“Sit” Away from Me: 11 Seating Configurations that Encourage Physical Distance

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By Olivia Orman

The meetings and events industry has heard it time and time again: COVID-19 will drastically shift the way we gather from here on out.

As we slowly begin to ease back into face-to-face functions, honoring physical distance policies administered by local and national health organizations is a must.  However, this will require planners to reconsider how they seat attendees at scaled down meetings, presentations, conferences, and conventions.

There are a few key factors that will dictate how planners configure their attendees going forward.  Clearly communicating with attendees to understand their comfort levels, considering the capabilities of an event space more than ever before, and maintaining feasible goals will be essential as we start to gather in a close proximity to one another, rather than virtually in our homes.

Read on to learn about 11 physically distanced seating configurations, and view the seating configuration resource at the end of the article to see how you can implement each layout at your future meetings and events.

  1. Auditorium/Theater-style Layout

Similar to a cinema room, the auditorium/theater-style layout configures chairs in staggered rows to face a stage.  The inner chairs directly face the front of the room, while the outer chairs may be angled inward to provide a better view of the stage.

In this layout, there is one central aisle and narrow side aisles.  Depending on the venue, the auditorium may be sloped from front to back with fixed seating, or the surface may be flat with adjustable arrangements.  Though auditoriums usually accommodate hundreds or thousands of attendees, planners can still use them for future events by spacing attendees further.

  1. Banquet-style Layout

The banquet-style seating arrangement was a practical layout for larger events with anywhere from 50 to several thousand attendees, but it needs to be rethought as events start to scale down their attendee count.

Also known as ‘round set’ seating in the industry, this arrangement utilizes banquet tables that come in many sizes, including 48’’, 60’’, 66’’, and 72’’.  In the past, the two sizes of round tables used for larger events were 60’’, which sat eight attendees comfortably, and 72’’, which sat ten attendees comfortably.  Planners may decide to remove half of the chairs at each table to create double the space between attendees.

  1. Cabaret-style Layout

This seating configuration is similar to the banquet-style layout, but with a beneficial deviation.  In cabaret-style seating, the chairs make a semicircle around a small number of round tables, rather than circling all the way around.  This ensures that all attendees are facing the stage, making it a thoughtful design for events.

In pre-COVID events, a 72’’ round that comfortably sat ten attendees’ banquet-style could accommodate five to six attendees cabaret-style as they faced the stage.  Cabaret-style seating was already scaled down comparatively, but it can be modified further, by subtracting every other chair, to mandate physical distance.

  1. Chevron/V-shape-style Layout

In this layout, classroom-style tables and chairs are configured in two rows, forming a V-formation that faces the stage.  The chevron-style layout is one creative seating structure for small presentations or activities where attendees can still remain physically spaced.

  1. Circle-Style Seating Layout

Configuring attendees in a large circle, where the inner space of the circle is not used, is an impactful way to design a seating layout for small meetings and breakout sessions at conferences.  Circles are an ideal configuration for activities that provoke discussion or use roleplay, and chairs can easily remain staggered to establish increased distancing.

  1. Classroom/Schoolroom-style Layout

Picture a conventional classroom. This is the precise layout that schoolroom-style seating mimics for meetings and conferences.  All rows of rectangular tables and chairs directly face the lectern and speaker, retaining the attention of attendees, and each table can be scattered around the breakout room to keep attendees physically separated.

  1. Boardroom-style Layout

Designed to facilitate conversation, this configuration seats attendees facing one another around a square, rectangle, oval, or round table.  The boardroom-style layout is commonly seen in venues such as hotels, restaurants and conference centers, and these facilities may deduct some of the boardroom chairs to remain open and compliant with physical distancing regulations.

  1. Conference-style Layout

The classic conference-style layout is an inclusively designed seating configuration with multiple rectangular tables joined together.  The tables can be configured in a U shape or set beside one another in a series to create one large working area with the chairs around the perimeter.  During the conference, all attendees face inward during the discussion, but this layout can become significantly more spaced as chairs and attendee counts scale back.

  1. Fixed Seating Layout

As the name suggests, fixed seating refers to permanently positioned seating at a facility that is unable to be moved.  A stationary seating layout can be an ideal configuration for a large conference that is intended to solely convey an informative presentation, but it is less sought-after for events that need customizability for interactive teambuilding activities and moving around.  Similar to the auditorium/theatre-style layout, event management staff may decide to monitor attendees to ensure they are seated every three seats at minimum.

  1. Horseshoe-style Layout

This seating layout is an inclusive approach for conferences, open discussions, and breakout teambuilding activities.  With rectangular tables and chairs arranged in a U-shape, but with a smaller quantity of chairs that are more dispersed to reinforce physical distancing, this seating configuration opens towards the speaker and lectern, hence resembling a horseshoe.

  1. Reception-style Layout

Who said tables and chairs are a set requirement at business functions?  With minimal seating arrangements, the simplistic reception-style configuration encourages attendees to move around and network, and during pre-COVID events, high-top tables used to be conventionally placed throughout the room with snacks and drinks.  However, attendees may consider networking several feet apart from one another, and food and beverages will most likely be individually packaged and serviced by banquet staff.

Sit at a Distance

There are several ways planners can continue to configure attendees at meetings and events that follow physical distancing guidelines, thus keeping corporate functions safe and healthy as we reintroduce gathering.

Review the seating configurations resource below to compare pre-COVID structures and attendee capacities against post-COVID modifications and attendee capacities, which will, ultimately, help your organization coordinate safe seating for post-COVID functions.

Seating Configuration Pre-COVID Seating Structure Pre-COVID Seating Capacity Post-COVID Seating Modifications Post-COVID Seating Capacity
Auditorium/Theatre-style Attendees seated right next to one another 300-2,500 Attendees spaced every three seats 75-625
Banquet-style Full room/mostly filled seating 50-several thousand Attendees spaced every other seat 16-1,667
Cabaret-style Full room/mostly filled seating 20-104 Attendees spaced every other seat 6-35
Chevron/V-Shape-style Full room/mostly filled seating 6-24 Attendees spaced every other seat 2-8
Circle-style Full room/mostly filled seating 10-25 Attendees spaced every other seat 3-8
Classroom/Schoolroom-style Full room/mostly filled seating 6-45 Attendees spaced around the breakout room 3-23
Boardroom-style Full room/mostly filled seating 4-16 Attendees spaced every other seat 2-5
Conference-style Full room/mostly filled seating 16-30 Attendees spaced every other seat 5-10
Fixed Seating Full room/mostly filled seating 200-10,000+ Attendees spaced every three seats 50-2,500
Horseshoe-style Full room/mostly filled seating 14-34 Attendees spaced every other seat 4-11
Reception-style Full room/mostly filled seating 30-300+ Attendees maintaining several feet of physical distance 10-100

MK

Olivia Orman is a contributing writer from St. Louis.

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