Successful Meeting Planning: How to Manage Traffic Flow
On the following pages, you’ll find time-tested meeting planning techniques and helpful tips for handling all of these scenarios and more.
If any attendee is standing in the back of the room with no seat nearby, then they haven’t done their job, which is to get everyone seated quickly, efficiently, and courteously. To achieve this goal, use the following strategies:
o Fill the front of the room first, reserving seats for VIPs and speakers.
o If there are side doors, open the frontmost door first and direct delegates to the front seats.
o To prevent people from going down the aisle, stand in the middle of the aisle and point where you would like them to go. However, don’t argue with pushy guests if they decide to move down the aisle.
o As the front fills up, close the front most door and open the next one. Continue this procedure until all but the back of the room is filled.
o Tape or tape the seats furthest from the speaker and closest to the rear entry door or use reserved signs to maintain the integrity of this area, about one-tenth of the chairs in the room.
o Finally, once the other seats are filled or the meeting has started, remove all ribbons, ribbons, and banners and save the seats furthest back for latecomers. Be sure to post meeting room signage by the back door once the session has started.
For large groups, park one person in front of doors that must remain closed and one person at the entrance that will be used first, which will automatically direct traffic flow to the desired door. Staff members located inside the room decide when to open the next door and communicate that decision via walkie-talkie to staff members located outside the room. When the next door opens, the coordinator enters the flow and directs the delegates to the new door that opens. Inside, staff members head to the new door and continue to seat people. Walkie-talkies and many coordinators or assistants are vital for large group movements.
o Never have open stations near the doors of a meeting room. If unavoidable due to space constraints, keep those stations closed and direct delegates to the farthest stations first.
o When setting up stations, always keep in mind the direction people are coming from and position stations so movement is away from meeting rooms.
o Organize the stations so that attendees do not stop moving until after drinking their coffee or hot water. Place tea bags, sugar and creamer downstream of the coffee or hot water so those who only need coffee can get through the line without hindrance. Place regular coffee first, decaf second, and hot water last.
o Place refreshments and snacks (if applicable) at separate tables. Arrange the items in the correct order: glasses, then ice, then soda.
o If a quick break is needed and labor costs are not an issue, servers can serve coffee. Once again, keep the tea bags, sugar, and cream downstream.
o Make sure the end of the creek has an outlet; do not carry the end of the station against a wall, an escalator or a dead end. Keep stations away from restaurants.
o When moving from a general meeting session to breakout sessions or vice versa, always try to place the break before the next chronological destination. If you are participating in sessions that are away from the general session lobby, for example, arrange the coffee break in the session area.
o In a situation where both the remote sessions and the general session are used, you might have a problem when attendees going to the remote sessions attack the coffee station reserved for the general session. To resolve this issue, ask the speaker to dismiss breakout attendees first and keep the stations in the general session lobby closed until these people come through. Then, as soon as the first group has left the room, send the second group (those returning to general session) to break just outside the room.
Meeting planners need to be proactive in ensuring their events have the right space and design. Obviously, the type of cocktail party, as well as the number of hors d’oeuvre stations, entertainment options, and accessories greatly affect the layout design and flow pattern of the room. The following guidelines apply to all types of cocktail receptions.
o Do not put bars near the doors.
o Food stations must not overlap or flow into bars.
o Avoid high density bar areas: four or more bars in a row is not a good idea.
o Consider beer and wine bars at large events and outdoor events.
o Place seats away from high-traffic areas and group seats together. Do not spread it out so that traffic is forced around those seated.
o Always create large gaps for traffic to move between function areas.
o For large groups, move guests to the back of the room first by not opening the bars and food stations closest to the entrance until the majority of attendees have entered.
move people to dinner
At buffet dinners — Objective: avoid long lines
o Only move as many people from the cocktail party as necessary to keep the buffet lines full. “Bleed” clerks away from reception telling only those closest to the exit or dinning area that the buffet is open. (They will likely thank you and move quickly.) When the lines get shorter, repeat this procedure with the next group closest to the exit.
o Do not close all the bars until the buffet line is finished. Close the bars near the buffet first.
o Always discuss your plan with hotel staff to ensure you control the flow.
o Never turn on the lights or do anything to encourage all the guests to leave the reception at the same time.
For sit-down dinners –
Goal: Seat quickly so food service can begin.
There are several techniques that work.
o Close all bars at the same time. (Always make a “last call” before using this technique.) When a bar is closed, a tablecloth covers the bar and the bartender steps to the side.
o Make one last call, then signal to delegates that dinner is served with flashing lights or playing exit music.
o At each stage, encourage people furthest from the exit doors to leave the event first so they can choose their seats. As they pass through the party, others will notice the movement and head towards the dining room as well.
o When using these techniques, always be courteous, not dictatorial. Keep in mind that courtesy and warmth work wonders.
Seating for people at meal functions
Seating people at food functions is critical, especially for larger groups. Keep these three rules in mind when seating groups of several hundred or more in unassigned seating:
1. Set up larger aisles to more easily move masses through the room. The “filter through” method (no aisle crossing) is a guaranteed disaster for 500 or more guests.
2. Line up banquet staff in the aisles to direct early arrivals to the far corners of the room. If early comers sit at the tables closest to the entrance, they block the aisles needed to move attendees to the back. (Note: Reserved signs on the tables closest to the door force people back. Please remove them when the room is full.)
3. Use as many inputs as possible, combine them with multiple runners if possible.
Reserved Seating Events
Reserved seating events require significant use of labor and signage for groups of 800 or more. The first challenge is getting people to enter through the correct door, which minimizes wandering around the room looking for the correct table numbers.
To achieve this goal, follow these guidelines:
o Place large reproductions of the room layout, complete with table numbers, at eye level in the reception area.
o Hang a sign above each ballroom door showing the table numbers that can be located when entering through that particular door.
o Post staff members outside each door with a list of seat assignments.
o You can also color-code each area of the room (with balloons, tablecloths, or banners) and place a corresponding color sticker on each attendee’s name badge. This tactic will direct them to the correct area. The numbers are then needed to help them find the correct table.