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Observing Official Protocol Seating at a Dinner Party

Updated: Apr 23



Observing official protocol:


Some dinner parties require a more formal protocol. For example, a military dinner will have strict guidelines as to where personnel will sit. If you are hosting a client dinner, you might also prefer a more formal arrangement. Even in a casual setting, you can choose to follow protocol to honor a special guest. The below description is based on a social party (vs. business), a rectangular table, and includes both men and women:


1. Host: He will sit at the head of the table on one end.


2. Hostess: She will sit at the opposite head of the table. (This only works at tables not divisible by 4. See diagrams for further explanation.*)


3. Seated to the right of the hostess: This place is given to the male of highest rank. Highest rank might consist of political position, business position, or ecclesiastical hierarchy. If the dinner is in honor of a friend’s birthday, then they would be the guest of honor that “ranks” the highest, so give them this seat.


4. Seated to the right of the host: This seat is given to the wife of the man being honored. If a male senator is placed to the right of the hostess, then his wife would be placed to the right of the host. If your honored male guest is not married, then the woman of highest rank would be placed to the right of the host. This allows you to stay with the alternating male/female seating.


5. Left of the hostess: The second highest ranking male sits to the left of the hostess.


6. Left of the host: The wife of the second highest ranking man sits to the left of the host.


7. Remaining seats: Fill in the rest of your seats based on your best matching ability which should be determined by the interests of your guests. For a military or political dinner, the remaining seats would continue to go in order of hierarchy, with the center of the table being the lowest rank (this is different in other countries).


In the end, do what you feel is best (unless official protocol is required). There are times I have hosted parties where the highest ranking and second highest ranking guests were both very quiet individuals and placing them directly across from each other would not have made for good conversation. In this case, since my events are all social in nature, I chose to match seating assignments based on personalities instead of position. In social settings, you get to decide who should be placed in the seat of honor. Maybe you determine this by age. We should always honor our seniors! If you are celebrating someone’s birthday, then they should receive the place of honor. Use your best judgement but, no matter what you decide, remember that the seating arrangement at your dinner party is important. Do not take it lightly, because it can make or break your event. Jennifer Gilbert, who is the CEO of the event planning company Save the Date, is quoted saying, “Arranged seating is the only decent thing to do. Every party is about the seating – period.”


*Below is a diagram where the host is on one end of the table and the hostess is on the other. The male guest of honor is to the right of the hostess and the female guest of honor is to the right of the host. As mentioned above, this only works on tables not divisible by four. Why? If you have a table for 12, for example, and you put the host at one end and the hostess at the other, then you will not be able to utilize your male/female alternating seating chart. As I have mentioned previously, alternating male/female usually works best for dinner parties.




If you have a dinner party where you can divide the total number of seats by 4, as in the example below, then the host will go at one end of the table, and the male guest of honor will go at the other end of the table. The hostess, instead of being at the end of the table as in the above diagram, just moves one seat to the left (thus still putting the male guest of honor to her right). This allows you to stay with the male/female alternating order.




Together with you,

Lisa Lou

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