Knowing who is to sit where can often be a touchy business. Precedence at table can lead to hurt feelings and indignation among families as well as diplomats. Determining who is to sit at the grown-up's table and who is to sit with the kiddies may make the difference between an enjoyable evening and a few glowers from an already sulky teenager.
A handbook of precedence and protocol can be a handy tool when making the determination of who is to sit where if you happen to be hosting an official state function. Once you have determined who is of higher rank, then it is just a matter of placing people around a table. There are a few simple rules that apply to most situations:
1. When there is but a single table, the host and hostess usually sit at opposite ends, or occasionally in the center of the table facing each other. When multiple tables are needed, the host and hostess may be at separate tables in which case you may wish to opt for a co-host and co-hostess.
2. The highest ranking male generally sits to the right of the hostess. The wife of the highest ranking man or the highest ranking woman herself sits to the right of the host. The second ranking male will usually sit to the left of the hostess. Now the seating should be arranged such that no two women set side by side and no two men sit side by side. This will prove a dificult feat when the number of guests is evenly divisible by four, so try to avoid this possibility but should it happen, it is common to swap the spot of the hostess and the highest ranking male.
3. A rule that has all kinds of interesting psychological implications says that married people are never seated side by side, but those engaged are seated side by side whenever possible.
4. The ranks for various persons is determined by the President of the United States. The list is fairly long and complex and occasionally changes. It is kept on file at the State Department.
5. If you happen to be in the military, there is a good book to help you sort this kind of thing out, Service Etiquette by Oretha D. Swartz. It also covers other military social relationships. A handy book to have around when you may be hobnobbing with the brass.
When having over friends or family, the seating arrangement can still be important, and the above rules of precedence for formal occasions can be instructive. Try to seat people to best stimulate pleasant conversation and to facilitate the feeding of young children. This means not hemming young parents into corners where they can't quickly handle the inevitable emergency created by the three year olds.
Though appointing the seating for your guests may seem stuffy, it generally puts guests at ease. People like to know where the host wants them to sit and will often ask before being seated if the place they have chosen is all right. Name cards are not necessary, but can be fun. If a guest objects to the seating you have chosen, simply make a quick change.
For informal dining, it is wise to have the host in a seat close to the kitchen. Try to mix up family and friends so that spouses and cronies are not seated together. By mixing the company you will be fostoring new relationships and also facilitating conversation. Husbands and wives know each other so well that they often have little to say to each other that is appropriate at a dinner.
For large family gatherings it is often policy to put age groups together, the elder family members near the head of the table and the younger members at the opposite end or even at a separate table. This can make for lively dining conversation. However, mixing the age groups can also be interesting to a point. Those under the age of ten will not likely benefit from such a mixing. Teenagers, anxious to take their place among the adults yet still unsure of themselves, might find this alternative arrangement flattering and even stimulating.
Whatever you decide to do, choose your seating arrangment with care as at larger dinner parties it can make a difference.