Who Is The Seat Choice Process Serving?

Here is a fun little conversation for performing arts venues because there is a fair chance you have a different point of view as a venue operator than as a consumer.

I saw this tweet last week. Apparently the venue set-up their online ticket sales criteria to make sure there weren’t any orphan single seats left open. It hit a minor nerve with others replying they had the same issue at other venues.

I swear to you that a couple hours later, we got a call at my venue box office from a guy complaining about the opposite problem. A nearly sold out show only had single tickets left and he felt it was our responsibility to shuffle people around so he and his girlfriend could sit next to each other.

I wondered how many venues out there had their ticketing system set up so that people couldn’t leave orphan seats? What sort of feedback do you get from that?

Honestly, unless you have been really good about making sure all your rows have an even number of seats, it is almost guaranteed that there will be orphaned seats unless you have a party of odd numbers insert themselves into the row somewhere.

This approach tends to value revenue generation over customer service. Note that you are only asked to leave at least two empty seats together. So if you leave three empty seats, the next purchaser of two tickets may not be able to complete their purchase. Likewise, it may not prevent four different purchasers from leaving an empty space between their parties if there are still a good number of seats left in the row.  I actually tested skipping a single seat on a Ticketmaster site and was able to do it, but wasn’t willing to get on multiple computers to try doing it in the same row a number of times.

I definitely understand the desire to maintain effective revenue generation. When we get close to selling out, I start to scrutinize what holds we might safely release for sale. When I go to performances at other venues and movie theaters where I can choose my seat, I actually scrutinize the map and pick seats with an eye to leaving even number of seats in the row because I am sympathetic to the need for optimum seat usage.

But I also don’t want to throw up barriers that disincentivizes patrons from choosing to attend a live performance. It is really the patron’s responsibility to work out how to make seating choices that are best for the venue?

What are other people’s thoughts?

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


3 thoughts on “Who Is The Seat Choice Process Serving?”

  1. The Dutch call them overcoat or helmet seats, depending on the venue (the latter one, of course, being a race track for motor cycles).
    When my former employer started online ticketing in the late 90s the Dutch clients would not use it before the no-orphan-seat-rule was implemented.
    So, yes, it is quite common in Europe to avoid a seating chart looking like a swiss cheese (as one client put it).

  2. This topic is an oldie but goodie, but I wonder if it’s valid simply because venues are used to looking at it from the limitations of their software. For example, why not incentivize ticket buyers to avoid orphaned seats?

    Let’s use the ticket buyer’s Tweet from the article. Instead of generating a warning forcing the buyer to select a different seat, they let the buyer know they will receive a small discount for selecting a seat that prevents the orphan.

    Conversely, you could also apply a surcharge for them to continue with the orphan generating seat selection, but I’m more for carrots than sticks.

    Dynamic pricing experts already spend the time developing algorithms to determine profitability and this would be a new, but similar, set of variables to help determine the incentive/’surcharge price. For less complicated hall configurations, setting fixed values for each is comparatively straightforward.

    This won’t eliminate the issue, but it will go a *long* way toward marginalizing it while simultaneously building a stronger bond with ticket buyers.

  3. I try to purchase tickets early enough that I can get “good seats”, which for me and my wife are aisle seats far enough forward that I can hear. The ticketing software often does not work for me (local places all use cut-rate vendors, because the big vendors have ridiculously enormous service charges). The theaters that I buy subscriptions from have phone-in or mail-in procedures for their members, so I don’t deal with the web sites at all.

    For other theaters, I often end up calling for help from the theater, because of the web sites failing. (I’m often among the first to use the site, and so have acted essentially as a beta tester for them.)


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