This is a guest article by English Wedding member Hannah Morris (hires out enamelware crockery at Enamelware Events)
and Lauren Alexander (wedding planner, stylist and event coordinator at Lauren Alexander Weddings).
Styling your Tables
So you have the dress and suit, you’ve got the band and the venue is all booked, tables seem to be the next item high up on the list for many couples. This is because the tables really are a highlight of the day. From setting the scene to colour schemes, the tables create the ambience of the day, influencing how people eat, how they communicate, how they see the couple as well as what it looks like. Often my couples know what their table shouldn’t look like, and from here we springboard to what they would like their table to be.
Lauren’s advice: Pinterest is a great area to start looking, as is Instagram, but don’t get too bogged down and get lost in the rabbit hole. Look at wedding websites and blogs for both real life wedding inspiration, being keenly aware of what a styled editorial shoot is and what a true wedding is. Often styled shoots are great ways for suppliers to show off what they can do, but practicalities for your wedding and your budget should always be precedent and paramount when making the decisions and before you spend any money.
Your tables should be a reflection of what you want, not what you think you need. Many stylists, magazines, blogs will give you a comprehensive list of things you must not forget, but realistically your table can be whatever you want it to be.
Top tip: Should you choose flowers for your table, make sure you do the forearm test! Sit your elbow on the table and put your hand up straight. Flowers need to either be below your hand, or they need to be above – not in between as guests won’t be able to see one another otherwise.
Also consider what style of food you are having – don’t lavish money on stunning floral centrepieces if you are having huge sharing boards as often in that case you will see your guests picking the flowers up and putting them on the floor in order to see each other better.
There are so many other ways to style a table, add your personality and create a beautiful vibe, but it is important to also not stretch yourself too thin. On the day you don’t want to be worried about name tags, candles, and folding linen and this is one of the reasons wedding stylists and venue dressers are so busy in the wedding season! Find a wedding stylist who will work with your wedding, your style and who you get on with. This is important for you to know so that you can really entrust them on the day.
Now you’ve got a good idea of the style and/or theme you’re going for, what type of crockery are you going to choose?
Here are some things you will want to consider with crockery at your wedding:
- Will it need to be washed up?
- If so, who will do the washing up and is there a kitchen / running water to enable that?
- Where will you source it from?
- Does the supplier deliver and collect the crockery or will you need to pick it up and drop off?
- What style would you like to fit in with your theme, venue and vibe?
- Does your caterer include crockery in their prices? Do you like the options they offer?
- Does it need to be suitable for children / outdoor setting, e.g. less breakable, no glass
- How do you feel about disposable tableware? If you get some, where can you dispose of it / recycle it?
Hannah hires out enamel dinnerware at Enamelware Events. This includes blue and white enamel mugs, grey and white enamel plates, bowls, serving platters and trays. I also serve out the extras: cutlery, serving spoons, wood slices, even some garden games and festoon lighting! I know things quickly add up, especially when you’re filling out a barn or marquee and you need to bring in everything. Do get in touch if you’d like to have enamelware crockery at your wedding.
Hannah also recommends biodegradable crockery where necessary. For example, if you have loads of guests and you don’t want to ask your friends to do the washing up, you have no running water or you can’t afford to pay a team to do the washing up. I provided some of our family ‘washing up team’ with a few plastic truggs so that they could have dirty/clean/soak piles and so on.
To reduce the washing up though, we chose sugarcane biodegradable bowls for our dessert. Because our dessert was at a buffet table, with all the bowls stacked up, the aesthetics didn’t feel so important.
Little Cherry and Vegware are good places to look for biodegradable dinnerware.
Charger plates are a favourite of Lauren’s: they look beautiful and really finish the table off. But usually once the meal is being served, they are taken away off the table never to be seen again. Aesthetically they are stunning, but it is important to consider cost vs. length of time they are there and what is important to you.
There are so many styles and colours of cutlery, and a really nice way of elevating your table is by bringing in different flatware. Be that carved, copper, modern, scandi, or traditional, there are really fun ways to play.
