Banquet Seating

If your event is using Banquet Seating layouts for Murder Mystery Dinner Shows
Helpful room layouts, diagrams, and photos that improve the quality of your event.


  1. Yardstick Rule: at least 36″ of space behind each chair and the next nearest chair back, wall, or support column. Actors need room to roam between tables and chairs, PLUS guests won’t feel claustrophobic during 2 hour event. 
  2. Place-Setting Rule: Allow 6″ space between place settings. Guests need room to write notes on Detective report during meal. Also, avoids claustrophobia by allowing more elbow room.

Here is a list that will make it easier for you to connect with the banquet sales manager that you are working with. Banquet managers are usually acclimated to one way of doing setting up a banquet room for bands or DJ’s. They are wary of change, so this is why these guidelines will help everyone involved.

Guidelines for Murder Mystery Show Room Set-up

Business as usual for banquet wait staff! We let them perform THEIR USUAL ROUTINES – SAME AS IF WE WERE NOT THERE DOING A SHOW!  Serving plates of food, busing tables and replenishing drinks or taking drink orders can all happen during show with no problem.

  1. ROUND or OVAL tables only. Square tables if necessary. Six foot or eight foot rectangles are the last choice (One half the table’s guests will always be facing the wrong direction during the play). Long Board Room tables or rows of rectangle tables do not work for mystery shows since it is always too hard for everyone to see the action of the whole play.
  2. Total audience is comfortably able to see all the other tables and guests in the same room.
  3. 1 Yardstick rule between the chair backs and other nearest chair back, wall, column, plant or other impediment.
  4. Six inch (6”) rule between place settings so guests have room to write on detective reports during dinner. This also helps defeat claustrophobia.
  5. Location of bar in room does not interfered with traffic of actors during the show. Kitchen door entrances for waiters will be fully open and functional during wait service.
  6. There is enough space for the mystery show PA system of 2 to 4 speakers mounted on tripod stands, microphone mixer, and any required prop (such as an oil painting on an easel).
  7. Banquet room’s acoustics are compatible for good sound reproduction. (No echoes bouncing all over, no extreme “mic feedback”.)
  8. A SOLID door separates the banquet room from all other public dining and event areas. No interfering sounds coming into the room.
  9. Lighting is controllable with enough ambient light during dinner to read and write, as well as to see actor’s faces across the room. (Hint: fluorescent lighting is the worst type of lighting since it cannot be dimmed. It also makes everyone’s skin look dead.)
  10. Electrical outlets are available randomly around the walls of the room for use in setting up the mobile  PA system.
  11. Equipment load-in is a smooth transition, using incline ramps and elevators to traverse from one floor level to another. “Dead-lifting” of equipment either cannot be done, or it CAN be accomplished with an increased budget for extra roadies ($150 each).

If your event is using a Mobile Bar or Dance Floor….

Dance floors should never split up a room into 2 halves of tables and chairs! A dance floor should always be on one end or the other of a banquet room. (This same strategy applies to any mobile bars.) A dance floor smack dab in the middle of a room creates a visual barrier between two factions of the audience, and this always results in one side of the room  creating loud conversations since they feel they are being ignored when the attention is focused on actors seated on the “other side” of the room. This resulting din of noise can be heard by the entire room and this interferes with guests enjoying the play. This is what we call “the forgotten stepchild effect.”

Another deterrent with a mobile bar or dance floor dividing a room is the added delays of an extra 15 or 20 seconds it takes the detective to hit a microphone or music cue, or to deliver a microphone to any guest that jsut raised their hand with a question top ask. It is bad staging when the “Detective” (or a “microphone runner” in larger events) has to cross the distance of the dance floor first before reaching the opposite group of tables and seated guests. All of these short wind sprints can actually slow down the action of the play, will bore the guests, and will affect the overall success of the drama.

 BELOW are Sample floor-layouts for events 35, 49, 105, or 147 Guests:

ABOVE: Smaller sized group of 36 guests. Note the comfortable spacing of only 6 persons per table. You need to know the round table diameters at your banquet venue first before deciding on how many tables you will need. Round top tables most often range from 44″, to 60″ to 72″. Double-check what sizes your venue uses.

ABOVE: Slightly larger group of 49 guests. Note the only difference in this seating layout is the addition of ONE GUEST MORE per table. As long as there is still a comfortable space of 6″ between place settings, the above layout is okay.

ABOVE: Large group of 105 guests. An additional pair of PA speakers may be needed to disperse the sound of the actor’s dialogue more evenly around the room at a lower volume. This “7 TOP” setup is comfortable as long as the table diameter is 72″, OR as long as there is still a comfortable space of 6″ between place settings.

ABOVE: Largest seating diagram showing 147 guests. For larger audience sizes, certain factors can work against the intimacy of a murder mystery show. For instance, people may not be able to see the actors’ faces or expressions very well from across a room of 20 tables, nor may they be able to hear them say dialogue clearly. There are remedies for this! Many suggestions and upgrades are discussed for LARGER SIZED audiences.Please click on this link: “PARTY TIPS” – or click on tab button PARTY TIPS at the top of this page.

