The process is quite simple and with a little practice you will be able to assign a dinner seating arrangement on the fly without even thinking about it. With all great recipes, the secret is starting with the best ingredients, which are the:
- Rectangular table
- Hosts at each end
- Centrally placed guest of honor
- Partners seated directly across
- 1 or 2 separated conversationalists
- Your shy helper to your left
Unless you are entertaining a small group of 4 to 6 guests, a rectangle or oval table is the most conducive to dinner conversation. Making conversation at a round table captures the attention of the entire group which can be intimidating for some guests. And to make it worse, it is necessary to speak loudly for everyone to hear at a large round table of 8 or more.
Rectangular tables can support multiple conversations of a few guests. For this reason, it is a good idea to invite 1 or 2 positive conversationalists. Look for outgoing personalities with a sense of humor that will engage others and introduce new and interesting ideas. If you have multiple tables, plan for at least one gregarious person to lead the way at each.
The number of conversationalists to invite depends upon the size of your party and how much charisma your co-host or guest of honor bring to the table. For more on inviting dinner party guests see Guest List & Invites.
Assigning Key Positions
The next step is to assign your key guests starting with you your host and co-host at opposite ends of the table with the serving host closest to the kitchen. Keep in mind that one host should be with the other guests at all times. Divide responsibilities instead of sharing them. For example, one host can refill water glasses while the other prepares the next course.
Make your guest of honor accessible to the greatest number of guests by seating him or her as close to the center of the table as possible. Not only does this maximize the fun for your guest of honor, it makes every seat at your table desirable by being close to one of the hosts or the guest of honor.
Note: Our dinner seating arrangement plan is designed to maximize comfort and conversation and does not follow formal seating rules. Specifically, tradition seats a male guest of honor to the right of the host and a female guest of honor to the left of the hostess.
Space your key conversationalists out and seat them on opposite sides of the table from each other. If you only have one other extroverted guest, place him or her toward the center of the table. If your co-host is not as comfortable entertaining guests, seat your fun guy or girl nearby. Otherwise, you may want to add some personality to your end of the table, to take up the slack while you are attending to other duties.
The most important secret to facilitating dinner conversation is to pair each guest with their spouse, partner, or best friend and seat them directly across the table from each other. If necessary, go through and divide your guest list into pairs first.
First of all, seating partners opposite from each other ensures a level of social comfort with a supporting partner in sight across the table and, more importantly, this includes surrounding guests in any dialogue between them. The alternative, of seating partners next to each other, excludes all other guests from their conversation, whether intentional or not.
This is an excellent rule to always follow, even when two couples are dining out at a restaurant. Make it a practice to suggest this dinner seating arrangement, and you will find conversation to be more lively and stimulating.
The Shy Guest
If you have a particularly shy and quiet guest, seat him or her to your left and consider asking them to help you, if needed. Usually the defined responsibility will make them more comfortable interacting with other guests, and your trust and attention will go a long way to enhance their evening.
In addition, using a quiet guest as your helper will minimize the impact of both of you being gone from the table at the same time. But, be sure to keep their tasks simple and out of the spotlight. For example, plating food is a better option than serving courses.
Communicating Your Plan
To keep things casual and relaxed just direct your guests where to sit as they enter the dining room. Using place cards will make the occasion more formal and a bit stiffer, but perfectly acceptable depending upon the mood you wish to establish.
As you layout your dinner seating arrangement, place your key guests first then fill in their partners in the opposite position. Keep in mind that the opposing pair guideline supersedes all others. For example, if your quiet, shy helper is the birthday boy’s date place him/her directly across from your guest of honor, not to your left.