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Friday, December 01, 2006

How to Seat Dinner Guests

When you decide to have a dinner party, there are many things that you'll need to consider besides the menu. An important consideration is where the guests should be seated, as this could determine whether or not your guests enjoy themselves or network successfully (depending on what the aim of the dinner event is). This article provides some tips to guide your decision.

  1. Decide on the formality of your occasion. Are you having business associates over or friends? Relatives from out of state or your immediate family? The relationship that you have with the people attending your event will determine the formality. As a general guide, a silver service sit-down event should be reserved for professional or very special occasions; a buffet is far more informal and you are less able to control the seating arrangements.

  2. Seat people who have common interests together. This is the most helpful starting point. Consider the following:

    • Do they have a need to discuss business together?
    • Do they have hobbies or interests in common?
    • Do they have professions in common?
    • Do they have marital/single status in common? (Perhaps you're into matchmaking, although some would be irritated by your attempt if they were to figure it out)
    • Do they like one another? Be careful of seating people you know have an animosity towards one another unless you want a dampener on the occasion.

  3. Pair people together. Be creative in your pairings. Sometimes it is customary to pair male/females but this can be stifling to the conversation or uncomfortable for some people. If you know someone to be shy, try to pair them with a caring extrovert. If you think two people who would normally not cross paths will end up having a good yarn, then try it. Being the host calls for exercising some people skills in your choices, as well as during the occasion.

  4. Seat guests of honour in order. If you have a guest of honour, for example, a boss, an elderly relative, a visiting superstar (you should be so lucky), there are etiquette rules as to their seating. A female guest of honour usually sits to the right of the host. A male guest of honour usually sits to the left of the hostess.

  5. Try opposite ends of the table for the hosts and/or the guests of honour. With two hosts, you should consider sitting yourselves at opposite ends of the table so that you are "sharing yourselves around" your guests. Alternatively, you could seat the guest of honour at the opposite end of the host, for a female guest of honour, seat her opposite the female host and for a male guest of honour, seat him opposite the male host. The remaining host can sit amidst the rest of the group or alongside the guest of honour. Remember, the hosts should try to remain apart as it is the hosts' duty to make sure the guests are happy.

  6. Have a seating list for large dinner parties. If your dinner party is so large that it encompasses a group of tables, it is helpful to have a seating list at the entrance to the room. Or, personalise it and tell each guest/couple where their table is. That is much friendlier than making them line up like they're at a school cafeteria.

  7. Be a good host. Enjoy yourself but make sure the guests are having fun, too. Make sure that anyone with a disability is seated on a comfortable enough chair; offer to change it or add a cushion etc., if they appear uncomfortable. Let people know quietly where the bathrooms are located, or assist by making it clear with a discreet sign. If a guest looks put out at where you've seated them, do some discreet legwork and re-seat them as quickly as possible; make an excuse like, "Oops, I meant to put you over there." Don't do this if it makes the situation too obvious or you really can't work out a better place for Mr. Snotty to sit.

The number one rule is that you are the host and it's the host's duty to ensure the happiness and comfort of the guests throughout the event. This means foregoing things for yourself if necessary (like less food), keeping an eye on guests' comfort levels and providing swift attention to any problems that might arise.

Don't get too hung up on seating etiquette rules. Many of the rules were established in the courts of kings and queens and were perpetuated by wealthy people for generations to follow. With the rise of the middle class and nowadays much more liberally-minded younger generations, the do's and don'ts are less concerning. This is a very general and liberal guide. It will apply in many middle class, anglophone situations. However, there will be stricter interpretations depending on culture, region, country, religious beliefs etc. that you will likely be aware of if this pertains to you.

How you seat your guests from the start can assist in making the occasion more successful, so put some thoughtful effort into this decision.

1 comment:

Cynthia Lett CPP said...

I will start with the fact that I am glad that you brought up the subject of seating at dinner. There are some points though that you don't consider. Guests of honor always are seated to the right of the host. If the host is a man, the female GOH is seated to his right and her spouse GOH is seated to the right of the hostess. This isn't anglophile stuffy rules - it is respectful of someone's position within the group. It is a good idea to consider interests when seating people but be careful not to sit husband and wife next to each other. If a single person brought a friend, they must be seated together. Remember, each person is responsible for talking with both the person on their right and their left. And any way you see it, it is still like the rules dictate to seat boy,girl,boy,girl.

I am a Certified Etiquette Professional and Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals. You can learn more about me at

Cynthia Lett CPP,CEP,CTP

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