Dinner Party Seating Etiquette
Seating etiquette often comes second to all the other demands of holding a dinner party. The food, the wine, and the guests are all important. However, the seating arrangements can make or break your dinner party.
Formal dinner parties always have specified places for each guest. Seating protocol is particularly strict at diplomatic or other high-ranking dinners, which are beyond the scope of this article. Semi-formal and casual dinner parties may also use specified seating arrangements to accommodate people’s personalities or needs. The most casual buffet parties don’t need seating arrangements.
Each seat placement is identified by a separate place card. These should be styled appropriately to the event.
= Seating protocol =
The places of honor are to the right side of the host and to the right of the hostess. A male guest of honor sits to the hostess’ right. A female guest of honor sits at the host’s right. If there are no guests of honor, the positions are filled by close friends or by guest seniority. In some cases where there is only a single guest of honor, the host and hostess may sit together.
At Eastern formal dinners, the most senior person at the table sits at the head of a rectangular table. From there, seniority passes down the table on both sides. This is also the same order in which eating begins.
= Men and women =
Where both men and women will be guests and seating does not follow a strict order of precedence, an equal number of men and women should be invited whenever possible. The seating in this case will alternate men and women. With an odd number of people, choose 2 like-minded people of the majority sex to sit together.
Married couples should not be seated together unless the husband or wife is paintfully shy. This separation at dinner parties promotes conversation with others.
= Professions and interests =
Seating guests of similar professions together has both advantages and disadvantages. Talking shop is much more likely when people in close seating proximity have similar professions. You may prefer dinner conversation to flow along points of interest rather than professional detail. An alternative is to seat guests who have common non-work interests together.
The dinner party is also a business meeting, the host and hostess usually sit together at the head of the table. Other guests are seated in groups as appropriate to the requirements of the meeting. This may require a varying size selection of tables to accommodate different group sizes.
= Cautionary note =
Do not seat people who do not like each other together unless, for some reason, that is the point of the dinner party. Breaking this rule can also break your dinner party.
At a formal dinner, the men escort women to their seats and pull out their chairs for them. No man sits down until all the women have been seated.
The first couple to go to their place are the host and the female guest of honor. The next is the hostess and male guest of honor, although the male guest to her left should pull out her chair for her.
After all the guests of honor are at their place, others can find their seats. Men should escort women whenever possible, with each man escorting the woman who sits to his right. After all the women are seated, the men can join them. Shortly after that, the first courses can be served.
A dinner party should not be delayed by more than 15 minutes for late arrivals. Anyone who knocks at the door after that time should be met by the host at the door. A late guest apologizes to the hostess before being taken to his or her seat.
If a female guest is late, the other men at the table should rise while her tablemate to her left pulls out her chair for her. They do not sit down again until she is seated.