Sample Photos of Room Set-ups

The rest of this page will use photos of table and chair set-ups that illustrate “Good” and “Bad” Banquet Seating for mystery show dining. Bad photos are listed first, GOOD photos are listed at the bottom!

RIGHT: This is a BAD EXAMPLE of banquet seating that is WAY TOO TIGHT!! In this photo of cream colored linens, there are several problems: 1) Actor’s won’t be able to move around the room, 2) Waiters will be bumping into the backs of guests heads and chairs throughout dinner, 3) Guests will get claustrophobic much sooner, and, 4) There is no room to take notes on half-page sized detective reports.

BELOW ARE BAD EXAMPLES: The red chair setups below will make seating for guests crowded and uncomfortable! They can’t even get in or out of their chairs without making guests on either side have to move their chairs, knees and legs. There is no room between place settings, and no 6″ space between place settings to take notes on their half-page sized detective reports.
ABOVE RIGHT: Bar setup eats up too much space in center of this room. This set-up is fine for regular event functions, but it is WRONG for a murder mystery dinner! The bar should be at one end of the room or the other. Guests like to belong to a whole group, instead of being segregated off onto another half of the room. A BAR (or a DANCE FLOOR) should never divide your audience at a mystery show. Otherwise, group psychology takes over and makes one side of the room feel forgotten and left out of the action. SO, these guests will react by  gabbing and goofing around as they ignore the main action of the drama. This added noise will distract the rest of the audience and interfere with the effectiveness of the actors’ dialogue being understood or heard.

ABOVE LEFT: Bad Table setup for mystery shows. The 4-top tables stretched out into a long row along the windows alienate the guests. Actors will be straggled out so far down the long row of tables that one end cannot possibly see or hear what is going on on the other end.
ABOVE RIGHT: Giant conference tables are great for business meetings, but for a dramatic play, they don’t work. The reason for this is that all you can see is the ear of the person on your right or left side; not the actor who is speaking 6 chairs away from you on your same side of the table! Secondly, the Detective will only be left to circle and pace around the table behind everyone’s backs. This whole set-up severly limits the effectiveness of actors.


ABOVE LEFT: Avoid using Tall Top cocktail tables or rectangle tables for Mystery DINNERS. For cocktail hours, tall tops work out perfectly fine. But for eating a meal, the Tall Tops push the guests up too high on a stool making their eyes about the same level as standing guests. But if everyone in the whole room are all at standing eye level, then no one but ray vision comes natural to our hero from the planet Krypton, but normal humans cannot see through a sea of heads. Another drawback is that the smaller tall top table diameter leaves no room for food, detective reports, and drinks for two people. And finally, you are limited to only 2 guests per table, if even that! 

ABOVE RIGHT: Rectangle banquet tables block the view of guests trying to look left or right at the actors seated on the same side of the table they are at. Rectangle tables mean that all your guests will be looking at the ears of their neighbor sitting on either side of them. (See “Party Tips” article located in right side column of this website). OR, it means certain guests will have their backs to the main action 50% of the time.

   ABOVE LEFT: Dance floor divides entire room in half and alienates guests from feeling like they are all part of a Murder Mystery Dinner. Also, rectangle banquet tables are not effective for large Mystery dinner set-ups.
ABOVE RIGHT: Dance floor is in foreground, and the bar is on this front side (just below the camera that took this photo). This front end of the room provides ample room for guests to roam about during cocktails and appetizers prior to the mystery dinner. Note that all the dining tables are grouped together into one area (seating shown here is for approximately 100 guests).  

ABOVE: Good example of banquet seating that is comfortable for a murder mystery dinner setting. Note the 360 degree viewing access for all guests seated at the tables. There is also plenty of room for the actors to roam about – as well as the servers and guests.  Note the spacious perimeter: it’s always better to have too much extra space than not enough. Tables and chairs can always be grouped together into a warm cluster in the middle of a giant room, leaving a wide moat of space around the room’s circumference. (The food staff can function very easily this way, PLUS the PA system and amplified speakers can be more easily set-up and located closer to the tables. For variation and a decor touch, move potted trees or tall planter stands in closer to the outer edge of all the tables. This will create a psycohological fence using design elements.

ABOVE: Outstanding room setup for Murder Mystery show!! The only flaw? Huge flower centerpieces will block the view of actor’s faces or standing guests througout the whole event. 

ABOVE: Good location for DANCE FLOOR at the
end of the room, instead of splitting tables in half.

ABOVE: Note the space between place settings. These four tables give all the
guests comfortable viewing angles and room to relax.

ABOVE: The seating and table layout is good, although the ceiling lighting was actually brighter and more functional during the Mystery Play so that all the guests could see the actor’s faces as well as be able to see the notes on detective reports they were writing. This photo was taken after the room lights were dimmed for a Live Variety Act that performed after the mystery play ended.

Banquet tables 

UPPER LEFT: The table and chair setups with white chairs seated at long banquet tables are always going to result in all the chairs down the middle aisle with their backs to the rest of the action of the mystery play. Guests will have to turn around constantly throughout the entire play to see what is going on 180 degrees behind them.

The round tables here show a better seating layout where 30 guests will all have much better viewing for a mystery play.  

(Be sure to read the article “PARTY TIPS” listed in right column of this page. You will learn about more great ideas on planning a successful mystery event!)