There is no ideal exhibitor layout. Exhibitors with popular food will always end up as a log jam unless they have five tables and ten people staffing them (which they won’t). The best you can do is try to space exhibitors out so that the most popular ones are not all next to each other. However, this can be in direct conflict with other needs, like putting exhibitors who need electricity on the one wall with outlets or putting food vendors together in a food court.
Unless you have an incredibly large venue to work with or you have incredibly poor attendance, your event will end up being too crowded at some times in some areas. That’s the price of success.
You also need to decide if you want to pre-assign all tables. At Twin Cities Veg Fest, we pre-assigned some tables and made others first-come, first-serve. This makes our life a little easier, especially since some exhibitors sign up or drop out at the last minute. However, the downside is that it makes directing exhibitors to their table more chaotic, and we can’t print an exhibitor layout map for attendees. In future years, we may pre-assign all the tables.
Some positions may be better than others. We recommend giving your sponsors the best tables.
If you have exhibitors back to back in rows you should consider setting up some sort of drape or temporary wall between them. This helps cut down on noise, avoids exhibitors bumping into each other, and gives them something to hang banners on. The ideal separator is some sort of movable room divider that people can pin things to using push pins or t-pins. Your venue may have these or you can rent them.
Each table should have two chairs, but you should also have a plan for storing chairs that exhibitors don’t want, as some may prefer the extra space.
Food vendors will need more tables than other exhibitors. We suggest that you offer them three or four tables. An ideal layout puts some of the tables up against a wall or other barrier behind the vendor, out of the way of attendees. Ask food vendors to put equipment with heating elements back there where no one will burn themselves.
You’ll need to work with your venue to make sure that you don’t overload their electrical system. Anything with a heating element draws a lot of current and you may not be able to put many of these on the same circuit. You may want to rent a generator. Other electrical devices like computers, monitors, and projectors are much less of an issue. Ask restaurants how many amps they’ll be using and make sure to combine them in a way where you don’t go over the circuit capacity. Ask the venue for an electrical circuit map of the hall and try to spread exhibitors using high-draw devices across multiple circuits.
You are an Exhibitor Too!
Don’t forget to plan your own exhibitor tables. You’ll want tables for your organization, if you have one. You should have a separate Veg Fest table to sell festival merchandise, collect surveys, and where volunteers can check in. You may also need space to run a raffle.
If you have received food donations, you’ll need tables to run your own food giveaway. At Twin Cities Veg Fest we purchased some additional food to give away in addition to the donations we received. More food is always good!
You’ll also want a few tables for other things. We provide water jugs and compostable cups at Twin Cities Veg Fest, with four water stations around the hall. We also provide tables and chairs in an eating area.
Ideally, you’ll have some water and seating near the exhibitors selling food.
Compost, Recycling, and Trash
If you are keeping trash separate from compost during the event, make sure you know which items from exhibitors are compostable. At Twin Cities Veg Fest, we collect items from exhibitors during the morning setup and make signs which we tape to compost containers. We also have a trash monitor volunteer at each set of bins in order to make sure the compost stays compostable.
You’ll want to make sure you have trash and composting bins around the hall, especially near the food court and eating areas. In 2013, Chicago Vegan Mania used combined containers and had a team of people go through the waste after the event to separate out the compost. Either way, making the festival as green as possible is always a good thing.
In order to compost things like forks, plates, and cups you’ll need an industrial composter to take the waste. There may be a business or nonprofit that does this in your city. If your event is at a university, they may have on-site facilities that can handle this compost.
The end result of this planning should be a venue layout map that shows where exhibitors, tash bins, tables, and everything else in the exhibitor hall goes.
With this map in hand, day-of setup should be fairly straightforward. If you need to set up tables, chairs, and separators for exhibitors, make sure you have enough time to do this before exhibitors arrive. This may take as much as two hours.
You should also create a day-of schedule to remind yourself what needs to be done when. Here’s the schedule from Twin Cities Veg Fest 2013:
- 8:00am – put up signs in the East River Road ramp
- should include directions to Veg Fest
- only in elevator lobbies
- 8:00am – put up signs around Coffman
- on easels and other appropriate places
- signs outside Great Hall
- signs outside Kids Area (303) and speaker room (Mississipi)
- signs outside third floor elevators
- signs directing people to The Whole
- other signs around the venue with directions at entrances to the building
- 8:00am – general set up
- wash all dishes/water jugs provided by CAA
- put tablecloths on all tables
- put exhibitor names on assigned tables
- 9:00am – do basic setup for all CAA tables (Veg Fest, food giveaway, CAA, and PPV)
- Food Giveaway table
- start heating marinara at food giveaway table
- Veg Fest table
- lay out shirts by size
- lay out posters
- put up merch signs
- set up iPad with our Square account – email@example.com / squarelet7
- lay out raffle items
- put up raffle signs
- put up Veg Fest posters
- Pay Per View table
- set up sign behind or in front of table
- set up viewing stations
- CAA table
- put banner up
- lay out lit
- Food Giveaway table
- 9:30am – trash/compost
- replace half of garbage bags in big cans with compostable bags
- create compost and trash signs based on what exhibitors bring
- attach compostable items to the signs.
- attach them to the compost and trash bins
- 9:40am – prep Food Giveaway
- start pouring almond milk into sample cups
- start cooking some sausages – cook then cut
- 9:50am – more Food Giveaway
- start cutting ice cream sandwiches and putting them in sample cups
- start cutting sausages and putting them in sample cups with marinara
- Take instructional photos so we know how to setup things for future years:
- exhibitor table, CAA table, Food giveaway table, Veg Fest table, composting signs, kids area
- remove signage inside East River Road Ramp
For reference, our event ran from 10:00am to 4:00pm. Our venue did the initial table and chair setup, so we only needed to arrive by 8:00am.
The exact nature of the cleanup you need to do will vary quite a bit based on what your venue provides. Make sure to collect all the things you brought with you, such as signs, easels, water jugs, tablecloths, etc.
Make sure to talk to your venue so you understand what they expect from you. Many venues include basic cleanup as part of the rental fee, so you won’t be expected to sweep or mop the floors. Don’t do any work you don’t need to do!