I used to work for a banquet hall that hosted weddings of all shapes and sizes.
Don't Let Ugly Chairs Ruin Your Wedding
Your wedding reception is going to be beautiful. You've got your centerpieces, your decorations, a 32-layer cake with a different flavor for each layer . . . there's just one problem—your banquet hall's got some tickity-tackity chairs. I don't know why otherwise-decent reception halls tend to only have ugly metal folding chairs in their possession, but it happens—a lot.
I can't wave my wand and turn ugly chairs into silver-plated Chiavaris, but I've run into the ugly-chair problem several times, and there are a few different ways to solve it. In this article, I'll go over my top three solutions. If you can't afford any of these options, a couple of alternative ideas are shared at the end of this article.
3 Cheap Ways to Decorate or Replace Folding Chairs
- Rent chair covers.
- Buy chair covers.
- Rent better chairs.
What About Invisible Chairs?
I know what you're thinking: "Can I just not have any chairs?" Haha . . . no. What's the first thing you do when someone comes to your house? You offer them a seat, right? Unless your reception is gonna be a super-short cake-and-punch type deal (half an hour max), you've got to have chairs. Nobody wants to stand around all night, and some people physically can't. It's better to have butt-ugly chairs than none at all.
And yes, you need chairs for the wedding ceremony too. You can re-use them as your wedding reception chairs if you've got some strong people who'll help you move 'em, but nobody wants to stand around for your whole ceremony. Even if it's supposed to be a short ceremony, your relatives will get there early. I've seen people show up an hour (or more) early for wedding receptions because they want to gossip and catch up with people.
1. Rent Chair Covers
One option is to cover those ugly chairs with some fabulous chair covers. However, just like there are 500 kinds of butts, there are 500 kinds of chairs and 500 kinds of chair covers. Do not book chair covers sight-unseen—you need to make sure they will fit the ugly chair in question, or else you will end up further uglifying the chair with an ill-fitting, wrinkled chair cover (or worse, the chair cover won't even fit over the chair!).
Your banquet hall may have chair covers available for an extra fee or may have an existing relationship with a rental company that can provide chair covers that will fit their awful chairs. But if that's a no-go, borrow one of the ugly chairs for the day and find a party-rental store with covers that fit.
One easy option is the bag-style chair cover (see images above). It fits over almost any chair, even folding chairs. However, you do have to tie them on, which is harder than just slipping on a fitted cover.
How much is this all going to cost? If you're looking for a basic, white, polyester chair cover, expect to spend at least $2–$3 per chair. If you want to bring a little color into the mix, colored chair covers are also an option, but they can be expensive and difficult to find.
Remember, it's a wedding—it's okay to use white. Another option is using a white chair cover and then tying a nice colored chair sash around the chair. You can either rent the chair sashes from the same company or use strips of tulle or any fabric, but tying the sashes is going to add to your set-up time. How fast can you tie a perfect bow?
2. Buy Chair Covers
If you're not having any luck with rentals, you can buy chair covers online and have them shipped to you. To do this, you will need to get dead-accurate measurements of your chairs. Any reputable dealer will send you a sample first (which you may or may not have to pay for) so you don't end up ordering 300 chair covers that don't fit.
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Whether you decide to rent or buy, don't forget that somebody has to put all these dang things on. Your venue might do it—probably for an extra fee—but if that's a no-go, you need to allow time to get this done. When testing out the sample cover, take note of how much time it takes to get it on the chair, then multiply this by the total amount of chairs in the venue so you can get an idea of how much time setup is going to take.
Simple, white, polyester chair covers that stretch (see images above) can be had for less than $2 each, but they're pretty plain, so you may want to dress them up with sashes or bows.
So Should You Rent or Buy?
You may have noticed that it costs about the same to rent a chair cover as it does to buy a chair cover. What the heck?
The chair covers available to the general public to buy on Amazon or Alibaba or what-have-you aren't the same as rental chair covers. Since rentals have to last, they're made from thicker, sturdier fabric. Since you're probably only gonna use them once, who cares? Well, the better fabric will drape better, and it won't be see-through. The last thing you wanna see is the ugly chair, right?
A rental company will also be able to deliver the chair covers straight to the venue and will have staff available to set up the covers and tie sashes. This will cost extra, of course, but unless you have a crew of buddies willing to do this, paid setup may be your only option.
Whether renting or purchasing, find out how the chair covers will arrive—on hangers, folded, in plastic wrap, etc. Nothing looks worse than a wrinkly chair cover, so if the company is sending them in shrink wrap, you're probably going to need a portable steamer to de-wrinkle them on-site.
3. Rent Better Chairs
It may sound counter-intuitive, but it can often cost more to rent or buy chair covers than to simply rent nicer chairs that don't need to be covered. Before exploring this option, make sure your banquet hall allows outside chairs and provides a space to put the unwanted chairs.
Almost every wedding supply-rental company in the country has white wood or white resin wedding chairs (see images above). These go with any décor and rent for $2–$5 per chair, depending on what part of the country you live in. There's no need to futz around with bows, though you can add bows to them if you're the sort that likes futzing around with things. You can also find them in light wood, dark wood, or black. If you're going for a more casual feel, you can rent nice white plastic folding chairs for $1–$2 each.
You can get a U-Haul and pick them up yourself or get them delivered by the rental company. The white resin chairs in the picture stack 25 per 5' tall stack, so they definitely won't fit in your car. Don't expect your venue to set up somebody else's chairs, so prepare to either pay the rental company to do it or make sure you have enough set-up time to do it yourself.
Another benefit? Unlike most venue chairs, they're foldable and stackable, so if your guests decide they need to expand the dance floor, they're easy to move out of the way.
What if I Can't Afford Any of These Options?
All of the above options are going to cost $300–$400 easily (assuming a 100-person wedding and assuming you're using the same chairs for your ceremony and reception). If you can't swing that, here are some more options:
- Rent or buy chair covers for the head table only. It's not the perfect solution, but renting 10 chair covers makes a smaller dent in the budget than renting 200, and many of your important pictures will be of the head table.
- Roll with it. Are your chairs truly hideous, or do they just not match your wedding colors? If it's still early and you haven't paid for your table linens or bridesmaid dresses yet, why not change the color scheme to match the chairs?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Jo Gavilan