Planners know that creating floor plans and seating charts can often be a daunting task, but daunting can become downright challenging when trying to master this art in uncommon space. With destination weddings on the rise and couples looking at more unique, out of the box locales, planners certainly have their work cut out for them.
Reimagining the norm by creating one-of-a-kind, unforgettable set ups is also a great way to make you stand out and keep your work fresh. There is so much more to ceremony seating, for example, than rows of chairs on either side of an aisle, plus if your setting is a jungle in Belize, you might have to get creative. I’ve put together some tips and ideas on how to get creative, and have fun, with this.
Know Your Space
While this may seem obvious, it’s worth talking about. Chances are if your clients have decided on a jungle in Belize for their nuptials, they’re more on the adventurous side and not looking for “traditional.” By selecting a unique spot, it kind of goes without saying that the “norm” may not quite fit the mold, which I’m sure fellow planners will agree is the fun part. This is where creative juices can flow and the sky can be the limit.
Knowing the space is key because it’s going to allow you to educate your client on what will work and what won’t. Let’s stick with our jungle example … Are the tree roots and vines that cover the ground going to create a problem for seating? How are dense tree canopies going to affect lighting? This is where you might need to think outside the box and do things like adjust the time of the ceremony to ensure you are maximizing natural daylight or propose semi-circle seating vs. traditional rows to ensure everyone gets a good view of the happy couple. Some venues such as national forests and parks might require you to obtain a permit to use the space. This is where having trustworthy contacts on the ground is not only key, but an absolute must.
This goes hand in hand with knowing your space to a certain extent. This is where the design piece gets a little “unsexy” and as magical as having a reception under the stars on a Tuscan hillside may sound, we all know that the logistical reality of this is a bit less magical. Again, a lot of imagination, a bit of creativity and tons of flexibility are going to be key.
As planners, we get this and it’s our job to educate our clients and manage expectations. Crucial components such as electricity, bathrooms and the feasibility of catering need to be figured out before anything else can happen. Assuming these three elements are doable and financially attainable within the budget, the next step is figuring out a logistically functional floor plan. Multiple site visits are a pivotal task and relying on local vendors who have worked in the space is essential. You might have to advise your clients to buck the norm and perhaps think about going with food stations vs. a four-course plated dinner, for example.
Design & Layout
When working with conventional space—think hotel ballroom—you have exact room dimensions. This won’t necessarily be the case for more creative spaces and designing will require a bit more savvy. I recommend going back to basics.
The dance floor is usually the focal or “center” point of any event; start there and work your way out. According to The Knot, there should be at least three square feet of dance floor space between every two guests. If working with more limited, choppy space, like a pool deck, for example, you might want to consider covering the pool and placing the dance floor on top of it. Not only will this give you more space to work with, but it will create a totally cool and unique touch to the event.
Once you’ve established the size and location of the dance floor, you can figure out where you’re putting the band or the DJ. Obviously, staging is another thing to consider if you are having a band. Having designed many events in very unusual locales such as horse farms in Mexico, a bullfighting ring in Spain and even on a floating pool deck in Lake Como, I can tell you that flooring is key. Having even terrain is basic and this may require building a platform or putting down some type of flooring. This is where site visits and multiple walk throughs come into play. I would recommend bringing every vendor that is going to be involved in the event on at least one of those walk throughs. Measurements will need to be taken, floor plans will need to be drawn and event designs will need to be sketched.
Table placement is the next thing you will want to focus on, starting with what size and shape and how many tables you will need. Before making a final decision on table size, keep in mind what type of centerpieces you will have. While you want your table to be stunning, you won’t want the level of service to be affected because you haven’t accounted for enough room for the appropriate glassware, plates and silverware.
Remember that when working with a more remote locale, such as that hilltop in Tuscany, you may not have the ability to have a plated meal and may have to consider family style, for example. If this is the case, you will need even more room on the table. Other things to consider … Will there be a sweetheart table? Will there be an imperial table for the bridal party? All very important questions. No matter where the couple is sitting, making sure they are in a central, visible, location with a great view of the band and the dance floor is important. You might want to consider elevated seating, if necessary.
It goes without saying that all the above should be done with keeping the overall flow of the event, ease of service and accessibility to the dance floor and restrooms in mind. With so many wonderful tools and websites out there these days, mapping out your final floor plan and seating chart regardless of what type of venue can be a breeze. AllSeated is a great tool for any type of event and WeddingWire has a cool “drag and drop” feature which allows you to customize seating charts and keep track of RSVPs in one place. I also recommend checking out Brides for a complete lists of top digital seating chart tools.
Weather and the Elements
As obvious as this sounds, there are certain things that may not be so obvious. Every good planner knows that a weather back-up plan is mandatory for any outdoor event. That said, rain isn’t the only element that can cause stress. An outdoor event can be subject to wind, which might make lit candles a total impossibility or turn tall, top heavy centerpieces into potential hazards. I once had the unfortunate experience of having torrential rain and terrible winds topple over a tented canopy. Not fun!
Designing an event in an unconventional or unique space can be fun, challenging and very rewarding if one does their homework, is willing to think outside the box and remembers to keep an open mind and always a sense of humor.