Waiting is something we frequently have to do when we visit all kinds of establishments. Whether we’re waiting to be served or waiting for a train, there are many situations where we have to stand and wait in a queue. However, if we’re waiting for an appointment then it’s usual there will be a waiting area with seating provided to make the experience more comfortable.
If you’re responsible for sourcing waiting room seats it may seem a simple task to buy some chairs but if you want to ensure the seating you choose is fit for purpose and will give many years of service then it makes sense to approach the purchasing process fully informed. If you can gain a clear understanding of what different types of seats are available, and what will suit the needs of both your establishment and those who will be waiting in it, you will be better equipped to make the right choices.
In this guide to choosing waiting room seating we take you step by step through all the different elements you need to consider to help inform the purchase decision, allowing you to select the most appropriate seating solutions for your establishment and the patrons who have to wait in it.
Measure out the space
An obvious starting point is to take a look at the space you have available for waiting; measure it and draw up a floor plan. It’s better if you can produce a scaled plan as this will really help you visualise how the seating will fit once you start to look at different options. This doesn’t have to be complicated and there are apps available to help with this if needed.
As you start to look at potential seating solutions, take note of the dimensions so you can work out how many will fit in the available space.
Consider the needs of waiting room users
Dependent on the type of establishment you’re responsible for, the people using your waiting room may have different needs. Whilst it may not be practical to provide several different types of seating, you do need to ensure what you offer is suitable, for example:
Elderly and infirm patients in a healthcare establishment – standard height cushioned seating with arms, upholstered with vinyl would be a suitable solution. Arms provide support when sitting and standing whilst seating at a standard height requires less effort and support to get in and out of (these patients may struggle to sit and stand from a low chair without support from another person). Cushioned seating is obviously more comfortable and is much more suitable for those who may be frail. Vinyl can be treated with anti-microbial agent and is easy to keep clean.
Children – if you have lots of younger visitors you may want to incorporate some lower height seating or a small play area to keep children occupied whilst waiting. Where space allows you may choose to have a separate waiting room for children and their parents/carers.
These are just two examples of specific visitor demographics but if you think about all the different types of visitors who will be using your waiting room it will help you ascertain if there are any other special needs you ought to cater for.
If you’re replacing seats in an existing waiting room, then it’s a good idea to observe the level of traffic it gets and how people use the space. Check if there are enough seats or if you need more. Look at how it’s currently configured and consider if the layout could be improved.
If you’re sourcing seats for a new waiting room you will need to estimate out how many visitors it’s likely to have so you can try and fit in enough seats to cater for them all.
Make provision for disability access
It’s key to ensure that your seating is configured to allow wheelchair users or those with prams (where relevant) to easily access and manoeuvre around your waiting room. It’s also preferable if wheelchairs are able to be positioned next to standard chairs, allowing users to sit with everyone else in the waiting room without feeling separated. This is something you need to keep in mind throughout the planning process.
Decide what format of seating is most suitable for your space
Floor Fixed Seating
If you have a dedicated waiting room that isn’t ever used for any other purpose, then you may want to look at seating that is fixed to the floor. This will ensure it can’t be moved around and will always look neat and tidy.
Many designs of floor fixed seating can be supplied with flip-up seats which keeps walkways clear when seating is not in use and so works well in corridors and smaller spaces.
Floor fixed seats are also ideal in places where security may be an issue or where there is a higher risk of vandalism or affray.
Free Standing Seating
From individual chairs and sofas to bench seating, beam seating, and modular seating, there is a vast range of free-standing waiting room seats on the market in a multitude of styles and designs. This type of seating gives you the most flexibility so if you have a multi-purpose space or like to change things around occasionally then opt for something free standing which can be moved.
If you regularly need to change the configuration of your waiting room or reduce and increase the numbers of seats you make available, portable and stackable seating is a good option. These usually take the form of individual chairs with a wooden or metal frame which are lightweight and relatively easy for most people to lift. This type of seating can often be supplied with a storage trolley which it can be loaded onto and wheeled away.
