Personalizing Party Rentals

Martha Stewart Weddings, Summer 2005

Like a blank canvas, an empty wedding site waits to be filled with a beautiful scene. But how on earth do you get all the stuff - everything from chairs to china? That's where rental companies come in. You can work with one of these firms directly or through a wedding planner, florist, or caterer. Orders should be placed at least a month ahead of the event, but adjustments can be made afterward. Review the contract carefully: Rental companies typically deliver the equipment the day of the event or the day before; be sure there's an emergency number in case any of the items are missing or damaged. Once you've dealt with the logistics, it's time for the exciting part -- putting together the look you want.

Sixty-inch round tables, which seat eight to 10 people, are the most traditional and popular choice; rectangular banquet tables seating eight to 12 are also common. Square tables are another option, although many smaller rental companies don't stock them. When choosing a shape, keep in mind that because of their corners, square tables seat two fewer people than round ones of the same size. Banquet tables 42 inches and wider can fit two people at either end, while a 30-inch-wide table is generally too narrow for a single place setting. You may also need to rent tables for the bar or deejay area, as well as for the cake, seating cards, or guest book.

Stylists' Secret
Like the look of square tables but need more seating? Alternate square tables with round ones. Placing a few banquet tables end to end to create an extra-long table brings guests together.


Rental chairs are widely available in several basic styles and a variety of colors and finishes. Ballroom chairs look like bamboo and are an elegant, classic choice. Wooden folding chairs with built-in cushions have a sleeker line; they also look great lined up in rows for a ceremony. Bentwood chairs are casual with graceful, rounded backs. Metal garden or bistro chairs have a patio feel and are most appropriate at an outdoor reception. Some rental companies also offer molded-plastic Bellini chairs, which have a modern, angular design, good for a contemporary setting. For guests' comfort, consider adding cushions (which can also be rented) for chairs that aren't already padded.

Stylists' Secret
Make a statement by choosing cushions in a color from your palette. Or keep the focus on the tabletop with pads that match the chairs, such as chocolate-brown cushions with dark wood.


Tablecloths and napkins can be rented in almost every color, but white is most common for weddings. The choice of fabrics is also vast, including cotton, linen, satin, and textured bengaline. Tablecloths with embroidery or with sheer overlays cost more, while plain cotton or blends are more economical. Since round tables are so ubiquitous, most rental companies' tablecloths are tailored to them; thus, you'll have more options for round than any other shape. But some companies will provide custom linens. If you have something specific in mind, such as an unusual fabric or a particular color in a square tablecloth, it's worth asking, says Eva Kesse of Party Rental Ltd., headquartered in New York City.

Stylists' Secret
To create dramatic color, pair tablecloths in one hue with napkins in another.


This category includes everything you'll need to set the table: china, flatware, glassware, and accessories such as salt and pepper shakers, napkin rings, and candleholders. The number of patterns and styles at larger rental companies can be overwhelming. It helps to see pieces together, so many firms have showrooms where you can lay out table settings.

Work with your caterer to make sure you'll have everything the waitstaff requires to present the meal. If you'll be serving both red and white wine and having a Champagne toast during dinner, you'll need stemware for each, as well as water goblets. Depending on the breadth of your bar service, you may get by with just all-purpose highball glasses (add a specialty glass, such as a martini glass, if you will be serving a signature cocktail).

Your caterer can help you determine how much to order. Enlist your florist's help to pick accessories, such as candleholders, that harmonize with your centerpieces -- though the florist might provide these himself.

Stylists' Secret
You don't have to use the same china for every course; mix up coordinating designs. Colorful chargers and dessert plates are fun ways to start or end a meal. Check with your caterer, reception site, or wedding planner to see if there's a rental company they prefer; if the price is right, you'll benefit from using a company your vendors have worked with and trust.



Serving Pieces
The vessels used to serve and display food at your reception -- trays, cake stands, and compotes -- can help define its level of formality. Classic silver or glass serving pieces, for example, are stately, while brightly colored Lucite or clear acrylic is more modern. Wide selections are available from larger companies. Your menu and the type of food service will dictate what pieces you'll need (ask your caterer): Buffet or family style service, for instance, may necessitate large bowls and platters; waiter service or passed hors d'oeuvres may require rented trays.

Stylists' Secret
Functional serving pieces can also take on some more decorative duties; fill beautiful compotes with flowers or favors, or set out rows of seating cards on silver trays.

Fun Extras
More unusual items are also available for rent -- sometimes from the same companies that provide tables, chairs, and dishes. Hot-dog carts as well as popcorn and cotton-candy makers will delight guests. For a reception with retro decor, you might rent a vintage ice cream truck. And a rented photo booth encourages spontaneous portraits. Some full-service rental companies offer these types of items (the carnival-inspired ones are typically marketed for use at children's parties), but in many parts of the country you'll have to go through a company that specializes in the item you want to rent. A wedding planner should be able to help you find what you're looking for, or you can try to locate it by going online.

Stylists' Secret
Here's how to fit these items into your wedding in creative ways: If you rent a popcorn maker, you might use rubber stamps to personalize paper bags with your monogram and the date. Request cotton candy in a color that coordinates with your palette. Such treats can also be elegantly served during the reception on white or clear trays.

Don't Forget
Colorful linens and delicate china may attract the most attention, but the less glamorous equipment is just as important to the success of an event. If your reception site doesn't have a kitchen (or has only a small cooking space), you may need to rent stoves, ovens, refrigerators, even pots and pans, unless your caterer will supply them. The style of food service you choose may require salad bars, chafing dishes, and other special equipment. Cleaning supplies, such as trash cans, brooms, dustpans, and busing trays, are often overlooked but may also be needed; before ordering, check with your caterer and the reception site to find out what they already have.


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