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Joseph Hagan

The Essentials of Festival Space Planning

Joseph HaganPlanning festivals is multi-faceted and time-consuming. But before worrying about the finer details, planning out the event space should be your first concern. Proper space planning is a major factor when it comes to success of a festival or trade show. Below are a few key items to remember when planning out your event space.

Location, location, location

  • Location is key when planning your festival. When setting up booths, establish a perimeter around the stage or other areas that may generate lots of noise, and ensure all vendors are outside that perimeter. This prevents communication struggles between vendors and customers, as well as possible acoustic issues. 


  • End spaces are the most popular among vendors, as they often get the most traffic. With this in mind, maintain a wide aisle and create distance between your vendor rows to prevent traffic build-up and blockage.


  • Keep your portable toilets out of sight. While you want your guests to be able to locate the restrooms, you don’t want a constant flow of traffic to block entrances and exits or the inevitable smell to distract from the event.


  • Make sure you’re accurately planning your space. Consider engaging an architect to draw your plans to scale, or you may wind up with too much (or too little) space for your event.

Crowd control

  • Is your event gated or ticketed? If so, make sure visitors are able to flow in and out easily without long wait times. Plan ahead for crowd buildup, and find a way to keep visitors moving through lines quickly and efficiently, like extra entrances on busier days or multiple check-in points.


  • Painless parking is essential to a happy visitor. Guarantee that your location will have enough parking to handle the number of attendees you expect. Plan for traffic snarls that may occur around opening and closing times. Like ticketed entrances, this may also require multiple entry or exit points.   


  • If you choose to have alcohol, plan the locations wisely. Alcohol lines are often long, so plan for multiple locations at which to purchase alcoholic beverages and position them in areas where lines will not block other vendors and attractions.


  • Signage is key to guiding guests to different areas of your event, including restrooms. Lack of signage can frustrate guests and be costly to your success.

Storms, heat and flooding, oh my!

  • Especially for outdoor events, weather is a factor that will affect your attendance. Have tents or buildings ready for visitor traffic if inclement weather is expected.


  • Keep your vendors out of low-lying areas that may flood. This can ruin merchandise and publicity materials, as well as detract guests from visiting those vendors.


  • Have a backup plan ready in case the weather causes a necessary relocation. Whether your vendors can’t be outside in lightning or your outdoor space is completely under water, plan for a second venue in case your event has to be relocated in a short amount of time.

Building code issues

  • Are you prepared for an emergency? Specify certain areas where visitors and vendors can go in an emergency and plan easy access points for police and fire.


  • Understand your capacity for indoor events and plan accordingly as far as space is concerned.

Back of house

  • Both indoor and outdoor events require an area for unloading and preparation for vendors. Designate a staging area before vendors arrive with enough space to hold all of your vendors and their materials. Keep this area organized because chaos in the back creates chaos in the front.

Line of sight

  • If you choose to have a stage, keep the line of sight to the performances, speakers or band open. Don’t place the stage behind columns or in an inaccessible area.

The success of your event begins with the layout. Don’t misjudge the importance of the landscape and designate enough time to properly plan so you aren’t scrambling at the last minute.

Joseph P. Hagan is principal of Architecture Inc. in Memphis, Tenn., which specializes in historic preservation, adaptive use, renovation/restoration and event space planning. 


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