So you’ve got to the fun part of wedding planning where you can decide on the food you’re going to eat at your wedding. Lauren always asks her clients to close their eyes and imagine their day, what do they see, smell, hear, taste. Do they have a favourite restaurant, meal or place to travel to? These questions are so helpful in starting to plan your menu and also your search for the perfect caterer. This is also where you get to speak to different companies and, if you can, sample some of your caterer’s food before you settle on the right menu and business.
For my wedding (Hannah) we hired Smoke Catering. They’re a street food caterer so we got to meet them when they were at a Bristol street food event and sampled their food at the same time. We had an informal chat and talked through the different options that they offer, including alternatives for our vegan and gluten-free guests.
We decided on sharing tables. This meant that the plates and cutlery were already laid on the table the day before the wedding. This felt like one less thing to arrange – the name places were all set and the tables looked complete. It also avoids a long queue of people lining up to get the food. I’m extra glad we decided on this format as we had a rainy day wedding and the caterers were based outside with their smoker so guests would have been getting wet!
Sharing tables provides a really natural way to encourage guests to chat. When there’s a shared platter, the food has to be served out between the table so guests tend to serve each other, rather than just themselves, starting the conversation nicely. It feels more like a family meal in that way. It also means people are in control of their own portions, and the caterers have been able to divide it out per table rather than manage each person’s portion who comes up.
A few things to be aware of and consider:
- Shared tables can make serving take a little longer as the platters need to be taken to each table. If the catering team isn’t very big, perhaps you could enlist a couple of your wedding party in advance to help by bringing the food to the table. This keeps things moving and the food hot. Or you could pay for some extra staff.
- Because guests don’t go up for their food, there is no central place to put condiments and seasoning. If you need some for your meal, then there needs to be these on each table – salt, pepper, gravy or sauce, etc. Our caterers sorted this, but make sure that they will be able to do this or have some pots ready that they can decant into.
- What will happen to any leftovers? Can the caterer walk round the tables and offer out seconds or put some on a main table for a mini buffet area so that people can go up to get seconds? Chat with your caterers and wedding planner or coordinator if you have one to make a plan.
Another really nice sharing option is to have shared picnic hampers. Each basket per table/group would contain a selection of foods – e.g. cheese, crackers, cold meats, grapes, and so on. You could also include a picnic blanket if the guests are to move onto the grass, or a tablecloth to spread over a table.
Buffet Stations, Dessert and Snack Tables – Lauren
The term ‘buffet station’ doesn’t have to fill your heart with dread and flashbacks to 90s rom coms! Buffet stations can actually be very vogue and playful. With buffet tables, your actual tables will be paired back, simple perhaps with a place name, favour (if so inclined) and spare cutlery (someone always forgets to pick these up!). But the fun can be had at the buffet. You can have a traditional line of silver cloches, rolled back to reveal the tasty dishes, or plates filled with hot or cold cuts of meat. Or you could play Tastebud Travel with delicious meals from all over the world – perhaps of the places you have visited as a couple.
Decorating this area is often long forgotten but it can be a really easy and fun way to add character to the wedding. Add height with flowers or foliage, photos of places you have been and travelled to, fun little name sticks placed in different foods, colourful napkins, linens or even quiz questions, puns or jokes as the guests travel down the line for their buffet.
It is a great alternative to the more formal sit down meal; perhaps you can lay out the buffet and have guests take their food to sit down alfresco picnic style? People can go back for more throughout your event, with those who like to pick and nibble able to. It also opens up the options for food, with guests choosing what they would like to add to their plates rather than settling for either the meat or vegetarian options.
A few things to be aware of and consider:
- How long can the food be safely left out for to keep hot (or cold)?
- You may need some covers for flies
- If your caterer isn’t at the table, you may risk all the good stuff going first and people taking more than a fair portion! You might like to have a friend or catering staff to spoon out the food so that they can manage this
- There will likely be queues of people as they wait for the food. Will you have a member of your wedding party or a coordinator to tell the tables when to go up? Where will they queue? Is there something interesting going on during this wait time, perhaps some lovely background music playing or games on the table.
Your wedding planner and/or on-the-day coordinator will be able to organise the timings and guest management so it goes smoothly.
