Seating Strategies For Your Dinner Party

Quote: I don’t care where I sit, as long as I get fed. – Calvin Trillin

Who To Invite?

“Dining partners, regardless of gender, social standing, or the years they’ve lived, should be chosen for their ability to eat – and drink! – With the right mixture of abandon and restraint. They should enjoy food and look upon its preparation and its degustation as one of the human arts.” ― M.F.K. Fisher

Where To Start

     Deciding on a seating arrangement is one of the more important chores in preparing for your dinner party. A well thought out plan can enhance the gathering and prevent some pitfalls. And remember, a dinner party is as much about conversation as it is about dinner. 

     A good place to start is to read an article by Genevieve Roth in the magazine Real Simple. Click on “Dinner Party Strategies.” She will cover certain rules and give you lots of help in carrying out this important task. The article discusses certain personality types and how to place them around your table.

More Strategies Involving Seating Arrangements

     I decided to weigh in on this with a few ideas of my own and from others:

  • Try to compose your guest list, so it is gender-balanced. We think seating them man-woman-man-woman is also more interesting. Having an equal number of men and women is not a strict rule. It’s more important for the conversations to be lively and to flow. As Amy Vanderbilt wrote, “It’s far better to have an extra man or woman that to ask someone on the dull side just to make the number even.”
  •  Never seat a couple next to each other. This is the main rule involving seating arrangements. Romantically involved people may get too “into” each other, or bring their problems at home to your table. Seat them across the table from each other. One partner can support the other and also be available if one partner wants to bring the other into a conversation they are having.
  • According to Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein would seat her artist friends so they would be facing their own creations. It was a guarantee at least the artists would enjoy the dinner. If an artist is on your guest list, keep this in mind.
  • Seat people with common interests together. It should also stand to reason if there are two guests who you know doesn’t get along, don’t seat them together.
  • And the last piece of advice comes from George Carlin: “At a formal dinner party, the person nearest death should always be seated closest to the bathroom.”

For Larger Dinner Parties

     For dinner parties with eight or more guests, seat them at two tables with the host seated at one and the hostess at the other. If find yourself at a dinner party and the guests are seated at two tables, you will probably be subject to Alex Cornell’s observation: “No matter what you do, ironically, you’ll always end up at a table that you think is going to be the good one – and, you know, when I say the good one, I mean the most interesting, maybe the most fun or – but you always end up at the table where the other one is. Rachel Martin called this the “Murphy’s Law of dinner parties.” For more on their conversation, see the NPR’s Weekend Edition on March 24th, 2013.

To Use Place Cards Or Not To Use Place Cards

     I personally think they should be used for any dinner party of over six people. Assigned seating takes the guesswork out of what can be a clumsy moment when you ask your guests to be seated. It also adds some formality to your dinner. It is also a chance to get creative –

But don’t overdo it.

Place cards

    Gifts or favors can also be part of each place setting. Gene Autry, when he would have a dinner party, frequently he would include a copy of his Cowboy Code beside the place card (click on Gene Autry’s Cowboy Code).

Enjoy Your Own Dinner Party

     “Your guests will take cues from you. If you’re laughing, talking to people, and having a good time, they will, too,” says Sue Fox, author of Etiquette for Dummies. I think this advice is golden.