Historic Millennium Event Center ballroom featuring elegant chandeliers and hardwood flooring

The Right Seating for Your Stylish Occasion

Whether you’re hosting a life-commemorating event or in charge of an important corporate function, it’s imperative to choose the right seating for your stylish occasion. Here’s a rundown of seating and meal serving styles and how to match them to your event. You’ll also find tips for what else needs to go in your space besides tables and chairs. And you’ll learn how to determine how much event space you need and what to do to keep a large space from feeling empty.

Character and capacity – finding the right venue

Finding the right venue for your occasion is a combination of character and capacity. It’s important that the venue matches the tone of your event. Would you prefer more of a blank canvas for designing your occasion? Or do you want a space that reflects a certain charm through its history, architecture, and special features? The seating style should align with the overall theme and atmosphere you wish to create.

Fun dessert station for a themed event

Remember to factor in details like a dessert station when it comes to venue space.

The other part of finding the right location is capacity. While you probably won’t have a firm guest count while searching for a venue, you should have a good idea of the number you’d like to invite and the type of occasion you’re hosting – retirement or anniversary celebration, a bar/bat mitzvah or quinceanera, wedding reception, rehearsal dinner, or after party. Will the space you’re considering comfortably accommodate your guests? Having a grip on the guest count also allows you the option of exploring different seating styles.

Your dining setup and type of event also impact capacity. Are you using rectangular tables or rounds? What other setups do you need? Is there entertainment? Social occasions usually require extra space, especially wedding receptions. These needs affect capacity as well as the “flow” of the room. Are any of these on your room layout?

  • Dance floor
  • Photo booth or selfie wall
  • Bars  (if not permanent fixtures at the venue)
  • Food stations and/or dessert bar
  • Entertainment – space/stage for DJ or band
  • Guest book/gift table
  • Memory table (often used at weddings to honor departed loved ones)
  • Head table – size will depend on style used
  • Stage for guest speakers

The capacity guidelines for a space will give you a good idea if a venue is right for your event. Capacity is expressed in square footage as well as different configurations, such as for a seated dinner or cocktail style. These charts give real life examples of space requirements. By working with a  knowledgeable venue manager, you won’t need to do the math. You’ll be professionally guided to the perfect seating style and room arrangement.

Seating arrangements and service styles

Your seating arrangement is paramount to your guests’ comfort. It’s important to strike a balance between overcrowding and creating too much distance between tables. Think about how you want your guests to interact with each other as it influences the seating style you choose. These terms will help you better understand your seating options. 

Classic round tables: This is the “go to” setup in the events industry for just about any occasion, from weddings to corporate galas. It is also known as banquet style seating. Depending on the size of the round, typically five or six feet in diameter, you can seat 8 to 10 guests per table. 

Family style seating in the lower level of Millennium Event CenterFamily style/long rectangle tables: This type of seating involves long rows of rectangular tables. If you have ample space, it makes a stunning room while also creating a more intimate space. This type of seating can work for a casual rehearsal dinner or luncheon to an elegant wedding reception.

Cocktails with high tops: Whether it’s for a business mixer or part of an occasion, this serving style makes the most use of floor space. You don’t need a seat for each guest, just well placed high top tables, leaving your guests free to mix and mingle. When it comes to your guests’ personal space, a “loose” crowd is one where each person is about an arm’s length from their neighbor, about 10 square feet, while a more tightly-packed crowd fills closer to five square feet per person.

Cabaret: You need large space to pull this seating arrangement off. Like the banquet style, rounds are used. However, all guests are seated on one side of the room so everyone has a view. It’s an ideal seating arrangement for audience-type events.

Mix and match: The beauty of going into a larger space is the flexibility. For a unique seating arrangement, try a combination of table shapes throughout the ballroom. Or use a square table as a focal point for decor and have rectangular tables coming off each side.

Service and seating go hand in hand

Seating arrangement also plays a role in meal service style. Again, you want to make sure the service style pairs well with the event’s tone. And some service styles, due to their complexity and required expertise, come at a premium.

