Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Brief Overview of the Etiquette of Formal Dinner Seating Arrangements

"In seating one's self at table a comfortable posture is not incompatible with a dignified attitude. The shoulders should not be thrown back too far, nor should they drop forward. It is the latter pose which produces the inclination of the arms suggestive of the 'all elbows' idea which some people give of themselves." Eliza M. Lavin, 1888

Formal Table Seating For Six, Ten, Fourteen, Or Eighteen People  
Traditionally at a formal dinner, the Host sits at the head of the table with the Hostess at the other end. This works whenever there are six, ten, fourteen, or eighteen people. Husbands and wives are never seated next to each other.
If the Guest of Honor is a woman, she is seated at the Host's right and her husband at the Hostess' right. The second most important woman is seated across from the Guest of Honor, on the Host's left, and her husband is seated accordingly on the Hostess' left. The remaining guests are seated in between, alternating between male and female guests.
To be fair, the word "important" can be relative to many differing situations and varying cultures. Age may play a factor, especially if there is no Guest of Honor. Giving the eldest member of a group, or the persons who have traveled the farthest distance to the dinner, special places in the seating arrangement, would be an honor. Special accommodations may be also be made for those in wheelchairs, or those using a walker or cane. Guests take note of such matters and will undoubtedly appreciate the kind gestures on a Hosts and Hostess' parts.

Formal Table Seating For Groups Divisible By Four 
When the group of people is divisible by four, it is not possible for the Hostess to sit at the end of the table. In this case, the Hostess moves one place to the left, with the man on her right sitting at the end of the table, opposite the Host. This will keep the tradition of seating guests alternately, male, female, male, female, etc... Again, husbands and wives are never seated next to each other.
For informal dining, the easiest system is to alternate between male and female guests, with the Host and Hostess on either end of the table. 

Contributor and author Bernadette M. Petrotta is the Founder and Director of the Polite Society School of Etiquette in Washington State.  She has been teaching etiquette for nearly 20 years and has written The Art of Social Graces and The Art and Proper Etiquette of Afternoon Tea.  She is currently working on her third book and continues to teach and lecture on the art and pleasures of proper etiquette and tea.