Seating arrangements: who sits where?

The basics of making seating arrangements are simple:

  • Determine the precedence or rank of the guests.
  • Determine the precedence or rank of the chairs.
  • Place guest 1 on chair 1, guest 2 on chair 2 and so on.

Generally speaking, the host sits in the middle, the highest ranking guest is on their right side and the second highest ranking guest on their left and so on.

‘Seating is also a great way to symbolise who we are,’ Jan van Kooten explains. The Dutch committee that helps to keep the memory of the Second World War alive uses different seating options to communicate important values and beliefs. ‘At one of our ceremonies, we seated our board on the side, to symbolise our neutral role. At our commemorations it’s not about us, it’s about the family and friends of our victims. Not “we” but “they” should be seated in the first rows.’

Other seating rules

In Western culture, partners are never seated next to each other during lunches or dinner parties.

Seating with one or several hosts
The host always gets the best seat and the most valued guests are seated next to them. In the event of several hosts, the guests and hosts are placed taking turns. For lunches and dinners, it is common to give each host their own table.

Seating at a formal meeting
At social occasions such as lunches or dinners, guests and hosts are mixed. At formal meetings of two delegations it is common to seat guests on one side of the table and the hosts on the other side.

Source: Protocol to Manage Relationships Today (Amsterdam University Press, 2020). 

Want to know more?

Follow our online self-guided course about all aspects of formal seating arrangements