With You All the Way

by Sharron Campbell,

Certified Meeting Professional, 30 years experience

How to estimate space needed for meeting and function setups 

Space recommendations per person - 
For a general idea of the amount of space needed to accommodate the size of group you expect for a function, meeting or event, the following rule-of-thumb for various set-up styles will help you.  But remember, this will only give you an IDEA of space requirements and is not exact.  It is meant to help you grasp quickly whether those who attend will be too crowded in the room you are considering or if the attendees will feel lost if the function space is too big.  There should be a maximum capacity posted in each function room.  Take it seriously since it was approved by the fire marshal of the city or county and anything over capacity can be a safety hazard.  Requirements established by the American with Disabilities Act can also affect the amount of space you will need.

Space requirements for equipment, food stations -
In addition to the space required for seating or for a good flow for standing receptions, etc., you must also calculate the space that will be required for the set-up of food stations, audiovisual equipment, staging, and so on.  These additional set-up requirements can be extremely space intensive and will increase the size of room or function space you need significantly. There may also be built-in features and doors that can affect seating or equipment placement and reduce the amount of usable space available to you.  

Function room capacities -
Keep in mind that the function space capacity that is included in meeting planning brochures from hotels and other venues will give square footage for each room or space and the maximum number of people that can be accommodated in them.  It will not include the additional space you will need for AV equipment, food and beverage stations, stand-up banners, etc.

Set-Up Type

 Estimated Space Requirement

 Recommendations

 Reception

9 to 10 square feet per person

For good flow.

 Theater

12 to 13 square feet per person

Set chairs 24-in. from the back of one row to the front of the next with seats 2-in. apart when possible. Emergency codes may require chairs to be connected.  Allow additional space for any row that is to accommodate wheelchairs.

 Classroom

17 to 22 square feet per person

6 ft. or 8 ft. x 18 inch tables.  Allow 2 ft. of table space per person minimum, but 2.5 - 3 ft. much preferred.  Leave 24-in from the back of each chair to the table behind.  Allow additional space for any table that is to accommodate wheelchairs.

 Meeting Pods 17 to 22 square feet per person Ideal for interactive meetings where flexibility in seating and collaboration is required.  Set clusters of 2 tables either 6 ' x 30" or 6" x 18" side-by-side then cluster 6 chairs, prefrably on rollers, around it.  Participants can move about the room, pull the tables apart and use them as singles or whatever is conducive to creative  and productive thinking. 
 U-Shape
 Hollow Square
Same as classroom for actual seating but extra space in the center makes this set-up much more space intensive U-shape is the same as hollow square except that one end is left open for access to the inside of the U by the presenter.  To avoid uncomfortable crowding, do not seat anyone closer than 1 foot to a shared corner.

 Banquet  Rounds

13.5 to 14 square feet per person

60" tables seat 8 people, 72" tables seat 10. Allow 5 feet between tables for seating and aisles.  Allow wider aisles and less seating per table if wheelchairs are to be accommodated.

 Staging  Risers

4' x 8' sections standard. Available in 6' x 8' sections. 

Heights can be 6, 12, 16, 24 or 32 inches. Order handrails for steps and along the back of riser if not flush against a wall ... for safety!  First row of seats should be 6 ft. away or twice the height of a screen, whichever is further.

 Audiovisual  Varies Space requirement depends on the type and number of presentations and the size of a production.  It can be extremely space intensive and should be a major consideration before booking function space.  Space for audiovisual should not be limited if the quality of the presentation or production is to meet expectations.

See links below for sample diagram and a more complete table of seating types.
Resources: Convention Industry Council Manual 7th Edition, Professional Meeting Management Fifth Edition

You may need more or less space, depending on the food and beverage, audiovisual and other equipment set-up you need to support your program.  The dimensions of the room, obstructions along the walls, and placement of doors and windows may also affect how the room can be set.  

If a room is too large for the size of the group, the perception may be that the meeting or event is not well attended.  When attendance is not what you expect, whether more or less, you can make the space feel larger or smaller in some cases by changing the set-up style.  For example -
  • If attendance was expected to be 100 and only 50 register, change the seating from theater style to classroom so the room still looks full and well-attended.
  • Or change the set-up from a standard classroom set-up in straight rows to herringbone (v-shape) so the angle of the tables fills more space. 
  • If the venue you are using has potted plants scattered in foyers, ask if they can be placed inside your meeting room to fill empty space, etc.
  • If more register than expected and the room is too small and for the classroom set-up you planned, change to theater-style.  

Caution!
Verify the time frame allowable in your contract to re-set a meeting or function room without incurring an additional charge – usually a day or two in advance of the event!  Re-setting on the day of the event can be costly and may not even be possible based on equipment inventory and staff availability. 

The no-show factor –
One of the most difficult things for a meeting planner to conquer is the fear that a room will be too small to accommodate the number of people that show up or that there will not be enough food and beverage to serve everyone.  It is always a touch-and-go situation because of the variables that can determine how many will actually show up.  Rarely, however, will the group materialize at the maximum number you expect so a “no-show” factor should be considered and the number reduced by a certain percentage.  Keeping good records from similar programs that the group held in the past is the surest way to determine what that percentage should be, but if it is a first-time event you may want to consider a 10-20% decrease if attendance is voluntary rather than required.

 
   
 bluebullet  Pros and cons of the different types of seating set-ups
 bluebullet  Seating type illustrations
 bluebullet  About planning the placement and set up time of signage and banners
 bluebullet  How to create set-up specifications for staff, service providers, venues, vendors
 bluebullet  Sample of function specifications with diagram of meeting room setup (PDF)
 bluebullet  About American Disabilities Act space requirements
 bluebullet  Set-up guidelines - how to get started
 bluebullet  View all Planning Helper Topics about meetings, events, social functions