Event Management

Death to the 60″ Round

The 60 inch, or 150 centimeter, round banquet table, seating 8 or 10 people, is possibly the worst invention in the history of the hospitality industry.  Having spent over 20 years producing events, I know I am risking the ire of hotel and catering managers around the world, but the truth is the 60” round table (or even worse, it’s 72 in. (180 cm) cousin that seats 10-12), simply has to go, at least when it comes to galas, weddings or other seated dinners.

If you’re having roundtable discussions, on the other hand, a 60” or 72” round table is great.  But in those situations the event elements are configured to encourage dialogue.  So there’s no loud music in the background, no bulky centerpieces to block your vision across the table, etc.  And with everyone participating in a single group discussion, the round table provides a nice flow as well as equal site lines from any seat.

For your typical gala or corporate dinner, however, the larger round table is just plain lousy.  Though it serves several functions, the enjoyment of the guests seated there is not one of them.  Between the loud music in the background and the centerpieces on the table, it’s very difficult to have a conversation with anyone but the people on either side of you.  And if you’re bold enough to talk to someone across the table, everyone else can hear your conversation.

Instead, why not try seating 6-8 people at a 48” (120 cm) round table?  By having fewer people at the table, it’s less intimidating for guests to start conversations with each other.  Plus, by shrinking the diameter of the table, it’s easier to see and hear each other without shouting.

Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, how about 36” (100 cm) round tables of 5 people each?  The smaller the group, the more likely you are to get the whole table engaged in group conversation.  Intimacy breeds connection and engagement, which is often one of the key reasons for hosting an event in the first place.

Since just about every guest hates the ten top, why do we keep organizing events with tables of ten?

Banquet managers will say they’re easier on the wait staff, a common service ratio being one waiter per table.  Hosts will say it’s easier to assign seating in blocks of ten, though I’m not sure I agree.  For fundraisers, a common sponsorship sale is the table of ten, but that’s certainly not because sponsors asked for it.  It’s quite common, in fact, for a company to buy a table of ten and then struggle to fill it; I’d argue they’d be fine paying the same amount and having to supply fewer people. Whatever you think the benefit is, it’s certainly not for the people sitting there.

I’m a big follower of marketing and customer engagement expert Seth Godin, and earlier this year in his blog post, “The Secret of the Five Top” he said “Thousands of speeches later, I can tell you the single worst thing an organizer can do to her event is sit people at tables of ten.”

In most other event planning instances, we strive to create an event environment that will provide the maximum level of interaction and enjoyment of our attendees, yet in this case we let waiter logistics trump guest engagement.  Could you imagine if your AV provider tried to convince you to go with a set of speakers that guests had a hard time hearing, simply because they were easier for their technicians to install?

Let’s push our catering and venue partners to find an efficient way to serve people at table sizes that make sense for our cherished guests, not the other way around.

 

11 Comments

  1. OH MY GOSH, FINALLY. I could not agree more. Nothing farther from intimacy and a “shared experience” than a hulking round table with an expensive floral arrangement in the middle that all the guests are mildly annoyed by throughout the dinner hour. On the other hand, a long white table with family-style dining… That’s sophisticated. That’s intimate. That’s a memorable experience.

  2. The 60″ round tables always look balanced and inviting until you learn that you only have 2 dinner mates. So far we have not found a good solution for events with loud music. We will keep searching for the answer.

  3. I’ve been on both the rental and wholesale side of event equipment in the last ten years. Unfortunately, any time I’ve recommended the higher number on a table (e.g. 10 at a 60″ round), it’s come back to bite me. For anything more than very casual, paper-plate dining, there just isn’t enough room for everything at the table – multiple plates, glassware, etc. Even 6 at a 48″ round is pushing it, I believe.
    At least there has been a trend toward long banquet seating in recent years. Only half the guests have the potential to get cramps in their necks. 🙂

  4. hello, I am going to build a wedding / event barn out in the country in the state of Iowa next spring. any helpful tips would be appreciated, such as building size, what kind of tables an chairs. is a loft is a good idea, dressing rooms for the bride an groom, bathroom fixture count? the guest count is 240 max……thanks, Dorisa

  5. I agree that the seating for ten on a round is intimidating..people can’t see behind them so they tend to mass towards one side anyhow as the conversations, speeches and entertainments are on a stage not equally viewed by round seats. The problem with the smaller tables is the arrangement of chairs..people tend to “take up” a lot more chair space as they shift out..so awkward for the servers to flow around so much traffic jam of chairs. I agree tho, that for conversation at the table, a 48″ is much friendlier than a 60″ table.

  6. The most space efficient table set up I’ve seen is actually ovals that seat around 14 or so, though they are not used that often. But that’s not a super fun table to sit at if you’re a guest. I think the 60″ round is probably the most common, and strikes the best balance of efficiency and guest comfort, though again I think we’re going to see more people moving toward smaller and more intimate tables.

  7. That’s a good point, however theoretically while you’re having fewer centerpieces when you use bigger tables, those centerpieces should be larger and therefore more expensive. A 48″ round table requires a much smaller centerpiece, and a smaller linen, both of which are less money than with larger tables, so it often evens out.

  8. Howard,

    in your experienced opinion, which size of round table can seat the most people in a given space?

    Rob

  9. I like where you are going with this from an etiquette point of view. One thing I have to consider, however, as a planner, is people’s budget. 10 at a table = less centerpieces, less linen and less staff, all things that can add up when you are paying for your won wedding. Thoughts?

  10. Whilst I couldn’t agree more with your ocmments on round tables. When trying to fill a space with a large number of people smaller tables would make that impossible. One option that has been my preference over the years and usually pretty accessible either from the venue or to rent are ovals. They can comfortably seat 10 and you’ll fit more into a space than roundtables so has an added benefit if you’re tight for space. Any event designer/producer, florist or venue who using centrepieces which are in the eyeline of seated guests are simply demonstrating their lack of experience and professionalism. They should either be above their heads (which when using floral arrangements can look very dramatic) or low to the table. Hopefully venues will take heed and consider storing round tops for group discussion sessions and ovals for gala dinners. I have seen venues set their ovals long side to the stage which is really depressing. Oval tables should always be set herringbone style to the stage so that everyone has the best view of the action.

Comments are closed.