Quite a few years ago you described in one of your columns what seating you recommended for a hostess giving a formal dinner party with detailed information about who should sit on the right side of the host and the right side of the hostess.
I also want to know about the seating of husbands and wives together. Can I separate them or is it a must that they should sit side by side? And what to do for people such as Ambassadors and High Commissioners (not sure what the difference is) I cannot find that column. Please help.
Dear Anxious Hostess:
Try to keep calm and have a sense of humour just in case glasses break, food spills and your soufflé falls flat.
I have found my column that I have edited so here goes:
The most important female guest of honour would be seated at the right side of the host and the male guest of honour seated at the right side of the hostess. But what if they were husband and wife, should they be separated? Yes, they should be. If some couples cringe at this thought one can presume they are shy or they only feel confident when their spouse or partners are at their side, or perhaps they think there are too many good looking men — this could be in the mind of the husband — or too many sexy looking women — this could be in the mind of the wife at the party and they really want (or need) to keep a sharp eye on their "territory".
Also, if there have been a few sharp words exchanged before leaving home, or even in the car on the way to the function, one (or both) may just not feel like looking animated and communicating with their spouse for the sake of appearances. Though we all know that civility is important some might just say, "To heck with civility tonight" (this, of course, means one should excuse oneself from dinner and in fact, any company whatsoever). Conversation at dinner should be cheerful and happy and, an interlude where people meet and greet and, hopefully be charming (and witty) to each other.
The second most honoured couple take their places on the left of the host and hostess. Now this right and left seating positions, plus the separating of couples all work out well, if there are six and ten people for this rather formal dinner. But if there are eight people for dinner the hostess must decide whether it is more important to switch the female honoured guest to the left of the host, or separate the couples, because for eight people (and in fact most numbers divisible by four), one needs to have the host at the top of the table and another man at the opposite end. The hostess would be seated at the end seat on the long side of the rectangle with the male guest of honour on her right, which in this case will be at the head of the table, opposite, as I have said, to the host. Two ladies at the head and the end of the table for eight would also work out.
Alternating men and women is also best but this is not necessarily the case when seating a head table (facing other guests), and VIPs such as a Head of State or a PM and this ilk of people are at table. In this situation the host would have this type of dignitary on his right at the centre of the table which is regarded as the "seat of power"; it is also quite correct for the host to have on his right and on his left two other important male guests.
It must also be remembered that in certain old and respected Eastern religions husbands and wives must be seated together and, in fact, the wife can only have beside her the wife of another couple. This is not a Western tradition.
High Commissioners represent their countries which are part of the Commonwealth, Ambassadors represent their countries outside of the Commonwealth, so Trinidad and Tobago exchanges High Commissioners with the UK Barbados, Canada, Jamaica, etc, and exchanges Ambassadors with the United States, Germany, France, etc. Following proper protocol is very important.
Below are two diagrams (that can be used by someone having a party for friends or for business), one for the seating of six people, and a suggested one for the seating of eight people, if it has been decided that separating couples may be more important than seating that honoured female guest on the right. It would, of course, depend on just who this couple are, meaning are they on a protocol list, etc., or are they at your table wearing the hat of just good friends.
Good luck to you. I am sure it will be splendid.
But 'Anxious Hostess', if you find the above too complicated, why not just have an informal buffet and let the seating fall where it may, but please do not let your guests seat themselves at the buffet table.