Does it Matter Where You Sit as Long as You Have a Seat at the Table?

Lunch and dinner parties are a staple of building client relationships. But they aren’t always fun for the host.bateaux_newyork

Whom do you sit where? If you invite the CEO, do you seat him next to his wife or next to you? After all, you want to get closer to the CEO if your hard work getting to him your event has actually paid off. Is there a pecking order in the seating arrangements?

Putting People Together

We faced this conundrum when hosting clients and friends on a recent dinner cruise along the Hudson River. Our goal was to seat guests at each table who had interests in common – business, a favorite hobby, a passion for the theater, etc.

This isn’t as simple as it seems. My business partner, who thrives on developing excel spreadsheets and charts, created a seating chart that we could manipulate to try different combinations. It was akin to playing musical chairs: moving guests around until one fell off at an overcrowded table. Then back to the drawing board.

After finally assembling what we felt was a very compatible group at each table, we hand wrote place cards. On the evening of the cruise, our taxi got stuck in a major traffic jam and we arrived after several of our guests, who had already commandeered seats.

We hurriedly put out the place cards, but how could we move our guests who had already paired off at tables?

The answer is – we didn’t.

If this happens to you at your party, just let it go. Your guests have their own reasons for choosing where they want to sit. Maybe they are reconnecting with another guest after many years, or they would like to meet someone new.

Seating the Head Honcho

Don’t fret about getting the seating exactly right. Most guests are pleased to be at the party and have a seat at the table – any table. Of course, if you’re the boss and inviting members of your team to meet with a new client, the rules change.

Lunch7668-4If there is an obvious “head of table” seat your client there and then seat yourself next to her. As an alternative, sit at the other end of the table where you have direct eye contact. But then place your team leader next to the head honcho, not a junior account executive who might be intimidated to engage in conversation.

It’s a good idea to alternate client and agency executives so your team can begin to build the invaluable relationships that are essential to account management.

If you’re hosting a fairly large dinner party, then mix things up by asking guests to change seats at dessert so they have the opportunity to talk to someone new. Or, place desserts on a buffet table, so that guests can get up and network for a bit before they sit down at their assigned seats for the meal-ending coffee or tea.

Consider using nametags if there are many guests who don’t know each other. Have some fun. Under each name, write something personal to that individual: I’m Her First Client; Love the Theater; Former Navy Seal…the tags are a great icebreaker.

Mind Your Manners

No matter how large or small the party, the rules for proper etiquette never change. Don’t be guilty of these offensive practices:

  • Chewing with your mouth open. This is not only gross but can make you burp.
  • Picking food off another guest’s plate. This drives some people wild. Not even if it’s your husband or wife’s plate.
  • Speaking with a full mouth. It’s rude and also people won’t understand what you’re saying.
  • Reaching across the table. This is called the “boarding house” reach referring to the days when people sat at community dining tables in boarding houses and it was acceptable to reach across the table to a plate of food. Not today.
  • Picking your teeth. Not even with your other hand covering your mouth.
  • Combing your hair. Would you like to be sitting next to someone who combs her long hair right into your food?
  • Drinking too much. This is a grievous offense. Don’t invite someone you know to be a heavy drinker.

There aren’t hard and fast rules about party planning. As host, though, it’s your responsibility to create an environment where everyone has an enjoyable time.

If your party is mainly designed to be relaxed and fun, give your guests the flexibility to sit where they want and move around among tables. Don’t try to micro-mange every detail.

A business party is different. Then you need to stage-manage the event. No point in hosting a party where things get so out of hand that you lose a client.

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