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Selecting the Right Tables and Chairs
By: Spencer Posey

Today's churches provide many areas of desired interaction by their growing communities.  Think of all the different types of events you hold in your facility. Whether hosting a reception in the social hall, a welcome event in the gathering area, or a banquet and fundraiser in the multi-purpose room, folding tables and portable seating are a necessity.

Buying tables and chairs for your church is probably something you don't do very often. It's important to know the differences between the various styles, options, and latest product advancements available, so that when you are ready, you'll purchase tables and chairs that best fit your facility and congregation.

What type of folding table is best for my facility?
Many advances in materials and manufacturing processes have increased your folding table purchasing options, which now include plywood, laminate surfaces, plastic, and aluminum.

Plywood: A long-standing staple in the hotel banquet world, plywood tables are rigid and fairly strong, but are typically on the heavier end of the table spectrum. And, because they're wood, many plywood tables are susceptible to cracking, warping, and splintering. Recently, some manufacturers have addressed these durability and handling issues through design improvements, such as high-end acrylic finishes and through the use of aluminum runners.

High Pressure Laminate: These folding tables use a laminate sheet similar to those found on kitchen countertops for the tabletop surface, which is adhered to a plywood sub-surface. This style of table has the rigidity and strength of plywood, while providing additional durability and customization options. Laminate folding table surfaces are stain-resistant, won't crack or splinter, resist heat and water damage, and are easy to clean.

Plastic: There are generally two types of plastic folding tables: "blow-molded" polyethylene and "thermoformed" ABS. There are vast differences in performance and durability between these two types of plastic tables.

Originally developed for the residential market, blow-molded tables gained increased use in limited commercial markets due to their cost and availability. Blow-molded plastic tables have a slightly textured surface and are typically easy to clean. However, due to the manufacturing process, blow-molded tables do not have an internal frame structure through the surface of the table and can bow and fatigue over time. Also, use caution when putting hot objects on blow-molded tables, such as chafing dishes for banquets or hot casseroles right out of the oven, as the plastic can melt.

A thermoformed ABS plastic table typically has an internal wooden frame with ABS plastic sheets vacuum-formed around it. This construction method adds strength, durability, and higher load bearing characteristics to the table without significantly adding weight. The ABS plastic surface is also considered superior for its hardness, gloss, and toughness. The best ABS plastic tables can support over 2,000 lbs, have longer warranties (12 to 15 years), and have a thin wood laminate sub-surface that provides moderate heat shielding and keeps the table surface smooth and flat.

Aluminum: Newer to the market, these folding tables are among the lightest and strongest but carry a higher cost. Aluminum table surfaces are maintenance-free, and the seamless versions provide a more sanitary option, such as for kitchens or banquet areas. Despite the cost, aluminum tables can last a lifetime, be used without linens, and are ideal for outdoor use.

What features are important to look for?
Your overall experience and cost of ownership have much to do with the type of folding table you select. The expected useful life of a particle board folding table may be as little as one year. By comparison, an ABS table may cost four times as much but can likely last 10 to 15 times longer and delivers a better return on investment. Hence, durability should be among your greatest considerations.

Other important features to consider:

 Table weight Be sure to take into account all of your volunteers, not just the largest and strongest, who will carry and fold them. You will want to ensure table weight and handling doesn't cause back strain and injury.
 Leg attachment method How the legs of the table are attached to the tabletop is a critical feature to consider. You will be constantly folding and unfolding the legs of the table. A sturdy leg mechanism should be bolted to the underside of the table, not attached by wood screws.
 Edge & corner construction A heavy-duty edge will help preserve the integrity of the table. Corner construction (on rectangular tables) should be impact-resistant to prevent damage from accidental dropping.
 Maintenance & ease of use Avoid tables that may need sanding or refinishing. Look for tables with surfaces and finishes that can withstand direct contact with hot objects, resist stains, and are easy to clean.
 Reliability testing Manufacturers that really stand behind their product put their tables through rigorous testing protocols to ensure durability and lower cost of ownership over time. 
 Cart options Your facility may require unique storage and cart needs. When you consider the width of your doorways, storage areas, etc., look for a supplier with a variety of cart options to help you get the most efficient use out of your facility and prevent damage to your tables.

What should I look for in multi-purpose seating?
While pastors and administrators alike go to great lengths to provide comfortable sanctuary seating, don't ignore the role quality seating plays throughout your facility. The events, activities, and learning that take place while seated in the fellowship hall, Sunday school, or multi-purpose room all can have a positive or negative impact on the experience of your congregation. Regardless of the location within your facility, when you choose chairs that are safe, comfortable, and stylish, members of your congregation are sure to benefit.

Over the past few years, new designs and approaches have been introduced in both folding and stacking chairs to address a range of seating issues and to better satisfy facility-wide seating requirements. These recent innovations should bring a couple new chair styles to the top of your list.

Mesh folding and stacking chairs: Using revolutionary technology to weave structural polyester and elastomeric fibers together, these chairs offer a high level of comfort, are surprisingly durable, and easy to clean (especially compared to other upholstered chairs.) The technical benefits of a mesh seat and backrest are improved airflow and the ability to contour to an individual's body while minimizing pressure points. This type of chair is also incredibly light, typically weighing 20% less than upholstered chairs of the same style.

Flexible plastic folding and stacking chairs: With a similar feature set to mesh but at a more economical price point, this new chair design features a toughened polypropylene plastic seat and backrest riveted to a steel frame. This style of chair is durable and lightweight, and offers a ventilated ergonomic design that allows the seat and backrest to flex to the contours of the individual, providing comfort and breathability without the use of upholstery.

Spencer Posey is vice president of marketing for Mity-Lite, Inc., www.mitylite.com.

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