All You Need to Know About Reception Lighting and Rentals

Even the best venues don’t always have everything you want or need, like that adorable mismatched glassware. This is where rentals come in. Here, we’ve got everything you need to know about lighting and rentals, broken down by category—from tables and chair to lounge furniture.


What kind of lighting should I choose?

Why you want to know: You may have not thought about lighting, but it’s actually a pretty key element. Lighting can set the tone of your celebration, whether it’s fun market lights for a low-key garden party or a color wash on the walls of your ballroom to create a dramatic look. Decide the style and mood you’re going for and work from there. Even small lamps or candles can add a lot to a space.


What size tent do we need for a seated reception?

Why you want to know: We suggest you multiply the number of guests by 13 for the minimum size in square feet you’ll need for a sit-down reception, or by 15 to guarantee each guest has a comfortable amount of space. For example, if you’re having 120 guests for a seated dinner, you’ll need a tent with an area of at least 1,560 square feet.

Dance Floor

How big should our dance floor be?

Why you want to know: We’re about to get a little more technical here. Rental companies suggest that about 40 percent of your guests will be dancing at any given time, and for every two people on the dance floor, there should be about nine square feet. If we stick with the example of 120 guests, then you can assume 24 couples will be on the dance floor at one time and each of these couples needs about nine square feet of space to get down comfortably. This means you need a dance floor of at least 216 square feet.


What size stage do we need to fit all of our musicians?

Why you want to know: This will depend on the type of band and the number of pieces they use, but most bands will need a stage of at least 12 feet deep to accommodate all of their equipment. Generally, a solo performer, like a DJ or vocalist, will need a stage of about eight by four feet. After that, add around four feet for each additional musician. Ask the bandleader or DJ what type of space they expect and make sure that’s included in the layout of the reception space, along with your dance floor. Whatever size stage you decide on, make sure the size is stated in your contract.


What table shape should we choose?

Why you want to know: Generally round and rectangular tables are the most common shapes. Most venues have round tables—the seating won’t be thrown off if you have a no-show and it’s easier to mingle around them. Just be careful that the centerpieces you choose don’t block your guests’ views across the table and disrupt the flow of conversation. Square tables are another option and feel a bit more modern. But because this isn’t a standard table shape, your venue might charge you extra, and the price of linens could go up. Typical square tables are also limited to eight people, so you may have to rent more to accommodate all your guests. Another big trend is long tables, which can fit a larger number of guests and give a more intimate feel. The only possible downside is guests will likely be limited in conversation to their immediate neighbors.

How many tables do we need?

Why you want to know: This really depends on how many people will be seated at each table. The standard is 8 to 10 guests, but you can find smaller tables for a more intimate celebration or place long tables end to end for a table of 50. Once you figure out how many people will sit comfortably at the type of table you choose, then it’s just a matter of simple math.


How many chairs will we need?

Why you want to know: This may seem like an unnecessary question—just get a chair for each guest, right? It’s not that straightforward. You also want to make sure you have enough chairs for your vendors, like your planner and musicians when they’re on break and any others who may be staying through the reception. Just to be safe, rent an extra 10 to 15 chairs.

What kind of chairs should we have?

Why you want to know: This all depends on your wedding style. Ghost chairs (a sleek, transparent reinvention of the armchair) are a more modern choice, while chiavari (a light, classic seat) can fit almost any theme depending on their wood stain or color.

Should we have chair accessories?

Why you want to know: This includes things like covers and sashes and, again, depends on your style. These additions are generally for more formal events. But you could always include fun décor on your and your new spouse’s chair so everyone knows where the newlyweds are sitting.


How many plates and flatware are enough?

Follow the same rules for chairs for this one. Each guest needs a full place setting, which includes plates (dinner plate, bread plate, salad plate, dessert plate), forks (salad fork, main fork, dessert fork), knives (butter knife, steak knife—if you’re having steak) and spoons (for coffee or tea, or for soup). The formality of your affair will determine whether you have salad forks, dessert spoons or the number of plates at each guest’s seat. A grand party will call for a charger, a butter plate and a few others for salad, dessert and possibly soup; whereas a more casual reception might only need one large plate. Just be sure to also include your vendors who are getting a meal to the total number of plates and utensils that you’ll need. And always add extras, as plates can break, and flatware can fall on the floor. You’ll also likely need plates and utensils for your cocktail hour as well. Since guests may use multiple plates or utensils for cocktail hour, be sure to have more than enough on hand. Talk to your caterer to see how many they think would be enough.


How many different glasses do we need?

Why you want to know: Water glasses are a given, as are red wine and white glasses. If you’re having a champagne toast, you’ll need flutes. Then decide which speciality drink glasses, like tumblers, you’ll need for the bar. The fancier the occasion, the more formal and diverse your glassware should be. It’s likely your venue will have bar glasses if they serve alcohol, but this is definitely something you’ll want to confirm. For the number of glasses, rental companies advise that each guest will have about one drink every hour. So if you have 100 guests for a three-hour reception, you’ll need at least 300 glasses, plus the champagne flutes for the toast and water glasses at each place setting too.


What kind of linens do we need?

Why you want to know: When people think reception linens, they generally think tablecloths and napkins for the guest tables. But your cocktail tables probably need linens too, as well as the cake table, buffet tables or food stations. And don’t forget about the overlays you may want to use for a pop of color on your tablescapes.

Lounge Furniture

What should be included in a lounge area?

Why you want to know: Lounge areas are one of our favorite extras at a reception. Guests love having a place to kick back after a visit to the dance floor. Some pieces to consider are couches, chairs, ottomans, side tables and coffee tables.

Portable toilets

Do I need them and, if so, how many?

Why you want to know: If you’re having an outdoor wedding, you’ll need to provide restroom accommodations. While they’re not the prettiest detail, portable restrooms have come a long way. For 125 guests, you should rent four toilets. For every 100 additional guests, add another restroom.

Find rental vendors in your area here.

For ways to save money while renting, check out our suggestions.

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