Wedding Math: Time & Space, and how they work in real life

If you’ve never planned a large event before, you probably haven’t made it through the learning curve of “Event Math.”  You might think it takes 5 minutes to get from your hotel to the venue.  It doesn’t.  It never does.  You also might think that it takes a few seconds to tie that pretty little ribbon around your napkins, so for 200 napkins it really won’t take that long at all.  It will take forever.  And you might think that the 6” round vases you bought to fill with flowers and put in the center of a 60” round table will look nice and full. Spoiler Alert: It won’t!

So, I’m going to walk you through a little bit of Event Math. First, we’ll discuss the factors of “time.”  Then, we’ll go into “space.”


  • Buses vs Car Travel Time: When planning out your event day, you might encounter some times when you need to travel from here to there. Even if it’s factoring in the time it takes to ride the elevator from your hotel room to the floor where the ballroom is, these things take time.  One of the most misunderstood aspects of timing is travel time in a large vehicle, such as a party bus.  If you are transporting your guests or wedding party from Point A to Point B, and you rely on your trusty GPS’s ETA, you will unfortunately be a bit late.  Because here are some things to consider:
    1) It’s going to take some time for your guests to load up into that vehicle.
    2) That vehicle probably is not going to drive as fast as you would in a car.
    3) That vehicle can’t zip around in traffic or pull into a turn as quickly as you can in a car.  Think about the size of the gap in traffic you normally look for when making a turn in your car.  Now imagine that you’re in a vehicle that is 3-5 times as long.  Those huge gaps in traffic only come around once in a blue moon.
    4) Not all large vehicles can drive on the most direct route.  There may be a bridge or overpass that restricts access due to weight or height of the vehicle, and you’ll have to make your way around the long way. So be sure to add on a bit of extra time when planning your travel times for the day.
  • Bride getting dressed: In the fitting room at the bridal shop, with a team of professionals at the helm, you can get into your gown in a jiffy. In real life, here’s what happens:
    Planner: “Time to get into your dress!  Yay”
    Bride: “Wait, I want a picture of all the girls in our cute robes with our glasses of champagne”
    Planner: “Let me pour some champagne for you while you all pile onto the bed for a cute picture” (Glasses have been used for mimosas all morning.  Planner rinses glasses out and pours champagne.)
    [5 minutes later, picture is taken]
    Bride: “I have to pee!”
    Planner: “Don’t forget to freshen up your deodorant while you’re in there.”
    [Bride also lotions up her entire body and puts on perfume.]
    Bride: “How do these Spanx go on?”
    Planner: “Alright, step right into your dress.”
    Maid of Honor: “How do all these buttons and straps work?”
    Planner: “Like this…”
    Maid of Honor: “Okay, I think I can do it.”
    [5 minutes later]
    Planner: “Would you like me to do a few buttons?  Then the photographer can get a picture of you doing the last one and it will look like you’ve done them all the whole time.”
    Maid of Honor: “No, I got it!”
    Planner: “You got it…”
    Maid of Honor: “Son of a…!!!”
    Planner: “Would you like me to help?”
    Maid of Honor: “Yes, please.” The dress if finally fastened, and then it’s time for shoes, earrings, necklace, bracelet, VEIL!
    Bride: “Can we get a picture of everyone together with their dresses on before we leave?” THIRTY MINUTES LATER… All set. Let’s go.
  • Receiving Line: I have mixed feelings about them.  I think there are some weddings where they work really well, and other weddings where they don’t.  If you have a large gap of time between your ceremony and reception, that’s a great opportunity to have a receiving line.  If you don’t need to get out of the church right away, or you don’t need to report back to the altar for photographs immediately, it’s also a great time to do a receiving line.  If you’re limited on time in any of those ways, however, please do not do a receiving line.  I do love the fact that the receiving line relieves the couple of their obligation to visit every guest during the reception.
    But keep this in mind about receiving lines: Let’s say you have 120 guests at your wedding.  And let’s say you realistically will spend 30 seconds greeting each one of them in the receiving line.  That’s a FULL HOUR of receiving line!  Do you have time for that on your wedding day?
  • Event Set-up: We’ve encountered this so many times: The couple says, “We have a few things for you to set up on our wedding day.”  Sure, no problem!  That’s what we are there for.  We just ask that you have it all conveniently labeled and ready for us to set up.  Fully-assembled and READY to go.  That means unwrapped.  If you have a little elephant tchotchke for each place setting, please do not hand us a box of individually bubble-wrapped and fully scotch taped elephants that we have to spend an hour unwrapping on your wedding day.  If we are setting up escort cards, please have them alphabetized by last name (not by table number).  If you have place cards for each person, please have them bundled together by table number, in the order that you want people to sit around the table.  Please make things as efficient as possible for our set-up.  Even the little things add up, such as taking things out of boxes, filling up containers with water for your floating candles that your florist won’t set up, walking around to each table to place things on them.  The more effectively you use our time, the more helpful we can be to you.
  • Order of events for the reception: A seasoned planner will be able to help you organize your order of events to optimize the time you have for the celebration. If you have a 4 hour reception, it will fly by quicker than you can imagine. It’s important to make sure you are combining as many activities as possible, in a tactful way that is not disruptive.  For instance, you don’t want to have speeches going on while dinner is being served, because there will be too much chatter and dish clanging.  But having the Father/Daughter and Mother/Son dances at the tail end of the dinner service is a nice way to overlap two things to get the most use out of your time.  And by the time the parent dances are done, the guests are finished with their dinner and ready to join you on the dance floor.


