When's the Right Time to Finalize Your Wedding Reception's Floor Plan?

elegant tent wedding reception with orange and wooden decor
elegant tent wedding reception with orange and wooden decor

Gayle Brooker Photography

Deciding on the floor plan for your wedding isn't just about where you'll put the dance floor and whether or not you want a sweetheart table: It affects almost every other part of your reception, too, from the style of your meal service and how many centerpieces you need to the size of your escort card display and the logistics of setting up your band. But it's also not a one-time decision—your guest list, décor, and setup can change weeks (or even days) before you say "I do," so note these four key deadlines on your wedding-planning timeline.

Related: How to Plan an Interesting Floor Plan for Your Wedding Ceremony and Reception

As soon as you start planning.

When you choose your wedding venue, you'll likely have a general floor plan in mind, whether it's a standard setup they suggest or your own vision. "We start with a preliminary floor plan at the very beginning, based on the estimated guest count, even though it will change as it gets closer—we have that to work off for months," says event planner Vanessa Michelle, owner of Vanessa Michelle Co. This temporary layout lets vendors and designers consider logistics like whether the band needs to bring in another power source, where you'll plug in your photo booth, how many tables you'll need to rent, and which space would provide a photo-ready backdrop for your escort cards. The other crucial early-stage choice is what kind of meal service you want: If you choose a seated dinner with a choice of entrée, you'll have to include that on your invitation; if it's a buffet or meal stations, the size and flow of those tables will decide the rest of your floor plan.

Six to eight months before your wedding.

About six to eight months out from your wedding, says Michelle, is when you'll get into "the nitty-gritty" of planning, locking down details like table shapes and sizes, lounge furniture, and any décor displays. It may seem early, but if you have a specific look in mind, then the sooner you book, the better. "I do always tell my couples, if you want your first choice of chairs, tables, linens, any kind of rental furniture, we need to decide that far in advance," she says. Though a professional planning team can add or change elements even the week before your wedding, advance decisions benefit your overall look (and your budget): "That six to eight month mark is a good time," she says, "so it's a well-thought-out plan, they're not doing anything last minute, and they don't have to incur any rush fees—everything can be done in time."

Two months before your wedding.

Michelle works with her clients to finalize their design plan two to three months before the event, which still allows time for changing the rental order and adjusting the floor plan. "All of that could change if the couple sees something different or she wants to wipe it out and try something new," she says. "Were working off a basic idea the entire time, but couples have changed their minds before, so we wait to finalize since that could change the actual layout." So, if you want to trade round tables for long, family-style-friendly options, add a sprig of floral to each place setting, or swap out your white lounge furniture for a brighter palette, that's usually still an option.

Two weeks (or less) before your wedding.

It may feel last-minute, but caterers and florists both rely on your final guest list to confirm their numbers, so you can expect to give them your final seating assignments and number of tables in the last month before your wedding date. "For the florist, our final numbers will be in to her or him two to three weeks before the wedding, when we know the final guest count, the final count of tables, the final centerpiece count," says Michelle. "For catering we normally don't have our final numbers until the week of the wedding—most of them are comfortable getting that seven days prior." Last-minute changes—like a guest who comes down with the flu—may alter your seating chart and require a quick update to the caterer and set-up staff in the moment, but won't change the overall floor plan. "For our final, final, floor plan," says Michelle, "I want it all done the week before the wedding."