Monday, November 2, 2009

Table Etiquette: Seating your guests

The Holiday season is almost here, and while it is not here yet, you are probably planning and running through your mind what you will be doing this year.
Are you hosting a festive dinner this year? Are you attending one?
In the U.S.A., we celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. A very traditional holiday, Thanksgiving tends to bring family and even close friends together. Homes are filled with delicious home-cooking smells from the kitchen, where turkey, pumpkin pie, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes etc are enthusiastically prepared for Thanksgiving Dinner.
(In my family, we add to this white rice, black beans, yucca and sweet plantains, but that is a whole different story. Needless to say, we barely have any space on the the table for all the delicious food: a Cuban-Brazilian influenced Thanksgiving! Very yummy, indeed!)

Let's say you are hosting a Holiday Dinner this year. You already know who is attending, and you have a nice mix of friends, family and different age groups. You have a total of 12 people, including yourself.

Decorate your table as you wish, prepare all the delicious food you decided for your menu, and think of how your guests will be seated.
Here is an important reason for that:

The flow of conversation needs to be kept up in order to allow for a pleasant, unforgettable and entertaining dinner.
You want to seat your guests strategically. In this case, let's say you are hosting a rather casual dinner, you don't need to have a "guest of honour" in mind. If you do, though, the "guest of honour" will be seated to your right. The person 2nd in rank, let's say the "guest of honour's" spouse, will be seated to your left.
That's right. There is NO need to seat married couples side by side. In fact, it is desirable NOT to seat them side by side. One reason being, it is assumed that married couples engage in daily conversations anyway, so that it is much more strategic to seat people, who don't have this chance, side by side and across from each other.
Engaged couples, however, protocol dictates, should be seated side by side.
Think of the strong communicators of the group and spread them out. Don't have your quiet guests grouped on one side of the table and your chit-chatters all together on the other one.
You may choose if you, as the host, want to sit at one of the table's ends or right in the middle. Once you pick your spot, prior to dinner (name cards are a nice touch and guide your guests to their seats, easily! I strongly encourage their use!), take some time to think where your guests will sit.
  • Split up married couples
  • Follow the lady-gentleman-lady order, allowing for different genders to interact
  • Split up the talkers and the listeners to allow for better communication flow
  • Keep engaged couples sitting side by side
Etiquette, in my opinion, should not be regarded as a set "book of rules". You need to adapt. Here's when you adapt to situations by adapting the rules:
  • Keep in mind guests who may not be proficient in the main language spoken that evening
  • Keep in mind guests who "need" to sit together like a child and its mother, an older couple or someone who needs assistance while dining
  • Keep in mind a very special request from your guest: "Can I please sit next to her?"

Designing a seating chart may take time and may sometimes be looked at as almost a science! Think of all the variables you need to consider, correct?

But keep in mind always, you want to allow your guests to feel comfortable, engaged in nice conversation, happy and glad they attended your event. Make it memorable for them.

In a next post, I will comment on choosing the right people for the right event. Not always do we have the chance to choose just certain people who will really "add to the mix". Sometimes, we can't. However, sometimes we can. We'll talk about this next time.