Receptions: Setup and Other Considerations

receptionReceptions are sometimes referred to as "walk and talks," and are often pre-dinner functions that are designed primarily to encourage attendees to get to know one another. Most meetings schedule an opening reception as an ice-breaker to allow attendees to make new friends and renew old acquaintances. If an opening reception is not scheduled, an attendee will possibly only meet the handful of people sitting at his or her dining table.

One of the biggest complaints I hear at opening receptions is that the music is too loud. Many people haven’t seen each other for a year and want to talk, and there are generally a lot of introductions going on. Usually the reception is a networking event, and attendees end up having to shout over the music to be heard. If loud music is desired, save it until later in the evening, or for the final night banquet.

When planning a reception, it is best to locate several food buffet stations around the room. Each station should offer a different type of food. This will encourage attendees to move around the room and socialize. If possible, you should include one or two action stations. You also should have a server at each station to replenish foods, bus soiled tableware, remove trash and be a psychological deterrent to curb people’s tendencies to heap their plates and/or return several times.

Bars and neutral beverage stations should be spaced around the room. Bars should be placed sufficient distances from the food stations so that people have to change locations in order to get a drink. This further increases mingling.

Seating should be minimized at receptions. You do not want to encourage attendees to sit and eat; remember, you want to promote mingling and networking. Seating should be provided for no more than 25 to 30 % of the count. Cabaret-style seating, tuxedo tables, or park benches, with little or no table space, are suitable.

The amount of food consumed may depend on how many square feet are available for guests to move around in. Plan for 5.5 to 10 square feet of floor space per attendee. Tighter space equals less consumption. With 5.5 to 6 square feet, people will feel a bit tight and have more difficulty getting to the food and beverage stations - they may eat and drink less. Ten square feet provides ample space for attendees to mingle and visit the food and beverage stations easily. It is an appropriate amount of floor space for a luxury-type reception.

If a cost-conscious meeting planner is paying a low price per-person where attendees can eat and drink as much as they want, the caterer will typically allocate about 6 square feet per person to keep the price low and the food and beverage costs under control.

Table placement at receptions affects food consumption. An hors d’oeuvre table placed against a wall provides only 180 degrees-access to the food. A rectangular table in the center of the room provides two open sides and 360-degrees access to the food. A round table in the center of the room gives an appearance of a lavish presentation, but there is no way for a line to form to circle the table. Guests have to work their way in and out at various points for each item they wish to eat, which decreases food consumption. The round table in this case is sometimes referred to as a Rubik’s Cube, because of guest frustration at trying to get to the food.

Food stations need enough floor space for the tables and aisles. An 8-foot long rectangular banquet table needs about 24 square feet for the table, and about 60 square feet for aisle space if the table is against the wall. About 100 square feet for aisle space is needed if the table is accessible from all sides.

Upcoming posts will cover Food at Receptions and Beverages at Receptions.

Photo courtesy Cvent via Flickr

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