Once you have your final guest list, you will be able to plan where everyone should sit. The idea is for guests to be able to take their seats in a calm and relaxed manner, so avoid a last minute scramble by deciding before hand and either have place cards or tell each one where to sit as they enter the room. If you are confident and decisive, people will feel much more comfortable than if you keep changing your mind as they hover behind a chair and you move everyone round until you are happy with the arrangement. So do all your experimenting with placements before the guests arrive.
The host and hostess
If your table is rectangular, then it is customary for the host and hostess to sit at either end, with the person in charge of the cooking nearest the kitchen, the advantage being that you can both be responsible for half the table in making sure everything is running smoothly, with no risk of a guests having to attract your attention by wild gesticulation because you are too far away to notice.
It is usual for partners to be seated opposite rather than next to each other and this has many things to recommend it. There is the security of being able to see and talk to each other without the people on either side feeling excluded. This is especially good if a couple don’t really know anyone and might be tempted into talking only to each other all the time. Another plus is that you can engage the whole table more easily by encouraging talk across it and rescue any one from being monopolised by the person sitting next to them!
Nowadays if you have an important guest, or indeed a guest of honour, it is accepted that they can be placed in a central seat rather than next to the host at one end. A central position gives access to more people and a chance for them to interact, very pleasing not only to the guest but everyone else as well. It could be very disappointing if you never get to even speak to the birthday girl or introduce yourself to the new neighbour all because they are ensconced at one end of the table and you are at the other.
We have all come across somebody who is shy and retreats into silence in company and it can be acutely embarrassing all round if this happens at your dinner party. In fact it can spoil the occasion, so try to avoid it by seating a considerate and talkative person on one side and yourself on the other. That way you can start a conversation which can be kept going even when you have to leave the table. If you place a shy person between two who are very confident, it might have a negative effect and send them further into their shell, so it is quite important for you to be able to lend a guiding hand.
Big heads and know it alls
We have also all come across these types, so if you don’t want them to monopolise the conversation or bore the pants off everyone else, then careful consideration should be given to their placement! These could be ideal people for sitting next to the host or hostess at one end of the table, again it is good for you to be able to keep them in check and stop them from holding court from a central position from where the whole table can be kept in thrall.
Occasionally you might be in a situation where the guests don’t really know each other that well, or even at all, in fact the very reason for the dinner might be to introduce them. In this case seating can be tricky and rises up the importance ladder, some delicate fact finding and clever thinking will be called for here. This is where you will need to employ the chain of connection discussed in post 3, a way of linking guests around the table by a commonality of some sort such as occupation or special interest, of course as a good host you will have alerted them to whatever it is when you introduced them!
A time may arise when you simply have to include people who either just don’t get on or worse still hate each other. Disaster can be averted though by strategic seating arrangements! Actually this is sitting them as far away from each other as possible and next to people they really like. If you are unable to do this, then you may have to bite the bullet and invite them separately after all, it is no good spoiling the atmosphere for everyone, including those at daggers drawn, by insisting they both attend at the same time.
It is so satisfying to look around your table and see all your guests engaged in lively conversation and laughter, with a little thought to the placing of everyone, you can be sure that this will be the case at your table.