Plated waiter service

Plated or waiter service is a popular dining option for social and corporate events.

Unless it is a very formal occasion, there’s no reason why you and your caterer can’t do a little mixing and matching with service style. There’s no rule that says you can’t have comfort food stations where guests can pick their favorites while the main course is served at their seats. Take a look at these serving styles and discuss with your caterer what’s right for your occasion.

Plated or table service: This is the most popular serving style for corporate galas as well as social occasions like wedding receptions. Guests are served a plated meal and, in the case of a wedding, make their entree selection when they respond to their invitation. Each plate is prepared in the kitchen and then served directly to guests.

Banquet French service: This is the most elegant service experience for fine dining. Platters of food are prepared in the kitchen and then servers take them to the guests. Using large silver utensils, the servers place the food directly onto the guests’ plates. 

Butlered service: This is a less formal service compared to Banquet French, but still makes an elegant impression. With this type of service, food is presented on trays, but the seated guests serve themselves. This type of service is also used for passed hors d’oeuvres at cocktail parties.

Delicious buffet for a rehearsal dinner or wedding reception

A delicious buffet allows guests the option of choosing their favorite dishes.

Buffet style: A great choice for weddings, rehearsal dinners, and family reunions, this service style allows guests to choose what they like then return to their tables. To prevent a rush, make sure your banquet manager or DJ calls when it is time for a table to head to the buffet. And, while it’s not required, you may want to have servers on the line to better control portions so every guest can have a full plate.

Family style: This type of service works well for more informal parties like showers or day-after brunches. It’s also a good serving style for team building lunches. The menu usually consists of an abundance of different dishes served on large plates and then passed by the guests.

Food stations: A terrific way to highlight specialty dishes, especially those that showcase culture and heritage, food stations can be a complete serving style or an added treat. Think carving stations, hand rolled sushi, and cooked to order delicacies. A variety of stations gives guests culinary options, creates good room “flow” and provides fresh food at just the right temperature. Food stations are also a staple for cocktail parties.

Go with the flow and make the most of the space

Now that you’ve found the right space, seating arrangement, and service style, it’s time to think about the “flow” of your event and how to make the most out of your venue.

Flow basically means how your event transitions. And that transition not only involves the timing of what happens and when, it’s also how well guests can maneuver around the space. With a wedding, for example, you may have your ceremony in one part of the venue, move over to another space for cocktail hour and then transition to another setting for dinner.

Corporate gala at Millennium Event Center downtown Winston-Salem

Successful event “flow” starts with making the most of a venue’s space.

When it comes to the flow of a room, you want enough space for each guest to feel comfortable and move around freely. Be mindful of your guests who have mobility issues. And remember, it’s better to have more space, and fill it accordingly, than to have the room feel overcrowded.

Remember that list of items of things you may need to complete your event space? Strategically placing those tables, stations, dance floor, band/DJ, along with lounge furniture, draping, uplighting, and lush plants you will fill your space and create different paths to aid in the flow of your event.

Plan the perfect party with Millennium Event Center

As downtown Winston-Salem’s premier wedding and event venue, the Millennium Center offers three levels of space to fit any social or corporate need. The Millennium Ballroom can hold up to 400 for a seated reception or a cocktail gala for 1000. The Grand Lobby and its adjacent bars can easily serve cocktails for 300 and makes an ideal pre-function space. MEC also has more intimate spaces on the upper and lower floors that can accommodate 50 to 150 guests for dining and up to 200 for a cocktail reception. See what we have to offer with a virtual tour

In addition to a convenient location and flexible space, Millennium also provides a full-service food and beverage experience, state-of-the-art sound and audio/video equipment, and myriad ways to make the most of your space with elegant decor, lighting, and draping.

The professionals at Millennium Event Center have experience and expertise with all types of events and can provide valuable insights and recommendations. Contact us to discuss your next social or corporate occasion and let’s bring your vision to life.

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