Freedom from the 60″ Round: Alternatives for the Seated Gala Banquet

I sat on a panel this Tuesday for the Association of Fundraising Professionals entitled “Special Events and the New Normal: Finding the Right Opportunities in Lean Times”, and one of the interesting trends we discussed was the variety of options available beyond the traditional banquet dinner format.

Traditionally, the gala formula has worked like this:

1.    Serve cocktails while guests mingle.
2.    Seat guests at 60” round tables (10 per table).
3.    Commence program featuring honorees, speeches, maybe videos.
4.    Serve dinner.
5.    Resume program.
6.    Cash checks.  Hand out gift bags.
7.    Repeat next year.

The biggest complaint people often have is being stuck at those banquet rounds for most of the evening.  They want more networking, and when they have it at the dinner break, they’re stuck talking to the two or three people within earshot at their table.  Slim pickings at best.

Fifi Awards (Dalzell Productions)

But new trends are emerging.  Karen Dalzell, owner of Dalzell Productions, and producer of the FiFi Awards and the Tribeca Film Festival events, has been paving the way with replacing the 60” round with loungeseating.  Sponsors who previously would have bought top tier tables are now

given branded, more comfy lounges closer to the stage.

The Toy Industry Association’s Toy of the Year Awards has had great success by switching their program to theater style seating, like the Academy Awards.  Before the program guests are treated to a 90 minute grazing style buffet cocktail reception.  And after the program is a dessert reception.  Lots and lots of networking.  My old firm, Paint The Town Red (since acquired by Global

Toy of the Year Awards (Global Events Group)

Events Group) produced that event, and I was so impressed by the success of this format I convinced other clients to adopt it, including the Children’s Book Council’s Children’s Choice Book Awards.

And with the advent of LED lighting, you can take the same room you use for the buffet reception, and simply change the lighting for the dessert reception with the flick of a button.

Both of these format changes still preserve the formal program aspect of the event.  The biggest objection usually comes from committee members who are flummoxed that they can no longer sell the 60” round.  Those tables had become the only currency they knew.  There are easy work-arounds, of course, such as selling the lounge, or a package of reserved theater seats up font.

If, however, after being presented with these options, the bulk of your committee still seems mystified (like the scene in Spinal Tap where Nigel explains that his amplifier goes to 11), then it’s a sign for you to throw in the towel.

Lucretia Gilbert, Director of Development for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, and a fellow panelist, oversees events around the country, and was clear to caution the audience that, well, you need to know your audience.  She pointed out certain markets where they are quite happy with the seated banquet round, thank you very much!

And that’s really the key to the whole thing, giving people what they want, so they have the best possible experience at your gala.  If they want to be liberated from the 60” round, then here are some ideas you can work with.  If, on the other hand, they like the standard gala format, keep riding that horse all the way to the bank.

By |2011-01-20T01:02:17-04:00January 20th, 2011|Articles, Industry Insights|9 Comments

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  1. Debbie Miller December 4, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    I recently attended a Fundraiser Gala and turn 4 seats at an open table up to save them for my niece and nephew and was told how tacky that was. I was even told to leave the event because I would not turn them down. Would this be be considered tacky at an open table? I have attended many events that individuals turn seats at open tables up to save for family and friends.

  2. melanie gaffin - director of catering at the westin mt laurel hotel February 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    Another option is to use the 60 inch round along with lounge seating, theater and cocktail seating. I have a fundraiser coming up that sold 11 – 60 inch round tables for the platinum sponsors and sold general admission seating (non reserved seating) for a lesser ticket price. All will partake in the same menu only the reserved seating is of course for the tickets sold at top dollar. Of course the menu is all reception stations and will have seating as a combination of reserved and open, 60 inch rounds and lounge.

  3. Julie January 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Great article! Do you have any suggestions for setting up a panel discussion without using the standard table with microphones setup? Could lounge seating work somehow?

  4. Andrea Figman January 20, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    And, with a minor tweak (if rounds still the preference) consider cocktails, dinner, presentation and then a separate dessert buffet — folks can still return back to their tables or mingle through desserts in area with lounge seating. Amazing you can write a whole article on the 60 inch round — gotta love it.

  5. adam sloyer January 20, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Really enjoyed this article Howard. We’ve worked with Hosp. Sales & Mark. Association for the past six years, traditional reception / seated dinner. For this year’s event we reworked the format to dinner reception followed by theater style awards presentation, it’s been extremely well received. Nice change of pace for all involved!

  6. steve fried January 20, 2011 at 9:46 am

    some really good points here. i believe that the type of event warrants the format and layout. Changing the large table formats will definitely create the ability to mingle more, not be stuck with the same 2-3 people all night and open up more opportunities to network, catch up, shmooze or whatever. i do like the idea if having the ability for some of the old timers who don’t feel like mingling to have a seat and stay put. its not for everyone so Howard’s point of knowing your audience is a must. i’ve been to some events where the tables were various sizes and heights, using stools, chairs and various formats. this makes the space look more interesting and provides for some interesting diversity in the layout, thus creating a less formal setting and style.

  7. Denis Plamondon January 20, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Interesting article. I agree that new seating designs are always welcome, yet there is nothing wrong with the 60′ round table format. Other shapes of table have been available for a long time and, honestly, we produced so many arrangements, already. Design must reflect theme and objectives of your event, so new ways of doing things should fit in it, not the contrary. I also agree with you taht creativity is not only a must, today, but a necessity. My only concern in reading about event planning, lately, is that: I am seeing more concerns about setting new trends than sharing best practices!

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