How to Pull Off the Perfect Holiday Dinner Seating Chart
Avoid personality clashes for a stress-free feast.
Why make a seating chart?
Holiday dinners are special meals, and setting your table with lovely name cards can elevate your table with a charming detail. Plus, having a seating arrangement in place before guests arrive takes away from any awkward guesswork and shuffling when people start gathering around the table. “When people hear ‘seating chart,’ they think of something very rigid, but it’s based on comfort,” says Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas. “It’s all about the conversation and about the energy and enthusiastic fodder back and forth.” Read on to find out where to seat each type of guest. (Looking for a stress-free Thanksgiving? Get our FREE guide for an unforgettable Thanksgiving. You’ll get easy recipes, kid-friendly crafts and games, inspiring traditions, and more ideas for the best holiday yet.)
The host: Close to the kitchen
As a host, you should sit at the end of the table, closest to the kitchen so you can hop back and forth as needed, while your co-host should sit at the other end to take charge of pouring drinks. “You want the host to be able to get what they need as efficiently as they can,” says Gottsman. If more than eight people are joining for dinner, consider splitting the group into two separate tables so each table can have just one conversation going at a time. If you have more tables than hosts, ask a family member you’re close with to act as an honorary host, filling glasses and keeping the meal running smoothly, says Gottsman. Don’t miss these other Thanksgiving etiquette tips for hosts and guests.
The longtime couple: Separate them
Give married couples the chance share their go-to stories stories by placing them away from each other in your seating chart. “They’ve heard each other’s stories over and over,” says Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and author of Poised for Success. By sitting apart, they can share their old favorites without getting interrupted with corrections from someone who’s heard it a million times or was there when it happened.
The prima donna: Near the end of the table
Seat a high-maintenance guest who loves being the center of the attention at the end of the table so she won’t monopolize the whole dinner conversation. Leaving her close to you will let you change the conversation if she starts talking too much, says Sharon Schweitzer, an international etiquette expert and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. “She’s fascinating and interesting, but someone has to keep a handle on her,” says Schweitzer. “If that person gets a little out of control, they will bend to the host.” Keep the chatterbox next to an introvert, who can just listen and nod without feeling forced into small talk. (Related: Here’s how expert minglers make small talk.)
The pot-stirrer: Near the host
We all know that person who likes to bring up political candidates, national security, stem cell research—basically anything you’d hoped to steer clear of during a friendly holiday feast. “You have to rein him in or he’ll veer toward dangerous territory,” says Schweitzer. Make sure to seat anyone drawn to controversy close to you so you can change the topic if things are getting uncomfortable, or try these magic phrases that can save an awkward conversation. With the prima donna close by, those two will be able to keep up with each other for some fascinating conversations.
The complainer: Near the host
Have a person you just know will think the turkey is dry and the gravy is lumpy? Seat the complainer close to you so that as the dazzling host, you can keep the energy positive, and keep that person away from any other pessimists. “If you have a table full of high-maintenance guests, part of the fun is rolling with the punches and trying to separate them as best you can,” says Gottsman. Lighten the mood by sharing these funny Thanksgiving quotes.
The sweet talker: Seat them anywhere
A particularly charming guest will be able to make great conversation with just about anyone. “They love the congealed gravy, and if there’s a crisis at the table, they’ll get up and pick up the shattered wine crystal,” says Schweitzer. This person can bounce off the prima donna, or make welcoming conversation with a guest who’s new to the gathering. Don’t miss these secret habits of naturally charming people.
The teenager: Next to an adult
If you have a few teens joining you this year, encourage them to join the rest of the table’s conversation by sticking them next to an older adult. “They’re not going to be mingling with anyone at the table if they’re sitting next to their sibling or best friend,” says Whitmore.
The gossip: Next to an introvert
A person who likes to bring up the latest gossip and juicy rumors will do well next to an introvert, who can act as a sounding board. Just keep a rumormonger away from anyone strong, clashing opinions. “You don’t want to sit him or her next to someone who might judge them,” says Schweitzer. Check out these ways to stop being so judgy.
The questioner: Near a cook
Seat anyone who scrutinizes each forkful before eating it near you or anyone else involved in the food prep. “They want to know what’s in every food and how it’s cooked,” says Gottsman. Be prepared to graciously answer any questions that are flung your way, and have these fixes for Thanksgiving dinner screw-ups at the ready.
The introvert: Near a chatty person
“Everyone loves having the introvert at the dinner table because they’re so nice and mild-mannered—but they would rather make eye contact with the turkey or gravy than anyone else,” says Schweitzer. Sit a shy person next to someone chatty, like a prima donna, sweet talker, or gossip. The introvert can laugh, listen, and ask questions without competing for the limelight. (Related: These are hidden strengths of introverts.)
The newbie: Near a prima donna
A plus-one who doesn’t know anyone else at the table would do well next to a prima donna or sweet talker. “They would make them feel so welcome and find out everything about them,” says Schweitzer. If you’ve never met the new guest, feel free to slyly adjust the seating chart after the introduction but before everyone sits down. If the newbie seems a bit uncomfortable, keep that person away from an introvert so the conversation doesn’t reach a standstill. But an outgoing new guest could get a shy person talking without dominating the whole table. Prompt them with these conversation starters that make you seem more interesting.
The allergic: Near the end of the table
Anyone with serious allergies should stick to the ends of the table, where it’s easier to avoid trigger foods. “Put them off to the side, off someplace they’re not having the peanut soup,” says Gottsman.
The humble entertainer: Near the center
Whether it’s a fascinating career or amazing travels, this person has a lot to talk about but won’t bring it up unless asked. Keep this person toward the center of the table and prompt her to talk about her oceanography or trip to Antarctica so the whole table can listen. “You want them to take center stage, and you want them to command the table,” says Schweitzer. (Related: Don’t make these mistakes of bad listeners.)