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Event setup and layout best practices from Planning Pod

Jeff Kear
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Event Layouts and Room Setups – A Comprehensive Guide

Say you are preparing for a meeting, or a conference, or a class, or a banquet, or a wedding, and you want to optimize the venue or space you are using so that the seating and tables are set up for the best attendee experience.

What type of layout or setup would you choose?

To be honest, determining the best event layouts or event setups isn’t rocket science, as there are basically 10-15 basic event layout designs that you can choose from that will fit the bill for 99% of the events that are produced (and we will discuss these in depth in this article).

However, you do need to consider a few key criteria so that you can more easily identify which of these standard event room setups will best apply to each of your events.

3 Key Criteria When Determining the Optimal Event Setup

Align the setup with your objectives and activities

Every event has a unique set of objectives when it comes to what you are trying to accomplish. For example, conferences and meetings usually focus on networking and professional development. Galas, banquets and weddings focus on dining and guest interactions. Classes and seminars focus on education. And concerts and plays focus on the performances themselves.

Whatever the type of event, you should first identify the objectives you have for your attendees and the activities that they will be participating in, which can include:

  • Catered food service like sit-down plated meals or buffet dining
  • Cocktail receptions and happy hours
  • Dancing
  • Keynote speakers or panel sessions
  • Lounges or quiet areas
  • Musical performances or DJs
  • Open networking
  • Team building or breakout groups
  • Video presentations or movie screenings

Once you have decided on your event objectives and activities, you should consider what the intended attendee experience should be like and, in turn, how that will be expressed through your event setup. Do you want an open, airy feeling about your event? Do you want attendees to walk through your event in a specific route or follow a sequence of steps (seeing A then B then C)? Do you want your event setup to be more modular where certain areas are devoted to certain activities? These are the things to ask yourself upfront to optimize your attendee engagement before you move forward with deciding on the proper event space design.

Event setup designs from Planning Pod

Maximize use of space

Every event planner and professional wants to get the most value out of the event venue rooms and spaces they rent, and as such your event room setup should also make the most of every square foot with regard to your overall event objectives.

In addition, general managers, catering managers and group/event sales managers at restaurants, hotels, banquet halls and other event centers also want to optimize their space usage in order to maximize how many events they can book over a given time period.

The first step in doing this is to consider what kind of and how many chairs and tables you will require as well as other items like stages, podiums, dance floors, food and drink stations, buffet setups, tents, audio visual elements (microphones, loudspeakers, video screens, etc.) and band/DJ setups. Hint: Knowing your estimated headcount is of critical importance at this stage.

Also, the seating arrangements and seat positionings that best align with your event objectives should also be a major factor when looking at your desired event layout diagram. So if a primary event activity includes a keynote speaker or performer, then your seats need to be directed toward the front of the event. However, if your focus is more on networking or brainstorming, your event seating chart should facilitate attendee interactions (say with guests seated at tables or in small groups facing each other).

Look here for more best practices for event layout and design.

Consider the needs of your team, clients, vendors and setup crew

We have said before on this blog that events don’t plan themselves, and this certainly applies when identifying the ideal event setup.

As such, it’s always a good practice at this stage to consult and collaborate with other stakeholders and key decision makers for your event, which can include your staff, clients, contractors, A/V personnel, volunteers and setup team. These people should be on board with your decisions regarding the event setup and be able to easily visualize the layout and the flow of the event.

To assist this collaborative process, you would be wise to develop an event floor plan diagram ahead of time that reflects the type of setup you have selected. These event diagrams should ideally be to-scale and include all elements (tables, chairs, furniture, etc.) that you are considering. There are several cloud-based event layout software tools available that can automate the process of creating these event space designs and ensure you are using the proper dimensions for your diagrams. (And here is a list of the top event design tools on the market.)

With all this said, here are the most popular event setups used by event professionals and planners.