  • Tables: This is a big one! Please be realistic about how you are using your space.  Some fun facts for you —
    Most round tables at events are 60” in diameter.  You need about 2 linear feet of table edge to accommodate each guest.  So, let’s break out our middle school geometry.  C = 2πr.  So, the circumference of a table is the Diameter of the table times 3.14.  A 60” table has a circumference of 15.7 linear feet.  This means you can very comfortably fit 8 guests at a 60” table.  If you are okay with your guests being a bit cozier, you can really fit up to 10 people.  However, if you plan to have chargers (base plates) you must stick with 8, or you’ll have no room left for the flatware. (More on this below)
    If you do seating at a rectangular table, the geometry is much simpler.  At 2-feet per person, you can fit 4 people along each side of an 8’-long banquet table.
    When arranging the room, I try to accommodate 6’ of space between each table.  This allows room for the chairs, with people sitting in them, and room to walk in between the tables.  You definitely want to ensure that your servers can navigate the room while everyone is seated.
    Another thing we hear every once in a while, is: “There will be some kids, so we could fit more people at this table.”  Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter the size of the people.  Kids need regular chairs and just as much space on the table.
  • Chargers: If you love the look of chargers (or base plates) please keep in mind how much space they consume on a table. The most common table size is 60″ diameter, which can seat up to 10 guests.  However, if you plan to have charger plates, which are typically 13″ in diameter, you won’t be able to fit as many guests at your tables.  8-9 is much more comfortable.  Here’s a schematic that explains why 10 won’t work:

    Tell me… Where is your flatware going to go? There is less than an inch-and-a-half between each charger plate. Too close for comfort, if you ask me.  And I’ve seen too many people try to push this, and their flatware ends up tucked beneath the charger.  No thanks!
  • Linens: Please invest in linens that go all the way to the floor. Here is a handy chart from one of our favorite linen suppliers, Creative Coverings, which demonstrates what size linens work on each size table:
  • Dance floor sizing: On average, you should account for approximately 2.5 square feet of dance floor space per guest. I would even recommend increasing that amount for Jewish and Greek weddings, where it is common for guests to dance in a circular formation.  So for every 100 guests, you’ll need 250 square feet of dancing space.  A 16’x16’ dance floor would be ideal.
  • Chair spacing for ceremony: Here’s a quick tip —
    The amount of space between the rows of seating is equal to the depth of the chair being used. So, place three chairs butted up against each other, front to back. Then remove the middle chair, and you have the position of two rows.  This is repeated for each row of chairs.
  • Is your reception space much bigger than you need? Try adding lounge seating to fill the space. You can also limit the tables to fewer people, so you’ll need more tables to fill the space. (Be careful on driving up your costs, though.)  You can also use pipe & drape to make the space smaller.  This also softens the look of any room.  Lighting can also help a space feel cozier. Also, adding décor that draws the eye up can make the room feel more intimate.  If you have a vast ballroom, incorporate elevated centerpieces, or hanging arrangements if possible.  Lower-hanging lights over the dance floor can also make a space fee more intimate.
  • If you are planning to serve a meal family-style, you’ll need larger tables and smaller centerpieces. This type of food service often requires multiple serving platters on each table.
  • Leave space in the car for all the stuff at the end of the night! Someone in your family will most likely be going home with: Leftover décor, signage, gifts, marriage license, leftover food, cake top, and any leftover liquor if you purchased it directly.  This can suck up quite a bit of space in any vehicle.

Bonus Category:

Money, as it relates to Time:

I could write a whole blog on how money adds up faster than you can imagine.  But I wanted to point out one particular thing here, as it relates to Money and Time.  Please, PLEASE, ensure that the toasts are brief.  We know your Best Man and Maid of Honor love you, but for heaven’s sake, no one wants to listen to a speech that is longer than it needs to be.  Especially if you have a band.  Here’s a little math for you:
Let’s say you hired a band that charges $6000 for a 4-hour reception. That’s theoretically $1500 per hour.  (Not really, because you’re also paying for their rehearsal time, admin fees, talent, etc. – but just go with me on this.) And let’s say your Best Man gives a 20-minute speech.  Sounds ridiculous, right?  It happens all too often!  Well, that hilarious, heartfelt, sappy speech just cost you a whopping $500 of your band’s time!  That’s precious time that you could be spending on the dance floor, proving to your guests that the Best Man was totally wrong when he insulted your dancing skills during his drawn-out speech.