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Designing a Tablescape

Posted on November 23, 2007

By Kelly Rush

Let’s face it: sometimes it’s harder than you think to transform a relatively…bland meeting room into a space that looks like a vision.  Let me say that I am not Martha Stewart; I’m just a guy who wants the table to look pretty.  And by doing so, make the room look…well, not necessarily like a feeding trough.  I’ve tried to list below nine simple rules to remember when designing a tablescape.

Rule #1 – The ideal number of guests at a 60” banquet round is 8; a 72” round is 10.

Rule #2 – A 60” banquet round will hold 10 people maximum; a 72” round maxes at 12. 
That’s it, no more.  Please don’t even ask. 

Rule #3 – There is a finite amount of space on the tabletop, so don’t over do it. 
Keep in mind that a basic table setting for a 3 course meal with white and red wines includes 10 pieces of serviceware (7 pieces of flatware, 1 B&B plate, 2 wine glasses) along with leaving room for the plate itself.  At the capacities listed above, the place setting can be set out to 3 courses at according to Rule #1, 4 courses for Rule #2.. 

Rule #4 – Limit the amount of paper at the table.
At the most, include one menu per table setting and one program or agenda placed on the chair.  Anything more makes the tabletop look crowded and messy.  Besides, there’s really not much room for these items once the meal gets started, anyway.

Rule #5 – Don’t go overboard on the centerpiece
Maximum width should be no greater than six inches; maximum height should be ten inches—most would say 12, but I’m an advocate for the vertically challenged.  What many don’t realize is that there is a need for space between the centerpiece and the top of the place setting.   If you force us to minimize that space for a large centerpiece, we struggle to keep the table looking good while we set salt and pepper, butter plates, bread plates, table numbers, and votive candles.  And we don’t want those centerpieces to go up in flames because the candles were forced under the foliage, do we?

Rule #6 – Napkin folding takes time.
I mention this one because several times, we’ve had no indication of how the group contact would like to have the napkin folded, assign the task, fished the room for three hundred, then had the planner say, “I don’t like it, can you do something else?” half an hour before the function is scheduled to begin. 

Rule #7 – Always order extra linens..
Far too often, planners and conference services staff forget to order extra linens.  Cocktail rounds and buffet tables need love, too.

Rule #8 – Buffet tables should always have the following elements: elevation, texture and color.
Adding elevation alone makes the buffet display interesting.  Add the other two and you can’t really do wrong.

Rule #9 – Don’t be afraid and HAVE FUN!!!
Seriously, the final “rule” is that you really can’t go wrong if you have fun and keep in mind the “rules” above.


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Dave Lutz

Kelly, great post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

A long, long time ago, I was a banquet manager. We used to set 10 folks at 60" rounds all the time. When I moved over to the planning side, I realized the errors of my ways.

If you go back to your old geometry class, computing the number of folks that you can sit at each round boils down to calculating the circumference per person.

To do this, multiply the diameter of the table X pi (3.14). Then divide this result by the number of chairs at each round table.

What you'll find when doing this is that setting 10 at a 60" or 12 at a 72" gives you less than 19" per person. In my opinion, that's only acceptable for a breakfast or lunch buffet where there may be some flow. It's way too tight for big guys like us.

Also, I think you may have your numbers reversed in rule #3 above.



You're last point is right on and it should really be about having fun. Too many banquet organizers run around as if they're life depended on a perfect event. Let's face it banquets often have a 'life of their own' and sometimes go in a different direction. Striving for perfection and organizing the perfect event is okay but expecting it all to go exactly as planned is not always possible. Oh, and by the way anybody ever tell you Kelly you look a little like a young David Letterman?

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