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A frisky hostess asks:

When invited to a dinner party that’s relatively casual with no assigned seats, where is the proper place to sit?  And, what if the host/hostess states that you may sit wherever you please, are there seats that are understood to be the hosts’ seats, or are all the places at the table really fair game?


The answer to the first question depends on the size and shape of the table.  We’ll get back to that.

If the host and/or hostess is so foolhardy as to announce that people may sit wherever they please, s/he better be prepared for people sitting outside, someone cross-legged in front of the television, someone else in the bedroom…that’s why we make these rules in the first place!

While generally you can assume at a rectangular table for six, or eight (or eighteen, really, come to think of it), the host and/or hostess sit at the head and foot of the table.  Generally.  That’s important to point out, because sometimes the guest of honor is placed, not at the host or hostesses right, as is customary, but at the head of the table.  The rules for a formal dinner are strict, so you have to set the expectations if you’re going to provide a measure of freedom.

At casual dinners, I like to sit where I can trip the servants.  Just kidding – I’m usually the servant, so I like to sit where it’s convenient for me.  Another consideration is the view – what are your guests looking at while they’re eating?  The bathroom?  Yuck.  You take that seat, and let them look at the paintings or what have you.

Back to size and shape.  If you have a massive table, but only invited another couple, sit adjacent to each other, one at the head, one on one side, two on the other.  That’s best for conversation.  If it’s a round table, you’re probably thinking about conquering the rest of England, so I’ll leave that alone for the most part, but again, closer to the action for the hosts and the best view for the guests.

But it sounds to me like there’s a place you want to sit.  Well, by all means, stake out your place first.  When the well meaning guest asks where to sit, you can’t say “Oh, anywhere” and then get bent out of shape when he takes your spot.  Point to the chairs you want and then tell them to sit in any of the others.

“Chauncey is sitting there, and I’m here – so anywhere else you like – at the table, Mariah, come in off the roof.”

Now tuck in.  We don’t want the soufflé Suissesse to fall.


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