An Etiquette Expert's Guide To Seating Your Guests

Navigate your next party like a pro.

An Etiquette Expert's Guide To Seating Your Guests
Photographed by Nicole Lev.

Whenever you are hosting a dinner party large or small, there's nothing trickier than figuring out where everyone is going to sit. Not only do you want your guests to have an amazing time chatting with the folks around them, but it's also important to avoid any uncomfortable pairings that might lead to shouting matches at the table. While you can leave your guests to choose their own seats, sometimes giving them a particular spot is the way to go. 

Since we too have struggled with the task of curating the best arrangement possible, we called on Lizzie Post, granddaughter of the legendary etiquette book author Emily Post, to give us some pointers. Scroll ahead to learn her expert advice.

Should we still make seating arrangements?

"It can certainly be helpful depending on the group you’re having," says Post. "If you’re having a group that entertains with each other regularly, it’s not quite as necessary because folks will be pretty well-mingled and know each other. Where they can be really helpful for dinner parties is when guests don’t know each other. You can pair up people who you think will have good and lively conversation together or if you need to maybe keep people apart, that’s another way to use the seating chart."

"If you just want to be a little more formal, it’s a nice way to go as well," she shares. "It’s common at many events and dinners to have seating charts so it’s totally fine to do one if you’re having a more formal dinner party than what you usually do. It can simply be fun to dress it up and have those place cards sitting there."

Are there any rules to follow?

"Traditional rules are male/female order," notes Post. "They also would say things like the guest of honor should sit to the host’s right. With the tradition of man/woman order, you would have the female guest of honor sit to the male host’s right and a male guest of honor to the female host’s right."

"However I don’t think it’s a necessary thing to be honest in this day and age. It’s not the only way to do it," she says. "There are other options plus there are so many parties where you don’t have even male and female guests. We don’t try to set people up in terms of gender these days, so it doesn’t quite apply the same way it used to."

Should couples sit near each other?

"Usually you try to separate couples," advises Post. "The exception traditionally would be an engaged couple. If they are fielding a lot of questions about the engagement and upcoming marriage, it would be nice for them to do it together."

What should you do if a guest tries to switch their place?

"That one is really hard because it’s really something they should not be doing," says Post. "It’s one of those moments where you have to decide as a host are you going to stick hard and fast to having things go your way, or are you going to say that in the long run, the change they are making really doesn’t affect much at all. You are the only person that can answer that for yourself as a host. If you have a reason, you can choose to give it to them or you might simply switch it back and let them know, ‘I did put your card back where I placed it. I’d really love for the seating order to be kept as it was.’"

Are arrangements are the best call in the long run?

"It’s really the host’s call," remarks Post. "They can be useful when you want them to be, but they are not necessary by any means."

I am Lonny's Senior Associate Editor. You can find me writing about interior tips, scouting out the coolest new spots, and rallying behind amazing female entrepreneurs. You can reach me at shelby.wax@livingly.com or on Instagram @shelbywax.
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