Evaluating Alternative Wedding Ceremony Layouts

Weddings are expensive. There’s no denying that. In 2011 the average wedding cost a whopping $26,984. The pressure couples feel to create a memorable event for their guests is higher than ever, and with the cost of wedding related services increasing it’s getting much harder for couples to stretch their budgets. A great way to address this need for originality in a cost effective way is to get creative with basic elements by rethinking your event layout. Space planning and layout has a much larger impact on how your guests experience your event than most people realize. If done well, your layout can be the difference between guests remembering your wedding as one of the best they’ve ever been to and leaving before cake because of frustration.

Today we’ll be looking at (and evaluating) alternative layouts for wedding ceremony seating. And the good news is that implementing these ideas won’t cost a penny more than traditional seating because they’re all just a matter of shifting placement. When determining if an alternative ceremony layout is the right fit for you and your guests, consider the following issues in your decision:

– Sight Lines: In a traditional ceremony layout, guests face forward and they know what to expect and where the couple will be positioned. Alternative layouts may leave guests guessing where the best seat is and some people will inevitably be left looking at the brides back side.

– Size of Wedding Party: For larger wedding parties consider where the group will stand. In tight circular or spiral layouts there may not be room for larger wedding parties to stand and you don’t want bridesmaids hovering over seated guests.

– Wayfinding: It’s not standard these days to have a “bride’s side” and a “groom’s side”. However, you don’t want your guests to be confused and hesitant to sit because they’re not used to the layout. Whether you have ushers or simple signage, make sure you communicate to guests what your expectations are for them.

– Number of Guests: If you are planning a large wedding you should plan a layout where the chairs can be packed closely together. For a large number of guests, spread out layouts, such as, a single row spiral for 300 people, will take up entirely too much space.

– Pictures: Many people like to position where they will be standing and the potential altar with something beautiful framing the background, like mountains for example. Consider where your photographer will have the best setup to photograph the ceremony and what you are likely to see in the background of the images.

– Sound: Whether you like it or not, your guests want to hear the ceremony. Consider them and how far away the furthest guest will be seated from the action.

– Procession & Recession: If you’re a bride who doesn’t like all eyes on you, chances are you won’t want a long procession and recession. Incorporate the path (or aisle) you will walking down into your layout and make sure it’s a length that you feel comfortable with.

Circular With Aisle Straight Through

Photo found on Cocktails Details
Circle Within A Circle
Photography by Luna Photo.

Semi-Circle With Aisle Leading In

Photo by Claire Bean

Slight Curves Facing One Another

Single Row Spiral

Image along with a lot of comments and opinions on this setup can be found here. You’ll find it’s a love it or hate it kind of setup.

Four Quadrants 

 Photo by John & Jospeh Photography

If you like these ideas but it seems like a pain to plan and measure out, tools like Social Tables make it easier than ever before to create your own event floor plans to scale. When playing around with your chair layouts consider some critical dimensions:

– Aisle width minimum of 60″ wide 
– Distance between chair rows for walking and legroom at least 24″ 
– Ideally, at least 72″ from the front row of chairs to where the couple will be standing

If you’re getting married in a church, chances are you won’t have the flexibility to re-arrange the pews; however, I will be following up this post with creative ideas for your reception – so stay tuned!

For more advice on venues and creative event ideas & tips from Libby follower her on twitter at @VenuePlease.


Libby Bryant is an event designer and the founder of Venue Please, an online venue finder exclusively showcasing event spaces with personality. Libby received a degree in Interior Architecture from the University of Oregon; she developed her event career in New York City where she worked for M.A.C Cosmetics designing countless events for Fashion Weeks, press launches and VIP dinners. Libby is passionate about special spaces, as well as, the history and people that shape them. 

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  • Hello,

    Thanks for the wonderful post for Wedding Ceremony layouts. The view is  a major concern for guests, and your photographer. It’s important to be cognizant of the sight line of each guest and especially of how the aisle may or may not limit the ability of your photographer to capture great photos.  So it must be make sure that the chairs are placed with great views in various directions. The circular layout seems to be every convenient for it. Looks good.


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