silent auction spacing

You are probably familiar with this common scenario: You’re going along planning your event, the venue has been secured for months, auction items have been procured, programs printed and everything seems to be in place… until you realize that you are running out of space for your silent auction tables!

You have more items to put out, but there isn’t enough room for additional tables – and getting more space does not appear to be an option.

What should you do??

Before you panic, ask yourself a few questions…

  • Are you sure you can’t get more space?
  • Where are the bars located? Can they be moved?
  • Is there another room, hallway or outdoor area that you can use?
  • How about making “islands” of tables in the middle of the room?

As you assess your event space and look for solutions to add more tables, let’s make sure the tables you already have set up are done so properly…

Table spacing

Make sure you allow at least 8 feet between the edges of each table to create an adequate passageway for your guests. Passageways that are even wider are always better but 8 feet is as narrow as you should go. You want to give your guests plenty of room to move freely between tables and navigate from item to item without creating a traffic jam.

Item spacing

Items should be spaced at least 1 foot apart on your silent auction tables. That means if you are using 8.5″x11″ displays for most of your items, you should fit no more than 3-4 items per 6′ table. If you have any items that are wider than a typical display (8.5″), rather than crowding the item in, give it at least 1 foot of space on either side.

Here is a mock-up silent auction table we put together to demonstrate this…


Click here to enlarge

Why so much space?

The purpose of spacing items like this is you want to provide enough room for two people to congregate around a single item (because guests often attend and browse as a couple) without crowding out people who are trying to view the next item over. Giving each item its own space will alleviate crowding around the tables and also make it very clear which item corresponds to which bid sheet.

Silent-Auction-Item-Spacing-Examples-3.jpgWith more space and fewer items, you also simplify the logistics for you and your committee – with fewer bid sheets to collect and manage at the end of the event.

Remember you are trying to create a shopping experience just like a retail store with auction items that are strategically displayed to attract shoppers. It may seem logical to cram every single item you have into your auction tables, but in a sea of items many will get overlooked and may not sell at all.


Do not start cramming items together to make them fit in your limited space. A cluttered appearance reduces the relative value of your items. Each item needs to have its own “visual space” or it will appear to be worth less.

Do not “double deck” your tables by placing one item behind the other in the same table frontage space. The item in the back will be ignored and receive fewer bids.

If you have no choice, and you have exhausted all other options and doubling up is the ONLY choice, place the lower value items in the back row, and the higher value in the front. This should only be used as a last resort.



Bundle Items – You can bundle items smaller items together to create a single auction package that packs a bigger punch. By reducing the number of total items in your auction, you avoid creating a Buyer’s Market where the supply of items is higher than the number of bidders in the room – which can negatively impact how much bidding happens on all your items.

Packaging items together also increases the perceived value of some of your smaller items, like gift certificates. Guests feel like they are getting a “better deal” and will likely bid higher when multiple items are packaged together than they would if each of the items were laid out individually.

Unload Certificates – Individual gift certificates are often a waste of table space. If you can’t figure out a way to bundle certificates together or with other items, it’s usually best to figure out some other way to sell them rather than putting them out on the silent auction tables by themselves. Here are a couple methods for selling certificates quickly during your event:

  1. balloon-raffle-1.pngBidding Frenzy – If you find yourself with a ton of restaurant gift certificates, pull them from the silent auction and try selling them in a “Bidding Frenzy” during the live auction. Simply have your auctioneer announce each gift certificate, the restaurant it’s for and it’s face value. The first bid card he or she sees gets the certificate at that value. Ten certificates can be sold this way in about 3 minutes.
  2. Balloon Raffle – Pull certificate items from the Silent Auction and sell them in a “Balloon Raffle” at various amounts relative to the market value of the item. This will save quite a bit of space. A “Balloon Raffle” is a great way to unload lower-value certificate items. Place slips of paper indicating what the bidder has won within several inflated balloons. Sell the balloons at $25, $50 or $100 depending on the value of the certificate, then have the buyer pop the balloon to see what they won.

Replenish Items – Another option you have is to remove items from the silent auction tables if they are purchased outright with a “Buy Now” option. As the items are purchased, pull them into your cashier room and replace them with new items. This should only be used in instances where a bidder exercises the “Buy Now” option and there is only one item that can be bought. Don’t remove an item if it can be sold multiple times, such as one of our no-risk travel packages.

Next time, plan ahead

When picking a location, check out the available Silent Auction area BEFORE committing to the location. You not only need enough room to display your items, you will also need enough room for your guests to comfortably navigate around the Silent Auction area.

No one enjoys being crowded into a small space. Keep your silent auction area pleasant and productive by not shortchanging yourself with this crucial detail.