Top 10 Event Layouts for Seating and Table Plans

Banquet Setup

Ideal for: dinners, luncheons, banquets, galas, fundraisers, weddings, presentations, entertainment, workshops, award or recognition ceremonies

This event setup is one of the most heavily relied on primarily because it maximizes your space for seated dining at catered events, whether they be a plated meals or buffet-style dinners.

Traditional Banquet w/ Round Tables

The traditional banquet seating layout has chairs placed all around the circumference of round tables (5’ or 6’ in diameter) to maximize space usage. However, this would require some guests with their back to the stage/podium/presenter to turn their chairs around after the meal is completed.

Wedding setups and reception room setups often follow this round banquet style, but you will also find business events and fundraising galas use this setup because it works great for both dining and presentation or entertainment activities.

Alternative: Cabaret

The cabaret room setup - also called crescent rounds setup - differs from the round table banquet layout by placing chairs in a semicircle around the half of the table facing the stage/podium/presenter. Although this doubles the number of tables you will need, it ensures that all guests can easily view the front of the event without having to turn their chairs. As such, it makes for a great wedding table setup or meeting table setup.

Family-Style Banquet w/ Rectangular Tables

A variation of this entails substituting round tables for long banquet tables (8’ x 2.5’ or 6’ x 2.5’ tables), lining these tables up end-to-end and placing chairs along the long sides. This is often called family-style banquet seating and encourages more interaction among guests.

Cocktail Setup

Ideal for: pre-event cocktail hours, social events, networking, tastings, heavy-appetizer events

If your event is shorter in duration, has minimal presentations or entertainment planned, or is intended to encourage attendee interaction, the cocktail event setup may be a good choice.

This is a very flexible event room setup that maximizes how many people can comfortably fit into your space, and it often includes high-top tables with stools, buffet setups for pre-made cocktails and appetizers, drink stations and seating on the periphery.

Lounge Setup

Ideal for: more relaxed networking, social events, networking, relaxation or break areas, cocktail hours, tastings

If you want attendees to really let down their hair and relax, a lounge setup is a great option for encouraging guests to get comfortable for an hour or two and engage in informal conversations over cocktails or coffee.

Great as a stand-alone event setup for networking events or cocktail hours, the lounge setup also functions well as a secondary area within your event space to allow guests to take a break from your primary activities, especially if those activities involve longer periods of sitting, active listening or learning.

Classroom Setup

Ideal for: classes or courses, seminars, workshops, training, smaller conferences or meetings, presentations, events with computer usage or note-taking

The classroom style room setup is one of the more popular meeting room setups because it allows seated attendees to face the front; gives them tables on which to take notes or use computers; and lets attendees interact in small groups with tablemates.

As such, it is a favored layout among hotels and corporate event centers for setting up for small conferences, seminars, training and test-taking, and it is also probably the most popular workshop room setup for educators as well as a frequently used lecture style room setup.

Alternative: Classroom Chevron

The chevron meeting room setup differs from the classroom style only in the fact that the tables are slanted slightly so attendees are more focused on a central point at the front of the room. This makes the space a bit more intimate and allows attendees to more easily see one another.

Breakout Setup

Ideal for: small group activity, speed networking or dating, classes, team building, brainstorming, training, workshops

For starters, this event setup goes by lots of names, including breakout, cluster or pod style setup. However, the idea and intent for each are the same: to space out tables or pods throughout your event space so small groups or teams can sit or cluster around the tables and collaborate, brainstorm and share ideas freely.

The type of seating and table plan you choose for this layout type really depends on how active or focused you want your participants to be. For instance, if you want attendees to rotate tables or change out group members frequently, you may want to opt for high-top tables with stools or even no seating to facilitate lots of movement.

Conversely, if you want attendees to stay with the same group and be able to focus intently for a longer period of time, small square tables or round tables with chairs may be a better option.

Runway Setup

Ideal for: fashion shows, speaking engagements, promotional events, fundraisers (with auctions), performances, concerts, award and recognition ceremonies

This may be the most self-explanatory event room setup included here, as it entails a long and often wide aisle for models, speakers, performers or emcees to walk down and amble around while the audience focuses on them. Attendees are seated either in a single row behind tables or in tiered rows on risers that run parallel to the aisle to afford a close-up view of the action walking by you.

