Have you ever been to a wedding that was so crowded that people were shoulder-to-shoulder on the dance floor? Or a reception that felt like a vast empty hall because it was too large for the number of guests, resulting in a party with no energy? The problem in both these situations is that the venue was not the right size for the wedding. These are some tips on calculating the space needed for your wedding to get a perfect fit.
In many cases, choosing a ceremony location that is the right size will be easy. If having a church wedding, the officiant or office personnel can easily tell you how many people will fit in the pews. Unless your regular church is a tiny chapel, or your guest list is extremely large, you are unlikely to have a problem. If the church is far larger than the size of the guest list, simply have the ushers seat everyone together in the aisles closest to the altar. Churches that are too small can sometimes accommodate standing guests along the side aisles, although it is best not to subject your friends to an hour long ceremony if they will be forced to stand the whole time in their high heels!
If you are setting up the seating for your guests at an outdoor location, hotel ballroom, or open loft, a rule of thumb is to allow 6 square feet of space per person in each row. That does not include the aisle, altar, or area for musicians. A typical aisle is 6 feet wide, although if you are planning to wear a massive ballgown with tons of fancy wedding jewelry, you will need a wider space to make your grand entrance. Be sure that you have sufficient room in the front of the ceremony space for the entire wedding party, bride and groom, and the officiant to stand comfortably. Don't forget to allow room for any tables, arbors, large decorations or a Chuppah, as well.
A big mistake that people make in planning their receptions is to try to squeeze too many guests into too small a space. It is not just about limiting yourself to the maximum number of bodies the fire marshal permits in the ballroom, either. You want your guests to be comfortable! Some venues will pack people in to the absolute limit of what a space can fit, and it may not make for the most pleasant experience. Be careful that there will be adequate space at the tables, around the tables, and on the dance floor. Your wedding guests do not want to be crammed in like sardines dressed in fancy clothes and jewelry!
So how much space do you need? Of course every reception venue will be configured slightly differently, but there are some general guidelines for calculating space. For a rectangular dinner table, figure on 8 square feet per guest. A round table which seats eight needs an allotment of 10 square feet per guest, while a ten person table needs about 12 square feet per person. This is a very useful piece of information, because now you know that if space is tight, rectangular tables will feel less cramped in the room. As for the dance floor, allow approximately 3 - 4 square feet a person. Then there are all the other tables involved in a reception. Buffet tables need about 100 square feet a table (so consider table service if space is limited), a d.j. needs around 100 square feet (a band may need more, depending on its size and type), and each bar requires another 100 square feet (plan on one bar per 100 guests or more if your family really likes to party!).
Keep in mind that you may have other specialty tables you would like, such as those for the guest book, escort cards, and wedding presents. Your wedding venue coordinator or tent company should be able to guide you towards matching your guest list to the right size space, but it is always good to have a sense of how to calculate your needs yourself for comparison. That way you can ensure that your wedding will have excellent flow and great energy.