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Seating Etiquette

How Long to Hold Dinner for a Late Guest

Dinner should be delayed no more than 15 to 20 minutes to accomodate a late guest's arrival. If a guest arrives late to a formal meal, a butler or maid receives them at the door with the hostess still seated. At an informal meal, the host answers the door and greets the latecomer, who makes a brief explanation to the hostess. When the latecomer is a gentleman, table manners dictate that the other men at the table remain seated. But, if the latecomer is a lady, as a courtesy, all the gentlemen rise and the man on her left helps her into her seat.

Cocktail Glasses

Do not bring a cocktail glass to the dinner table. The glass crowds the place setting. In addition, the taste of spirits may counteract the flavor of wine served with the meal. Leave the cocktail glass in the room where cocktails are served.

Entering the Dining Room

At a formal dinner generally the host escorts the lady of honor into the dining room first. The remaining guests enter the dining room in whatever order they choose. The male guest of honor and hostess enter the room last.

  • Guests of honor who are male dignitaries of high-rank enter the dining room first accompanied by the hostess. The dignitary's wife then enters the room escorted by the host.
  • Guests of honor who are female dignitaries of high-rank enter the dining room first accompanied by the host. The dignitary's husband enters the room accompanied by the hostess.
  • If there are fewer men than women at a formal dinner, the hostess enters the room alone.

If the meal is informal, dinners may enter the room in the easiest manner. If there are no place cards, usually the hostess enters the dining room first to tell everyone where to sit.

Where to Sit

Place cards identify the places people are to sit; they are used to eliminate confusion when more than six people dine together. Place cards usually designate individual places at formal affairs. If there are no place cards, the hostess tells the dinners which seat to take or requests that they determine their own places.

The hostess is the last to enter the room at a formal dinner with the other women sitting down without waiting for her. The women sit before or after the hostess is seated at an informal meal.

The place of honor at the table is to the right side of the host because most people are right-handed. Men help seat the woman seated on his right then sits. A host helps the lady seated to his right. The hostess is assisted by the man to her left. To make the process easier, women should approach their chairs from the right.

Unless protocol is being observed, other guests should not be seated according to their importance.

Beyond these few guidelines, guests should be arranged in the way that the host feels will be most congenial for conversation.

When all the women are seated, the men sit down.

In a private residence the hostess should suggest where to leave a purse, purses should not be brought to the table. In a restaurant or public place it is held on the lap or placed close at hand.

Seating for Business Dining

One of the more complicated aspects of business etiquette, whether you are entertaining at home or in public, is arranging the seating for those present at a lunch, dinner, or other public meeting. If heads of state, members of the military, or diplomats are presnet, special rules of protocal may need to be followed.

Seating arrangements are made by the host. It is never correct for guests to shift name cards or take a seat at a table other than one to which they have been assigned. It is a company's prerogative to decide how to seat its guests-and it usually has its reasons for the decisions it makes.

Who Sits Where at a Business Lunch and Dinner

When entertaining business associates at home, the head seats, at either end of the table, are taken by the host and hostess. At a round or square table, the head seat is wherever the host wants to sit. At a rectangular table, the head seats are at the ends of the table. Male guests, ranked according to their importance, are seated respectively to the right and left of the hostess. Female guests, according to their rank, are seated to the right and left of the host. The most important guests occupy the right-hand seats, with the second most important guests, if any, occupying the left-hand seats.

Unless protocol is being observed, other guests should not be seated according to their importance, especially since doing so would leave those farthest from the host and hostess feeling unimportant. (If protocol is being observed, then everyone present understands the seating arrangements.)

At a business lunch or dinner where spouses are not present, guests are more likely to be seated in accordance with their importance. The guest of honor is seated to the right of the host, with a second guest of honor seated to the left. Less important guests are arranged, often according to rank, around the table.

Ranking Your Guests

And, how, you may wonder, do you go about ranking your guests? It's not so difficult as it sounds. Here are guests who would be honored:

  • Visiting foreign dignitary or customer
  • Guest with military or government rank
  • Elderly guest
  • Guest with distinguished career or other important achievement
  • Guest who is celebrating an occasion such as a promotion, transfer, or birthday

Door Lists

Companies may, for many reasons, screen admitted guests to a party or event. A door list is usually used for this purpose. The company may require an guests to present an invitation to gain admintance, but those can be copied. For extra security, a door list has proven to be a good way to enhance security.

Several people may wait near the door with the list. Guests state their names and are allowed to enter.


- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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