Using free standing seats allows you to clear the floor area in your waiting room for uninterrupted vacuuming or mopping although this is only really convenient if you have smaller, lightweight chairs.
Wall Mounted Seating
Wall mounted fold down seats offer the ultimate in space saving seating. They keep the floor totally clear which prevents the space looking cluttered and there is no issue with cleaning underneath them.
If you’re considering this type of seating as an option, it’s essential to ensure the walls you intend to fix them to are of suitable structure to take the weight. They should also be fitted by an experienced joiner who can select the correct fixings for the type of wall.
Consider which seating materials are most suitable
Once you’ve decided what type of seating is going to work best, think about which of the 4 key materials will be most suitable: wood, metal, plastic, or upholstered seats.
Upholstered Cushioned Seating
If you want to ensure your patrons are comfortable whilst waiting, upholstered cushioned seating is usually the best solution. The level of comfort this provides will depend on the depth of the foam used but even a thin layer of padding will always be more comfortable than a solid surface. Whilst wooden, metal and plastic seats may be more hard-wearing, they will never provide the same level of comfort as a cushioned, upholstered seat.
Upholstered seating doesn’t have to mean an armchair or sofa, there are many types of waiting room chairs including beam seating, flip up seating, wall mounted chairs, and bench seating which can be upholstered.
With a wide range of upholstery materials on the market, a hard-wearing contract fabric or an easy-clean vinyl are both good choices for waiting room chairs. For more upmarket establishments where quality is important then leather is a more exclusive and of course, expensive option.
Healthcare establishments should look for anti-microbial vinyl which is easy to clean and aids infection control. Since the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic, the demand for antimicrobial vinyl has increased and this is now specified for a wide range of establishments. Antimicrobial additives are inherent within the vinyl so remain active throughout its life. They start to kill viruses and bacteria on contact and some have now been tested and proven effective against Coronavirus. For example, Chieftain Just Colour antimicrobial vinyl has been found to kill Coronavirus after just over one hour of contact.
Any cover material used on public area seating should be tested to Crib 5 standard which is a flammability test specified in British Standard 5852.
If you think that upholstered seating is not going to work in your establishment then wooden seats are a smart alternative that can look stylish. They can coordinate with any colour décor and there are a range of seating formats and styles available.
Wood can be stained in a variety of shades or painted but bear in mind that varnish can eventually discolour and a paint finish could be prone to chipping if subjected to rigorous wear and tear over a long period of time.
If you do opt for wooden seats, then hardwood is obviously more robust and therefore more suitable for a waiting room environment.
If you want something more colourful, hardwearing and easy to keep clean, then plastic is the obvious alternative. Plastic seats are available in a multitude of colours so you can coordinate with your corporate colours or décor, brighten up a dull space, or keep things neutral.
It’s advisable to check that any plastic seating you purchase is fire resistant / flame retardant (FR). Don’t assume that it will be, particularly if you’re looking at something at the lower end of the pricing scale.
Metal seats are probably the least comfortable option and tend to be found in very high traffic locations such as airports, ferry ports and train stations. You won’t usually find a hospital waiting room chair or public area seating in a corporate environment made solely from metal and it’s really not recommended unless your seating will be subjected to severe wear and tear or is potentially a target for vandalism.
Prepare your specification
Once you’ve decided on the type of seating you want and the most appropriate materials for it to be made from, you need to think about what attributes are important. This will help you to prepare a specification to help narrow your search criteria and make it easier to find relevant seating that meets your requirements.
Many individual chairs come with the option of arms which help delineate personal space. You need to ensure the width is sufficient for all potential users or offer some seats without arms for those who may require more space. If you’re thinking about beam seating then you have the option of having arms between each individual seat or just at either end of the beam.
Flip-up seats are ideal in corridors and smaller waiting rooms as they make the space feel wider when the seats are not in use and don’t cause an obstruction. For safety reasons you will find that most chairs with flip-up seats will require floor fixing. The only alternative to this is wall mounted fold down seats which obviously don’t obstruct the floor area.
