Etiquette for dinner seating arrangements

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The thought of dinner seating arrangements may seem stuffy and old fashioned, but providing a thought out seating plan is not just for formal dinners. Arranging seat assignments in advance avoids awkwardness as your guests prepare to sit for dinner and can make dinner party conversation flow smoothly.

Today's dinner seating etiquette is more relaxed than in years past, but still has some basic rules.

Assigning Seats

In the past, seating assignments were done according to a strict formula based on age and gender, with tables arranged so the senior guests and guests of honour were seated close to the host or hostess and men and women alternated seating. Today, it's still proper for the host and hostess to sit at the head and foot of the table with the guests of honour near them, but seating doesn't have to be done by gender lines. If you wish to introduce two men or women or know they'll be compatible, feel free to sit them next to each other. If you know any of your guests are left handed, try to seat them at a corner. Spouses or couples should be separated to allow them a chance to mingle with others. Above all, consider what seating arrangement will be most pleasant for your guests.

Showing Guests Their Seats

If you're hosting a very small party, you should lead your guests to the table and show them their seats. Take time to introduce them to the people sitting on their left and right if you've not done so already. For large dinner parties, placecards are incredibly useful. At more formal dinner parties, put cards in sterling placecard holders or use folded place cards that include guests' courtesy titles, e.g., Mr., Ms. or Dr., and their last names. For less formal dinners, you can use all sorts of creative items for placecards, such as leaves with names written on them in marker for a fall dinner or Mason jars with nametags tied on them, using only first names or first names and last initials if there's more than one guest with the same name.

Multiple Tables

At large dinner parties or receptions, there's often more than one table. For dinners with two tables, the host and hostess should split up so each table's seating arrangement includes one of them. If there are more than two tables, they should delegate a friend to serve as host of each table. Be careful when making seating arrangements so no guest feels he's been seated at a less important table. For either dinner parties or receptions, it's helpful to number the tables and let guests know their table assignments as they enter so they're not looking at each table for their placecard. For theme parties or receptions, each table may be assigned a specific colour, theme or other identifier instead of a number.

Problems With Seating Arrangements

As a guest, you should respect the host's efforts in making a seating arrangement. While it may be tempting to switch your placecard so you can sit next to your best friend, it can throw off your entire table's balance. Also, it may hurt the feelings of the guests you were assigned to sit next to, who may assume you don't find their company appealing. Even if this is true, it's better to stay in your assigned seat and be gracious for the course of the evening than offend your host and other guests.