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Beyond Square Footage: How to Evaluate Floor Space

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Square footage is not the only way to measure event space.

Image © flickr.com/qilin

You often see venues advertising the square footage of their banquet rooms and meeting space. The general assumption here is that more space is better, and that certainly is true in some cases. But how many meeting planners shop venues for square footage? Not many I’d bet, because the more important dimension is capacity. You see, for all the wonderful visions that square footage data can insinuate, a venue’s most valuable asset is functionality.

Is the floor plan unobstructed?
Modern banquet rooms are typically designed without obstructions, but classic venues are sometimes limited by their architectural features. Look for columns and other permanent structures that might interfere with your event layout. It could be that certain elements of the room will prevent you from utilizing all of the available floor space, and this of course limits the useable square footage of the entire room.

What is the room capacity after setup?
While it is good to know the “maximum capacity” of each space you are considering, the truth is that this number can be quite misleading. Say for example that a room is rated for 600 people at round tables. To reach this capacity you will likely need to use rounds of 10 and limit additional components inside the room. If you are planning to hold an opening reception or auction event in the same space, then the maximum capacity for your event will be less than the room’s legal occupancy.

Is the room oriented for wide or short rows?
Some banquet rooms have the option to be set in a variety of orientations, but others will be limited based on the infrastructure of the room. This could be a potential problem if you plan to approach maximum capacity. Short rows increase the amount of space between the back row and the stage, while wide rows usually provide better viewing angles for the majority of the crowd. Think of it this way: Would you rather be seated on the far side of the third row, or in the center of the tenth row?

What are the options for stage configuration?
Staging is a room element that relies on both available space and audio/visual capabilities. From a design perspective, you almost want to set the stage first and then fill in the seating. Often times the stage setup is restricted by key elements like lighting and wiring configurations. Your staging size requirements may also impact the capacity of the room. Thus, it is a good idea to understand all of your needs before booking a room that barely fits your needs.

Is there enough room to accommodate traffic flow?
Just because you can legally fit 500 people in a room doesn’t mean that your guests will be comfortable. Adequate aisle space is essential for avoiding long lines and interruptions. The more people you have on the guest list increases the likelihood that some of them will arrive after the event begins. This can cause distractions if they have to shuffle their way through small aisle ways to find their seat. Keep in mind as well that people will be running back and forth to restroom throughout the evening. Don’t sacrifice traffic lanes for additional seating because everyone will suffer in the end.

Square footage and maximum capacities do not correlate across every event property. Indeed you can make some basic assumptions by knowing the square footage of a room, but ultimately the capacity is dependent on how you will set the tables and chairs. As always, be sure to ask specific questions like those posted above. Your salesperson should be able to provide you with a room diagram that illustrates how the space will look upon setup. Use this to make the final decision on if the venue is right for you.

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