Proper Seating

Proper Seating

The information contained herein is quoted from Social Usage and Protocol Handbook: A Guide for Personnel of the U.S. Navy (OPNAVINST 1710.7 dated 17 JUL 1979)

The seating arrangements of any type of function are very important. The host and hostess who take care to ensure a proper balance of protocol and common sense will fmd their event to be more enjoyable and therefore more successful.

The first step in preparing a seating arrangement should be to consider the type of function as well as the guests involved.

If one were to host a formal dinner inviting high-ranking guests of similar backgrounds who know one another very well, then strictly adhering to the rule of seating by rank would be easy. Such a situation is more the exception than the rule, however. Usually a guest list includes persons of varying ranks, career backgrounds, and nationalities. The primary concern should be to ensure that guests enjoy themselves. Therefore, bear in mind the importance of seating by rank to an extent, but also mix the group a bit so as to create an environment for interesting and enjoyable conversation.

The following discussion deals with the rules of seating guests by rank. Use these rules coupled with the nature and purpose of the individual function to determine seating of guests.

The place of honor is to the right of the host if the guest is a woman, and to the right of the hostess if the guest is a man. Generally, when the event involves both men and women, guests are seated alternating man and woman. This would place the ranking man to the right of the hostess and the ranking woman to the right of the host. Guests are then seated alternating left to right from the host and hostess after the honored guest is seated. As far as knowing who ranks whom, refer to the precedence list in entertainment for guidance .

Generally the guest of honor is also the highest ranking person. Occasionally, there will be other guests who outrank the guest of honor. When this occurs, elect one of the following courses of action by considering the personalities and the particular situation involved.

  1. Place the guest of honor in the honored position making the rarddng guest next in line.
  2. Seat the guests strictly according to protocol disregarding the fact that the guest of honor may be well down the table (used when there are many very high-ranking officials).
  3. Make the senior guest the co-host or co-hostess if it is an all-male or all-female event.
    Spouses who do not hold official orpositions themselves are seated according to the rank of their husbands or wives . It is often preferable to avoid seating husbands and wives together, but, once again, many wives may be more comfortable if seated together.


The following diagrams are to aid in visualizing how guests would be seated according to rank:


The most traditional arrangement calls for the host and hostess to sit at the two ends of the table

Host / Hostess at ends of Table

At larger official dinners/luncheons, the host and hostess may sit opposite one another at the center of the table.

Host / Hostess at mid-table

Another arrangement uses two tables.

Host / hostesss at separate tables
Number divisible by four


Whenever the total number of guests equals any multiple of four and there is an equal number of men and women, the host and hostess cannot sit opposite each other without putting two men or two women together. To balance the table, the hostess simply moves one seat to the left, thereby putting her right-hand guest (guest of honor) opposite the host.

Multiples of four - all couples married

Multiples of four - one couple unmarried

Multiples of four - all couples married (round table)


The simple horseshoe-shaped table which is sometimes used at large official banquets requires that the host and hostess sit with their honored guests on the outside of the curving center while other guests are seated in an alternating pattern along the sides. If places are set both within and without the curving ends, the inside seats begin at point x on the curved plan, with the seats inside but nearer the host ranking those further away on the outside.

Horseshoe-shaped table with couples

Horseshoe-shaped table with couples

This arrangement avoids placing a woman at the end of the table.

There are many other arrangements than can be configured and the complete diagrams are listed in OPNAVINST 1710.7 .


Seating arrangements for head tables cause great concern and require special treatment. There are head tables required for all-male or all-female affairs, or for mixed groups, with and without speakers, with and without club officers, etc.

In seating a low-ranking toastmaster and guest speakers at an all-male or all-female lunch or dinner, the host/hostess must use judgment in placing them as near the center of the table as possible without violating precedence too much. The main speaker or a guest of honor who is outranked by others present should not be seated in seat 1; however, it is proper to place him/her to the left of the host/hostess in seat 2, if appropriate, or seat 3.

When both official and very important unofficial guests are present, distinguished civilians who represent significant civic or philanthropic organizations may be seated between the guests of official rank after the guest of honor and second official guest are seated.

Often it is necessary to seat couples at a head table.

Head Table with low-ranking Toastmaster

Head Table with important official and civilian guests

Head Table with guests and club officers

Head Table with couples