Lauren also suggests deliciously laden dessert tables perfect for the evening food, plus it looks astounding to see doughnut walls, fruit kebabs, nougat stations and the like – perfect for needing that pick me up around 10pm and a well earned sugar hit! If you don’t have such a sweet tooth, you might like a savoury cheese board, with posh upgrades like sausage rolls, pork pies and little glasses of port! Have fun with choosing what feels like a treat to you!
For Hannah’s wedding dessert we bought lots of tubs of icecream (posh stuff from Waitrose – delivered from an online delivery along with the free glassware hire) and a couple of friends helped serve that along with our ‘wedding cake’, a pavlova made by my mother-in-law with berries and cream. We had people going up for their dessert while the room was being rearranged for the ceilidh. This wasn’t the original plan, but it actually turned out quite well!
Depending on your venue, drinks can be a tricky subject. However, dry-hire venues are ideal for having more of a flexible approach to your drinks. During the day, you might like to have an area where guests can go and make their own drinks. You could also have a hot drinks area, such as this hot chocolate setup with blue and white enamel mugs:
After our wedding ceremony (Hannah) we had hot drinks and cakes available. The teas and coffees were served by a professional company. They also ran the bar in the evening. I had been asked to serve hot drinks and friends’ weddings in the past and knew how much work it is – especially when the power cuts out half-way through and you end up serving the bride’s mum and over brewed lukewarm tea! Yikes! You might feel you have the perfect team to manage this, but if you’d rather have someone else take the reins, you might like to consider this. It also means that they will take care of all of the washing up and you don’t need to opt for disposable cups.
To find the right company for us, I put a callout for suppliers on NCASS. I ended up choosing The Cotswold Bar Company. They were able to handle the arrangements – we got married on a working farm so there was very little in the way of electricity and facilities! They were really professional and served the hot drinks in vintage tea cups and saucers. I bought some posh squash for the children which was served in the blue and white enamel mugs that I hire out. I borrowed kilner jug water dispensers from friends to serve the water from.
Our drinks station ended up being in the farm owner’s family conservatory and the bar in the cowshed! The cowshed bar ended up being one of my favourite spaces. It made me laugh and it was a bit sad not to be having Pimm’s out in the sun, but being flexible like that with your plans can create unexpected happy accidents. If you’re planning on having drinks and snack tables outside, consider where you might put them if there was bad weather, or have a back-up gazebo ready to put round it if needed.
There are also some amazing companies out there who will roll up and be your private bar for the day. Lauren highly recommends the team from Thirsty Bufffalo who rock up in their converted horse box and can create a menu perfect for you, based on your likes. You can hire for dry hire where you hire the staff and the horse box and you fill with your own booze, or you can let them bring the booze instead.
Bring and Share
If you have friends and family who you know would be happy to prepare food, then this could be a good option for you – inviting guests to bring something for the main meal, whether you do it picnic style or have a buffet table – see above.
This will help save you money on a caterer, but you will still need someone to coordinate this so you don’t end up with 50 couscous salads! You will want to consider how much of vegetarian, meat, hot, cold, mains, sides, desserts you would like. You also need to be careful about keeping the food safe; choose your cooks wisely or consider serving the food cold to reduce risks.
If you’ve got some cake baker friends, enlist those too! I (Hannah) asked a few friends to cook cakes for us for our wedding. I gave a selection of options – e.g. chocolate brownies, carrot cake (including 1 gluten free) and a few others – they chose the one they preferred and then brought it on the day. This meant that we got a good mix. Brownies were the ones I asked for most of and were the most popular! I bought little chalk peg signs from Tiger (it’s a shop – if you don’t know it you must check it out if you have one near you!). Otherwise, art shops tend to sell these. You can then write these out in advance and put it in the container you’d like to serve them in so guests know where to put their cake. You can also specify if it’s gluten-free, contains nuts, etc. You can of course be more hands-off than this if you prefer! I asked a couple of friends to manage this.
You can have a lot of fun with your catering and crockery, bringing in your style, tastes and creativity. Have a look at the pros and cons of each option and see which one feels right for you. Keep things simple where you can!
If you are looking for a wedding planner, on the day co-ordinator or event stylist who can take your thoughts and visions and make it into a stress-free, beautiful reality then get in touch at www.laurenalexanderweddings.com
And have a look at Hannah’s page www.enamelwareevents.co.uk for all of your crockery hire and tableware requirements.