Now that the menu has been formalised and the crates of wine have been ordered, it is time to get down to the nitty-gritty of the seating arrangements and decor. If you are having a sterling sit-down affair, the table sets the mood for the culmination of the entire event. The conversation like the bubbly should sparkle and flow freely. And to facilitate that you, the hostess, have some decisions to make. Dig those Blahniks deeper and get ready darlings. This is challenging yet so much fun!
Dinner Party Guidelines: Seating Etiquette
Archaic traditions are well…archaic. They have a hundred small considerations and if-then scenarios to cover dozens of guests and contingencies. If you are not expecting a crowd of 40 to invade your home in search of delicacies, you can keep it relatively simple with the following guidelines:
- The host of the party sits at the head of the table. And if you are a one-woman show, you can go ahead and claim this spot. Just make sure that you take your seat after all the women in your group have done so. It is customary for a man to assist the lady to his right if you have gone with a traditional man-woman pairing.
- If there happens to be a host, then you can go ahead and reign at the foot of the table.
- A female guest of honour sits to the right of the host, and a male guest of honour gets to enjoy your company by sitting to your left.
- If you have invited more than 6 diners, you should look into the option of creating place cards with the full name of each guest in calligraphy to avoid confusion! There are many custom stationary websites that allow you to print free templates that serve the purpose and up your sophistication quotient!
- If you do hire servers to make your life easy, ensure that they bring in the pre-plated food from the right of the guests. Left is reserved for large trays from which the invitees are expected to help themselves.
- Always serve the guest of honour first and then attend to all the diners on his or her side of the table. This is a cardinal rule of formal dinner events.
- Pairing diners is a fine art. You may play it safe and seat couples and friends together. But then you run the risk of restricting all the conversation between a few heads. Take a bolder, more modern approach and mix things up. Use commonalties (like a love for the arts or haute couture) to choose dinner partners. Ensure that a shy guest gets to gush with a caring extrovert to balance out the energies and make for an exciting evening.
- Do spare rank a thought. If there are guests with military distinctions or great career achievements, seat them as close to the host as possible – naturally after giving the guest of honour his due place.
Dinner Party Guidelines: The Decor
A table isn’t just a surface to hold the essentials of flatware, stemware and cutlery. It has to be imbued with the personality and charm of the hostess to be inviting and memorable. A creamy tablecloth has no aesthetic parallels. Don’t even look at the vinyl varieties. The decorative centrepiece may be an elaborate bouquet or a staid candelabrum. Festive occasions do call for a more grandiose décor. No matter what you choose, ensure that your guests can make eye contact, and spark that feeling of comfortable solidarity.
Napkins should preferably be cloth. The paper ones tend to crumple, and you may need to give out more over the course of a meal. If you really want to create a ‘wow’ effect, use beautiful brass stuffer style napkin rings or opt for a fancier folding if a ring is not to your liking. The Fleur de Lys Goblet and the Rosebud look lovely but aren’t too difficult to master. But personally I prefer a simple elegant napkin.
You can look up videos on YouTube, and if you are getting the food catered, the butler will take care of your requests. In everything that you do, keep elbow room for your diners! They shouldn’t be breathing down each other’s neck. Pull those chairs back and spread them out so that both guests and servers can walk around freely. Bumped knees are sure to cramp your style!
Viola, you are half way to a grand evening!
In the third part of this series, I am going to unveil the secrets of a professionally laid table. And I will throw in some handy miscellaneous tips as well. Since it may take a seasoned butler up to 90 minutes to set a table to satisfaction, you will welcome the hacks and the insider information!
Yours in Style,
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