Note that the aisle width will determine how much space you have left over for seating, so make sure the room you select is wide enough to accommodate your expected headcount.

Auditorium Setup

Ideal for: performances, concerts, keynote speakers, presentations, training, galas, conferences, conventions, meetings, seminars, promotional events, trade shows, award and recognition ceremonies

If you’re planning an event where you need to pack em’ in and maximize every square foot/meter of space, the auditorium or theatre style room setup is definitely your best option.

This event setup includes many parallel rows of chairs (with rows at least 2 feet apart from each other and chairs at least 3 inches apart from each other) all facing a stage, dias or central point at the front and aisles that run perpendicular to the chair rows to allow for easy ingress/egress to and from seats.

If you offer different activities (like dining or networking) or need to incorporate a trade show design along with a centralized mass meeting area, you can incorporate a theater setup into your event if you have the space (which is what most larger conference style setups do).

Alternative: Auditorium Chevron

Similar in design to the classroom chevron setup, this also employs angling the chair rows toward a center focal point at the front, making the setting a bit more intimate and allowing attendees to see each other better. For more participatory mass events, the theater chevron setup - also called herringbone setup - would work well.

Boardroom Setup

Ideal for: small meetings or conferences, board of directors meetings, breakouts, committees, small presentations, small classes, working lunches

Finally we will look at some of the more popular smaller meeting room layout designs, and probably the most common is the boardroom or conference room setup.

This can consist of one large table in the middle of the room or, if more participants will be involved, arranging four large square or rectangular tables together. Chairs are arranged around the perimeter of the table(s), encouraging interaction and conversation, with potentially a leader or speaker in front of a whiteboard or screen.

The large table also makes the boardroom style room setup perfect for dining if attendees need to eat lunch between sessions or take coffee breaks.

Hollow Square Setup

Ideal for: small meetings or conferences,, breakouts, committees, small presentations, small classes, working lunches

Very similar to the boardroom meeting design, the hollow square room setup typically allows for more people to be seated around the perimeter and for one or more speakers or presenters in the middle to serve as a focal point.

This event layout plan also encourages participation (and is conducive to lunch-type dining) while opening up the space a bit so attendees don’t feel cramped.

U-Shape Setup

Ideal for: small meetings or conferences, training, breakouts, workshops, small presentations, small classes

This smaller meeting room setup is a great choice if you want your attendees focused on a speaker or presentation at the front of the room while still making the space amenable for discussion and participation.

The U-shaped meeting room setup can include chairs around the outside perimeter of the U or, if you need to fit more people in the room, around the entire circumference of the U (this is sometimes called the imperial setup).

If you choose the latter, just keep in mind that, like the banquet room setup, half your attendees will need to turn their chairs around to face the front when necessary, so you may not want to use this setup if you have lots of presentations planned.

Event setup designs from Planning Pod

Bonus: Chair-Only Setups

Ideal for: brainstorming, networking, training, workshops, retreats, team building, seminars, focus groups

If you want to remove physical barriers between your attendees so they can communicate face-to-face and unimpeded, a seating layout without tables or other furniture is a great idea. 

These chair-only event setups can include the following:

  • Circle setups - Chairs placed facing each other in a full circle with possibly one or a few chairs in the middle for group leaders/presenters.
  • Semicircle setups - Chairs placed facing each other in a half circle with one or a few chairs on the open side of the semicircle for group leaders/presenters.
  • Horseshoe setups - Similar to a semicircle (with an open end and chairs in open area for group leaders/presenters) but with chairs placed in a U-shape so more people can be seated.

Hopefully you have a clearer picture now of the top event layouts and how you can apply them to your events for the best attendee experience. (And if you need additional information besides what is provided in this post, try this article on event layouts and this post on meeting room layouts.)


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