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Don’t Table That Seating Chart

Advance planning for Thanksgiving means the difference between success and happiness — or stress

With Thanksgiving here, you’re focused on the turkey, the trimmings, the table — but what about who’s sitting where?

Planning a stimulating conversation at the table is no less important than preparing the menu or selecting your table decorations. Your Thanksgiving feast will be more successful when your give some thought to the arrangement of your table.

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“People with like interests and personalities will complement each other and should be placed together. Others with strong personalities should be placed next to or across from opposites to help balance the table,” said Richmond Schmidt, a Palm Beach-based party planner and private butler. “The conversation of the entire table will be determined by a host’s forethought and consideration.”

These seating etiquette tips will ensure a stress-free feast:

1.) The host should sit at the head of the table, closest to the kitchen. This will allow him or her to easily get up and fetch anything missing from the table and at the same time allow conversation to keep flowing smoothly. The co-host should sit at the opposite end of the table. If there is a guest of honor or elder in the group, seat that person to the right of the host and to the right of the co-host.

Related: Giving Back at Thanksgiving

2.) If you have a large party and want to seat your guests at more than one table, consider putting an honorary host at each table to keep the conversation going.

3.) It’s wise to separate any guests who might be uncomfortable sitting next to each other. However, contrary to common belief, if you’re thinking about separating people with various political, social, or religious views — think again. Schmidt believes it can be advantageous to seat guests next to other guests who think differently from one another. “Some of the best conversations I’ve had at parties revolved around those who had opposing viewpoints.”

Yet placing fierce political rivals in today’s environment — or estranged lovers or litigious guests — next to each other may cause a rift and backfire. Take care with all of these situations.

4.) Separate married couples, too. Why? They’re overly familiar with each other’s stories and viewpoints. By placing them at opposite ends of the table, they can share their old favorites without getting interrupted with corrections from someone who’s heard their tall tale a million times or was there when it happened.

5.) The rumormonger will do well next to an introvert, who can act as a sounding board.

6.) If there’s a Chatty Cathy in the group, place her next to a shy, quiet person. Place the braggart at the end of the table, near the host or co-host so he or she won’t monopolize the conversation. This way, the host can steer the conversation in another direction, if necessary.

Related: Remembering Chattanooga Families at Thanksgiving

7.) Place the Debbie Downer next to an eternal optimist. Two pessimistic people can bring down the most festive occasions.

8.) A newbie will be better served sitting next to a “connector,” or someone who knows just about everyone. This way he can be introduced to others at the table.

9.) Place people who have an unusual profession, have traveled extensively, or have led a truly interesting life toward the center of the table. Prompt them to talk about their life or latest ventures so the entire table can listen and ask questions.

10.) If you have more than three children under the age of 12, consider putting together a special table just for them. Make it festive by decorating it with party favors and real silverware. Serve ginger ale or white grape juice in pretty glasses so the kids can participate in the evening toast with the adult guests.

Related: The Lost Art of ‘Thank You’

11.) If you just have a couple of children or teenagers joining you this year, place them next to an adult. They’re more apt to mingle with others at the table if they aren’t seated next to their sibling or best friend.

Then, once all your planning is done and your feast cooked and prepared — really enjoy your guests. Be grateful for each and every one who joined you and shared your table.

Jacqueline Whitmore is an international etiquette expert, a bestselling author, and the founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. 

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