One area that continually causes problems at events in hotels and conference centers is the capacity of a dining room and the discomfort that overcrowding causes guests. It has been my experience that this usually results from a hotel or conference center trying to maximize profits by squeezing as many guests as possible into a room for dinner. I must qualify the statements that are to follow and say that they are general and not intended to denigrate any specific person or organization.
For example, a given group may expect 560 guests to attend a farewell dinner and the conference hotel has a dining room that only should seat 500. The Catering Director will more often than not try to accommodate the extra 60 persons by adding places to the dining tables. If the hotel uses only 60-inch rounds, and the room should only have 50 tables, Catering may suggest that the extra 60 can be fitted in by adding an extra one or two places to all the tables. This could cause discomfort for those diners who must sit at these tables.
A long-time friend and colleague of mine, Mr. Bruno Patassini, the now-retired Catering Director of the Westin Bayshore Hotel in Vancouver, Canada, recommends the following table capacities and center-to-center distances in order to permit maximum comfort and optimum service.
- 60-Inch Diameter Rounds: This table is best suited to eight diners. Optimum spacing between tables is 12 feet, center-to-center or edge-to-edge. This permits adequate space for uncrowded dining and table service. A minimum of two feet between opposing chair backs should be allowed.
- 66-Inch Diameter Rounds: This is a compromise table size favored by a few hotels and venues, but it is not as popular as the 60-inch round. It does, however, allow for much more comfortable dining for eight persons. Center-to-center spacing is 12 1/2 feet when planning table layout.
- 72-Inch Diameter Rounds: This table is one size larger and the seating capacity is nine or ten persons. Optimum center-to-center table spacing is 13 feet, again to permit comfortable seating and safe table service by wait staff.
- Rectangular Tables: The normal size for these tables is eight feet long x two and a half feet wide. They comfortably seat six guests using a general rule of thumb of approximately 24 inches width x 18 inches depth for each place setting. Less comfortably they can accommodate one more person on each end. The drawing below is an example of a creative layout of rectangular tables into small conversational groups.
According to Patassini, table place settings should be 24 inches wide to allow for adequate space for each diner.
The distribution of tables throughout the event space is being explored much more creatively than in the past. As mentioned above, optimum table layout design within the event space should allow for a minimum of two feet between chairs at any two adjacent tables. Furthermore, tables should be optimally placed no closer to walls than two feet. This permits safe foot traffic and meal service and is useful in planning room layouts, most often done now on CADD drawings. Frequently, event planners and entertainment producers will bring entertainment right into the audience, which requires much more space in and around tables. Wide aisles and extended stages and dance floors are becoming more common, making the need for detailed floor plans using CADD that much more important.
If you are an event manager or producer, don't be persuaded to make your guests uncomfortable. Insist on maintaining the proper number of seats at tables and adequate distances between tables. In fact, put it into your contracts with venues and caterers to ensure it will happen.