Sitting Pretty: Formally and Informally

Sitting Pretty: Formally and Informally

Basics for dinner seating arrangements.

Whether I’m entertaining a half dozen people or ten people or more, I’ve gotten my seating arrangements down pat. Here are a few basics.

At any table:

  • At a seated dinner party, men should remain standing behind their chair until the women are seated.
  • Men, make sure you’ve introduced yourselves to everyone before taking your seat. 
  • Formal dining may not be part of daily life, but a gracious host always serves his female guests first! And himself last.

For six, ten or fourteen people:

  • If I’m hosting a party in someone’s honor, I will always sit at the head of the table with the guest of honor seated directly to my right. If you are a hostess, and feting a male guest of honor, seat him directly to your right. The hostess should sit at the end of the table, nearest the kitchen, with the host at the opposite end.

For eight, twelve, or sixteen people:

  • In this instance, the hostess should move one place to the left and seat the male guest of honor directly to her right, opposite the host. This way you avoid seating two women and two men together.

Plates and flatware:

  • If I’m entertaining formally, I will set down decorative chargers, which serve as placeholders and anchor each place setting. For informal occasions, I bypass the chargers and simply set out my dinner plates.
  • I’ll often place a folded napkin atop the charger or dinner plate.
  • I position flatware in the logical order of its use, to the left or right of the plate, beginning from the outside in; in other words, moving toward the plate. Thus, guests will use the outermost fork for the salad, the middle fork for the fish course, and the innermost fork for the dinner itself. Knives and spoons sit on the right of the plate, again using the same intuitive order. If you’re serving a fabulous soup for starters, the soup spoon goes in the outermost position.  Assuming you’re serving a fish course, place the fish knife in the middle, and the knife closest to the plate is reserved for dinner (make sure you keep the sharp edges of your knives facing toward the plate, with the bottoms of your flatware neatly aligned).
  • The knife should only be in your right hand when cutting. The fork should be placed in your left hand and used to hold the food with the tines facing down.
  • Only cut one piece of food at a time.
  • Once your food is cut, place the knife on the edge of your plate and the fork in your left hand. Turn the tines of your fork upward when eating.
  • If I’m serving bread with the meal, I place a small bread plate to the left and slightly above the dinner plate, and lay the butter knife diagonally across the bottom.
  • If I’m serving dessert, I place the dessert fork and the dessert spoon right above the plate.
  • When everybody is finished, I clear the dinner settings away and bring out the after-dinner items: dessert plates, and if I’m serving coffee, a tray of cups and saucers along with teaspoons, which rest either on the saucers or on the table (your choice).
  • Very simply, informal meals require less of everything. You don’t need to go the whole nine yards. Position a salad fork and a dinner fork to the left of the plate, a single knife to the right, and you have the basics for a casual meal. 

- Colin Cowie

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