the closest table is best. Also with the table distance, it creates some extra distance between his speakers and those tables.

Uh oh…..

Now let's talk about problematic layouts

The examples below you will want to avoid at all costs, especially the second one.

Problematic Layout #1

The above is set for 120 people @ 8 guests per table, 135 @ 9 per table, or 150 @ 10 per table.

MC/DJ - Speaker Location

Having guest tables directly in front of your head table is not a good idea, even though you may want to get your parents, grandparents, and immediate family as close to you as possible. They are now that much closer to the speakers, and even though I use Bose speakers, that eliminate the need to “crank it up” to reach those in the back, when the music volume does come up during open dancing (grand entrance being another one of those moments), those people closest are now subjected to the louder volume. Plus they would be blocking the view of the head table in general, and especially during toasts. The better choice in this layout would be to put those 3 tables that are currently directly in front of the head table, on the opposite side of the dance floor, and push the dance floor up against the head table, as in the second example of IDEAL layouts. Then put your immediate family at the two tables closest to the top corners of the dance floor ‐ the two tables show in red, in this example.

Cake

In reference to what was said earlier about cake location, you don’t want to put your cake in ANY corner, because it will be difficult for those on the opposite side of the room to see the cake cutting, and from my experience, most people just won’t migrate over in front of the cake table, even when invited. And then if they do, they are now blocking the view of everyone else. Again, refer to the suggestion in the first and second IDEAL room layouts for where to place your cake (temporarily on the dance floor).

The Love Story

If you plan to have me share your Love Story, then this set up is another reason why having space between my booth and the first table is important. Because as you sit in front of my booth while I share your Love Story, you don't want the first table closest to you to be right up next to you. That would be similar to sitting in the front row of a movie theater for that closest table. :‐P

Problematic Layout #2 (The worst)

The above is set for 128 people @ 8 guests per table, 144 @ 9 per table, or 160 @ 10 per table. This isn’t the ideal arrangement for a room because of the distance it creates between the dance floor and the back row (or back two rows).

MC/DJ - Speaker Location

This room arrangement doesn’t leave much choice for your MC/DJ to set up except on one side of the dance floor, unless there ends up being more room on each end of the head table than what is shown here. Then he could set up slightly angled in on either end.

Cake

In reference to what was said above about cake location, you don’t want to put your cake in ANY corner, because it will be difficult for those on the opposite side of the room to see the cake cutting, and from my experience, most people just won’t migrate over in front of the cake table, even when invited. And then if they do, they are now blocking the view of everyone else. In this room layout, the cake isn’t in a horrible spot, but would still be better off if it was located in the center of the dance floor. Then you two standing behind it facing your guests also allows for the photographer to capture shots with the wedding party smiling and admiring you in the background watching from the head table.

Gift Table

If you had to have a room arrangement like this, I would definitely put the cake table in the center of the dance floor, and the gift table where the cake is currently displayed in this diagram.

The Love Story

In this particular room layout, I would most definitely turn my DJ booth at an angle towards the guests, so that you would be facing them as well, while I share your love story. Or I would possibly put you out in front of your head table facing directly at your guests, which I have done in the past.

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Alright, that wraps up this very long (but important) blog about room set up. To summarize, use your dance floor as the focal point of the room and center it. Put your head table at the top, and your guests tables spread out evenly around the dance floor. And make sure your MC/DJ is located in an area near the dance floor (not over in corner with tables between him and the dance floor). Everyone will have a much better experience, and will enjoy themselves more because they aren’t feeling left out by being too far away from the action (like in PROBLEMATIC LAYOUT #2). And because of this, there’s a greater chance more guests will stay even longer than they may have originally planned.

Thanks for reading. And as always, comment and share this! 

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