Finding Your Seat

Jackie Kennedy brought world-renowned style and taste to the Kennedy White House.  She asked the White House calligrapher to create an official seating chart for all White House events.  I would have loved to be a guest at this 1961 luncheon, hosted by the President and first lady.  Wouldn't you like to be seated next to the Princess of Monaco?  I'd say Mr. or Mrs. Roosevelt, Jr., son and daughter-in-law of  President Roosevelt, would have been fine company as well.


You may not be hosting a State Dinner, but seating your guests always takes a bit of finesse and is subject to a few steadfast rules.  Traditionally, the host and hosetess sit facing eachother at each end of the table, with the evening's most special guests seated to their right.  A "special guest" might mean a foreign dignitary or head of state, but in our lives will probably be limited to a first-time dinner guest or important colleague who is deserving of a little extra attention over regular, more casual visitors.   Seating should alternate between male and female and couples should never be seated together.  If the number of guests makes it impossible or awkward for the host and hostess to sit across from one another, the host will sit at the end of the table with the hostess to his right.  Place cards are the best method to arrange seating.  But if there are no place cards at a seated dinner party, the hostess should direct each guest to his or her place at the table.  The hostess will seat herself last.

In a casual setting, there are no other specific rules.  (In a formal setting, there are a zillion!) But the hostess has the difficult job of considering the personalities of each guest to achieve the perfect alchemy amongst them.  The duty of the hostess is to take care of her guests while in her home, and to make them as comfortable as possible.  She should think about each guest as an indivdual, and which other guest would provide the best and most interesting company for them.  Sometimes this is easier said than done!

Of course, this is New York City in 2013.  If you'd rather order Chinese food and arrange some pillows on the floor (as we did for our very first dinner party, almost completely sans furniture), go right ahead.  No place cards, seating arrangements or rules required.  Couples might even sit on each other's laps.  Rules mean nothing if you've got the spirit just right.



Postscript - We will be featuring a matter of etiquette each Wednesday!  If you have an etiquette enquiry of any sort, please send us a note at or through the Correspondence page.  We'd love to hear from you!

(Image courtesy of  In the Kennedy Style: Magical Evenings in the Kennedy White House by Letitia Baldrige)