How To Seat Dinner Guests!
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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. This article provides some tips to guide your decision.
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Steps
1) - Decide on the formality of your occasion.
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.
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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 or not? Be careful of seating people you know have an animosity towards one another unless you want a dampener on the occasion.
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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.
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4) - Seat guests of honour in order.
If you have a guest of honour, for example, a boss, an elderly relative, a visiting superstar, there are etiquette rules as to their seating. A female guest of honour usually sits to the right of the host, while a male guest of honour usually sits to the left of the hostess.
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5) - Put out placecards.
Write the full name of each guest in fancy print on little cards (if you're creative, this is a fun part; if not, get someone else to do it). You really don't need placecards unless you have more than 6 guests. Below that amount is a little like telling your guests what to do. By tradition, there is no need to provide place cards for the hosts unless you think that omitting them will lead to confusion.
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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 where their table is. That is always much friendlier than making them line up like they're at a school cafeteria.
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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 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 them to sit.
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Tips
The number one rule is that you are 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. How you seat your guests from the start can assist in making the occasion more successful, so put some thoughtful effort into this decision.

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.

If guests swap their name placecards, ignore it. They have a
perfectly good reason in their mind for doing so and your job is
to be the ever-smiling and helpful host.

Don't be 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.

Relaxing seating etiquette, however, doesn't mean forgetting table manners. These always count as there is nothing more unpleasant than a slurper, a burper and someone who talks with a mouthful of food. Correct holds for cutlery are still expected and show respect for the effort the host and hostess have gone to. Elbows on or off the table? While many still prefer elbows off the table, this has relaxed in recent years - possibly because so many of us have sore arms from using computers too much.

Be daring in bringing down the formality. People like refreshing changes to menus and they like not being made to sit up straight on a hard chair at the table all night. Bring relaxation into the event with modern cuisine, softer chairs to sit in or even do away with sitting around a table altogether and create a formal yet friendly buffet. You can still lay out all the silver, crystal and bone china - it's just that the guests will have more freedom to move about, relax and chat.

If you're still totally sold on the formal dining table arrangement, you can make a change for dessert and have guests leave the table and enter a different room where desserts are set out on trays for them to self-select. Waiters can bring tea and coffee around to wherever the guest is seated or standing.
Always have cloth serviettes (napkins) - they'll last throughout the occasion for wiping food marks, cold glasses, drips and more. They feel a lot nicer than paper and are definitely more environmentally-conscious.
You can buy placecards or make your own, depending on your level of energy. A recent trend is to also purchase cute little card holders but they're not a necessity and they are more clutter in a small home unless you use them frequently.

A menu is not necessary unless it is a very large event (e.g. wedding, farewell, reunion) but there is nothing that says you can't have one if you'd like. If you're creative and this is something you'd like to do, go ahead. It'll provide guests with a starter for conversation at the very least; also, you can include special things that you might wish to be included in the evening, such as "grace," "speech," "move to dessert room," etc. as a means of forewarning guests discretely of the unrolling of the occasion. One caveat - if you burn or run out of a menu item and delete or substitute it, guests will know!

If using placards, consider splitting up couples - this can work very effectively where guests know each other only slightly, and can playfully encourage spontaneous conversation between semi-strangers. Be warned: it doesn't always work out, so give some thought to it beforehand.

Pro Tip: It's a good idea to try and place the more attractive people at your table and less attractive people at other tables so your pictures will turn out better.
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Warning
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.
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See Also:



How To Articles:
Be a responsible host
Make a non alcoholic coctail
How to host a dinner party
How to host a green event

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Sources and Citations

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