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Making a Larger Venue Feel Intimate with Downsized Numbers


Now that the initial panic of planning a wedding during COVID-19 has calmed down, many vendors are ready to leap back into action with micro celebrations and downsized weddings. While you’re busy organizing and coordinating with your couples, there’s one thought that seems to be on the minds of quite a few industry pros – how can I fill the space of a large venue with half of the original guest list?

If physical distancing, safety guidelines, and revised contracts weren’t enough, there’s the added stress of pulling off the vision of your client’s dream venue without accentuating the empty space. That said, there are plenty of ways to fill the extra room, regardless of how much you’re working with.


What to consider regarding the event layout

Having a downsized guest list might seem like the final wrench thrown into your planning process with your couple. Still, in reality, this caveat can give you the creative freedom that you may not have necessarily had before.

If you’re working from scratch, Shannon Tarrant of WeddingVenueMap.com says, “Step one is trying to find a venue with a more intimate feel. Look for event spaces that have lower ceilings and decor already in the room that makes it feel more full. Also, think outside the box when it comes to a venue. Many local restaurants, wineries, and breweries have private rooms that fit perfectly for a smaller wedding reception.”

Juls Sharpley, owner of Bubbles & Bowties adds, “We LOVE working in oversized spaces for smaller events. Every year, I have a few weddings where the guest count is 30-40% of the (traditional) max occupancy of that space. The first thing I advise you to do is create a big dance floor. When people have room to be free and dance, they will take it!”

When it comes to the entertainment, Kristin Wilson of Our DJ Rocks agrees: “Your dancefloor can be as large or as small as you need it to be. We have also seen that some are not having dance floors at all, so that dancing can be anywhere.”

What if you have an existing venue, and the budget isn’t there to elaborately decorate? Kylie Carlson of The Wedding Academy recommends, “Scope out other areas of your event space. See if you can move your reception from a large ballroom to one of the smaller outdoor patios or courtyards. This can eliminate a lot of extra costs, and you won’t have to start from scratch with another venue.”

Photo Credit: Amy Kolo

How to make space feel more intimate

Working with a large room for the ceremony or reception doesn’t have to be a negative – in fact, your couple can utilize the extra funds and space from the decreased guest list quite easily without going overboard.

For Eddie Zaratsian of Eddie Zaratsian Lifestyle & Design, décor is the answer. “I’m in love with ornate, glamorous floral installations – particularly ones that hang over the dining tables or seating areas. Not only does it add a picture-perfect moment for guests to capture, but it makes the room feel more structured and romantic.”

Photo Credit: Arden Photography

Kevin Dennis of Fantasy Sound Event Services swears by lighting for this purpose, saying, “Uplighting is going to be your best friend, and it’ll create the intimate atmosphere that your client is looking for. You can achieve this with warm tones such as amber and ivory, and candles are the perfect addition to each table.”

“In order to make a room appear full, I would use more tables with less people [to] help with the social distancing rules while making the room appear fuller. I also like to use lounges set around the dance floor and other areas to create sitting areas,” shares JoAnn Gregoli of Elegant Occasions by JoAnn Gregoli.

Following the theme, Jamie Chang of Mango Muse Events adds, “Another way to make a space feel more intimate is by creating sections or areas within a space. Dividing up the event floorplan makes it feel smaller and in turn, more intimate, like the concept of an open-plan house versus one with rooms – even if it’s the same square footage, the open plan feels bigger. And you can use these different areas for different functions like lounging, dancing, entertainment and food and beverage.”


Table layouts, social distancing, and more

Did we mention that you also have to keep COVID-19 restrictions in mind as well? As you’re surely accustomed to by now, social distancing regulations will be key when crafting your event layout, so it’s critical to keep this in mind to uphold guests’ safety.

Prismm recently launched a Physical Distance Tool to transition back to events. The tool allows you to design floorplans that meet distancing guidelines, help with visualizing the layout with distancing in place, and better understand how the new guidelines affect capacity.

According to Jennifer Borgh of Borghinvilla Wedding Venue, “Due to the current protocols, we are doing 50% seating at each table, so four people instead of [the traditional] eight. Couples are seated together, and the other couple would be on the other side of the table. This works for both round and rectangular tables. If the group is very small (under 20), then I like to do one long table.”

“I find that if the goal is to fill the room you’re better served with longer estate-style tables than with rounds. These tables allow for you to take up a bit more space, which then helps the room to feel full. When a room is full, the illusion of a ‘packed house’ is created and no one feels like they are in a tiny wedding in a huge space,” declares Laura Maddox of Magnolia Celebrates.

Better yet, Carrie Darling of Carrie Darling Events suggests: “I love the idea of creating your own restaurant atmosphere for an intimate wedding dinner. You can use a mix of bistro tables and lux, cushioned dining table chairs, all with 2-4 guests per table. It puts off a ‘date night’ vibe which keeps it romantic, and also defines everyone’s space in case some guests are not as comfortable socializing.”

Last, but certainly not least, Janice Carnevale of Bellwether Events says, “Just like you can float a sofa in the middle of a large room to make the space feel more intimate, you can take the anchors of your floor plan – the bar, the dance floor, the stage – and float those off the walls in order to make the larger room feel more appropriately sized to the smaller event.”

As event pros, we might think that this is simply an era in the industry due to a series of unfortunate events. However, the concept of micro gatherings may be here to stay, so we’ll want to be prepared to keep these tips for filling a larger space under our belts for the future.

Meghan Ely is the owner of wedding PR and wedding marketing firm OFD Consulting. Ely is a sought-after speaker, adjunct professor in the field of public relations, and a self-professed royal wedding enthusiast.

Of Interest: What Seating Arrangements May Look Like With Physical Distancing

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