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Old 01-18-2008, 06:11 AM   #1
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Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: Bordeaux
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Etiquette/dinner party seating plan?


Before bothering you all, I did a little Web searching, but most sites seem to focus on weddings and large receptions.

My problem lies with dinners for just 6 or 8 people and how to seat people at a rectangular table.

A case in point is the following: next month I am planning a special meal and there are two guests of honor. One is a diplomat, the other a well-known wine producer. Both are men.
There are 3 couples altogether and there may end up being 4.
Normally speaking, I should sit at one end of the table with the two guests of honor sitting to my right and to my left.
However, that means that all the men are at one end of the table and all the women at the other....

In your opinion, would it be a slight to the guests of honor to seat them further down the table?
In this way, I could alternate men and women, which is always much more interesting .

Of course, this goes on the old-fashioned and relatively sexist assumption that the man is the head of the household and that everything radiates from him....

The way we usually work it in my house is that I sit at one end of the table and my wife sits at the other.
However, sometimes she complains that she feels "left out" because the most interesting conversation often seems to come from my end of the table where the guest(s) of honor are sat...

This is not that the sort of thing that keeps me up at night, but I wonder how other people work things and, most of all, if you feel, or your guests feel that, even in 2008, seating arrangements matter and are indicative of the esteem with which people are held...

Do your guests usually just grab any chair when it comes time to sit down?
Do you generally try to mix men and women?
Is the tradition that the guest of honor sits to the right of the host still operative today?
Do you agree that there is a "far end" of the table, and can sitting there seeem like banishment?

I'd be really interested in your feedback.

The issue is further complicated for me because not everyone has the same foreign language skills, but that is very much of a secondary consideration.

Best regards,
Alex R.


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Old 01-18-2008, 07:27 AM   #2
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Location: Singapore
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In my home we keep it loose so we normally seat people for the purpose of enabling interesting interaction, not according to honor (except for my husband who sits at the head of the table IF it's to be occupied at all). So we usually separate couples while trying to seat males and females alternately. Also, we consider who is seated opposite whom.

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Old 01-18-2008, 07:43 AM   #3
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Firstly, seating plans matter greatly in a formal environment, however the need for a formal environment is not as important as it once was. As to whether it is appropriate in this situation is really up to you. While you say diplomat, this has become quite wide-ranging too.

In Australia we are very laid back, even in formal situations - although they do try for Royalty and other visiting Heads of State. (Even so it was one of our PM's that touched the Queen a few years ago and made worldwide headlines for it!)

In a formal situation, I would be looking for a seating plan or names at the plates. Anything less than formal, I would be looking for an indicator from my host/hostess. Over here, most couples (excl the young, the new, and the eccentric) automatically separate into men and women, although not so in formal situations, but then placenames have been set in those instances anyway.

Except for weddings, I haven't attended anything super-formal but normally I find guests of honor are usually placed at the top of the table or in the middle.

And yes, it does feel like banishment at the other end of the table.

As to the language issue, I would personally be seating those that don't speak your main language amongst those that are going to be the most accommodating of that fact. Whatever it takes to make the guest feel more at home and that you are honoured that they are at your table.

Having said all of this though, if the people you socialise with anticipate that you will be entertaining in a set manner, they may find it more odd and harder to deal with if you go and change the routine now on them!!

Hope I haven't confused the issue too much for you!!
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Old 01-18-2008, 08:08 AM   #4
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For 6 to 8 people, there should not be special seating for a guest of honor. We entertain frequently for dinner, and usually alternate men and women. As the hostess, I seat myself where I can easily leave the table occasionallywithout disrupting conversation.

I don't entertain diplomats, so not sure of the protocol. Our guests usually know each other, or have something in common with the others.

I have been to dinner parties with more guests, and if there is more than one table, "partners" are seated at different tables. In that case, the host is seated at one of the tables and the hostess at the other.

Just my 2 cents worth.
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Old 01-18-2008, 12:11 PM   #5
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If you have two guests of honour that are 'all things being equal' defer to age. Seat the more seniour gentleman at the other head. It is traditional to seat guests by alternating sex, and I'd stick to that. Your wife is equally the host, as you, so seat the other guest of honour next to your wife, who will have the responsibility of keeping the conversation as interesting as your conversations.

There are informal gatherings, and then there are formal (and i don't mean attire) dinners. This is a formal dinner, so please don't leave your guests to wander into the dining room and grab seats. If you don't have the means to leave seating cards at the table, you must be the first one (or give this tast to your wife) in the dining room to direct the guests, pulling out the chairs for the ladies. (yes, a lady can pull out the chair for another lady). Split up the couples, it makes for a much more interesting table.
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Old 01-18-2008, 02:37 PM   #6
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This is a problem that comes up more and more. I've noticed that many people who throw a lot of formal dinners have gone to round tables to avoid the guest of honor designation as it pertains to seating. Of course, you still want to designate seating to ensure lively conversation.

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