Time for another installment in our mailbag series, “Ask an Event Planner!” Got a question for Phoenix? Submit it here and we’ll answer it next time!

 

How do you handle inclement weather and when do you cancel an event due to bad weather? – Jessica, in New York

I want to preface this by saying SAFETY FIRST! If there’s a question about attendees arriving safely and enjoying your event, better to be safe than sorry.

A good rule of thumb is that anytime public transit is impacted, it’s a good idea to cancel or postpone your event. The last thing you want to deal with is rebooking flights and offering alternative transportation.

Keep in close touch with your venue in the event you want to proceed with your program and ensure that they have the resources available to host the event successfully (i.e. – food delivery and staffing), as they are also impacted by challenging weather.

Here’s a pro-tip for you: check your venue contract for a force majeure clause and make sure you understand it clearly. This clause protects both you and the venue in the case of a natural disaster or Act of God.  This could be useful during major weather events like a hurricane. 

 

What percentage of the event space should be reserved for seating? How do you estimate what is necessary? – Mike, in New Jersey

I would say it depends on the type of event. For receptions, you need less seating than a seated dinner (obviously). It also depends on the demographic of attendees—older groups will want a higher percentage of seating than a younger group.

Another factor to consider is the goals of the program. If you’re networking, less seating will help stimulate conversations. For receptions, you can supplement seats with high cocktail tables to open up the floor plan and facilitate conversations.

It can also be regional—in working with some venues in New Orleans, I’ve noticed that many only provide seating for about 75% of attendees, even for weddings and seated events.

Generally speaking, for a networking reception for 100 people, I would provide 8 and 10 low cocktail tables. For a standing buffet lunch, I would provide seating for around 75% of attendees.

For a non-culinary event, like a panel discussion, you’ll want to overset based on what you’re forecasting (event RSVPs minus 10-30% wash). If you’re forecasting (with wash) for 200 guests, I would add 5% EXTRA seating (bringing total seating to 210-220), anticipating flow and that not every seat will be filled. Many venues (Convene included) often set up to 5% over your anticipated guarantee, complimentary. Be sure to check in with your venue to see what can be accommodated and what may incur an additional cost.

 

For more communal style seating (rounds, benches, etc), does it lead to higher engagement between people who don’t know each other? – Sarah, in Atlanta

In a corporate setting, yes. In a social setting, people naturally gravitate towards people they know.

 

Different types of tables for events

 

In corporate settings, I like to use more cabaret-style seating to increase engagement. You could also incorporate some group activities to increase engagement. What’s really popular right now, with HQ Trivia, is corporate trivia providers. Set your space in small pods with an engaging activity like that, and you’ll see some great engagement.

 

Can you offer any tips on planning out seating for a room? For example, how should you go about choosing the mix of tables (round, rectangular, etc.) the different sizes of them and how many chairs to fit at each one? And how to space throughout the room? Help! – Kathleen, in Brooklyn

The biggest thing with seating is audience. For social events, diversifying event seating is exciting and adds nice visual diversity to the space. King’s tables (very long tables) are great for groups of friends and can also help new people get to know each other. But for older people and families, rounds probably do a better job of accomplishing that. If you want to do something besides just straight rounds, adding a few king’s tables is a great option. It also helps manage assigned seating, since people can self-select much easier than they would with rounds.

 

Kings Tables example

King’s tables can make self-selecting a spot much easier than with rounds.

 

Adding some lounge seating is another good way to diversify your setup and accommodate more people. High top tables in the back of a room can squeeze in more attendees than standard chairs, and lets people step out if they need to take a call without causing an interruption.

 

Phoenix Anna Porcelli, CMP, is an event planning professional with over a decade of meeting and event experience in Boston, Paris, and NYC. 

Have a question you want answered? Submit it here, and we’ll answer it in a future installment!