Room Setup is a critically important area when it comes to food and beverage functions. It can affect the flow of service, the amount of food and beverage consumed, and even the mood of the guests. The ambience can make or break a meal function, be it a continental breakfast or a formal dinner.

Room setup encompasses tables, chairs, and décor, as well as other equipment, such as portable bars, stages, audiovisual, etc. It is essential that you communicate to the caterer exactly how you want the room to be set.

Access and Consumption

An hors d'oeuvres table placed against a wall provides only 180-degree access to the food. A rectangular table in the center of the room provides two open sides and 360-degree access to the food, and therefore results in greater food consumption. A round table in the center of the room gives an appearance of a lavish presentation, but since 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.

At a reception, you will need to allocate about 6 to 10 square feet of floor space per guest. With 6 square feet, guests will feel a bit close and they will have a bit less ease getting to the food and beverage stations. As a result, they may eat and drink less. If you are paying on a per-person basis, where guests can eat and drink as much as they want for one price, the square footage doesn't really matter in terms of cost. But if you are paying based on consumption, you may want to allocate only about 6 square feet per person to keep the price lower and your F&B costs under control.

Seven and a half square feet per person is considered “comfortably crowded.” It is thought to be the ideal amount of floor space per guest for receptions and other similar functions. Ten square feet provides more than ample space for guests to mingle and easily visit the food and beverage stations. It is an appropriate amount of floor space for a luxury-type reception. You want guests to be comfortable and to have enough room to eat and drink as much as they want.

Food stations need enough floor space for the tables and aisles. An 8-foot-by-3-foot banquet table is 24 square feet; it requires about 60 square feet for aisle space if the table is against the wall, and about 100 square feet for aisle space if the table is accessible from all sides.

When determining the number of buffet tables that are needed, as well as the number of buffet lines required, you need to consider the following:

  • number of guests expected,
  • length of dining time,
  • amount of service equipment required,
  • type of service equipment required,
  • type of menu,
  • style of service,
  • amount of décor desired on the buffet line, and
  • amount of total floor space available in the function room.

Generally speaking, you must allocate approximately 2 running feet of buffet table for each food container. If you want to display three hot offerings, three cold offerings, and a condiment basket, you should set up a buffet table 14 feet to 16 feet long. If you use two standard 8-foot rectangular banquet tables, you will need about 48 square feet of floor space for the buffet table and approximately 150 square feet of standard 3-foot aisle space surrounding the buffet table. The total allocation for this setup, then, is about 200 square feet.

Patti J. Shock, CPCE, is professor and chairwoman of the, Tourism and Convention Administration Department, Harrah College of Hotel Administration, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. To learn more about her, visit, or send her an e-mail at

Tip: Get Gliffy

Gliffy ( is a free online room-diagramming application. You can make a quick diagram of how you want the room set up and e-mail a copy to the hotel caterer.