Bear in mind that fixed seats are more suitable in establishments where there is a high prevalence of elderly or disabled visitors as they offer more stability than flip-up seats when sitting and standing.
Pictured right, these NHS waiting room chairs with flip-up seats are upholstered in 3 different shades of Just Colour anti-microbial vinyl. This is a good example of how a corridor waiting area can be brightened up.
If you want to enhance visitor comfort then you will need to choose upholstered seating which is cushioned. Whether you opt for an upright chair with a lightly padded seat and back, plush chairs and sofas, or something in between, is another choice you have to make.
Stackable / Linking / Removable / Transportable
These attributes have been grouped together as they usually go hand in hand. Even if you don’t require all 4 of these elements you will find that many stacking chairs can also be linked (many will be supplied with integral linking brackets) and by nature are removable and therefore transportable. The transportable element is made easier on chairs which can be supplied with an optional storage trolley.
When it comes to choosing an upholstery fabric, if you have a precise colour or shade you want to match, don’t just rely on online swatches as colours on screen can look quite different in reality. To ensure you’re happy with the chosen colours it’s always advisable to request samples from the seating supplier and most will send these to you free of charge.
For high traffic areas, choose a hard-wearing contract fabric such as Camira Mainline Plus or an anti-microbial vinyl like Chieftain Just Colour. Check that any fabric you are considering is tested to Crib 5 standard and find out what guarantee is offered as this is often separate from the manufacturer’s warranty on the chair frame.
Research Seating Solutions and Suppliers
Once you’ve considered all of the above you should have a much clearer idea of what type of seating you want to order. You can then start researching potential suppliers and look at what they have to offer.
It’s advisable to draw up a short list of potential seating options and prices, making a note of the measurements so you can see how they would fit into your floor plan. If you’re sourcing from an online retailer then pricing should be readily available but if you’re going direct to a manufacturer or dealer you will need to request a quote for the quantity and type of seats you’re interested in.
If you’re still unsure at this stage what might be the best option, have a discussion with potential suppliers who can help you determine the most appropriate solutions for the space. If you have a floor plan you could send them, this will assist them when giving advice.
As well as the style and price of seating you should also consider the delivery lead time and how this fits into your timescales. Generally, seats that are made to order will have a longer lead time than those that are in stock or ‘off-the-shelf.’ However, you tend to have more options for customisation with made to order products as you can often put together your own specification with a much wider choice of upholstery fabrics and colours.
Service & Warranty
Check what warranty is offered and what this actually covers. You want to know that if there was a problem with any of the seats in the future you can go to the supplier for help to resolve it, and where applicable, spare parts would be available. Never under-estimate the value of good customer service.
If your waiting room is not near the entrance to your premises then check if the seats can be taken to the appropriate place when they are delivered. Some companies will only deliver to your entrance or goods in department whilst others will happily take your seats to the correct location and even unpack them and take away the packaging.
Also be sure to check if delivery is included in the cost or if there is an extra charge. If you want to compare like for like costs then divide the delivery cost by the number of chairs you’re ordering to give you a true cost per chair comparison.
Finalise your floor plan
When you’ve got a short list of chairs that are suitable it’s recommended you lay out the configuration of your waiting room on your floor plan. Take the dimensions of your preferred seats and see how they will fit into the space, ensuring there is sufficient access and adequate personal space for all users.
Place your order
Once you’re happy you can fit in the required number of chairs and have chosen which ones you want to order then it’s finally time to go ahead and do so. Be sure to provide the supplier with written confirmation of what you want to order, fully detailing the specification you require along with the fabric colour and agreed price. This avoids any confusion and protects you should what is delivered not match what you’ve ordered.
Evertaut manufactures and supplies waiting room and public area seating. Our range includes stacking chairs, wall mounted chairs, NHS and hospital waiting room chairs, health centre seating, floor fixed seats, flip up seats, bench seating, beam seating and a wide range of individual loose chairs.
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This guide was first published on 19th Nov 2019 and was updated on 14th Apr 2021