Seating Arrangements for a Business Meal – 5 Golden Rules

In the business world, the meeting room is not the only table where negotiations are being done.  There is an equally important table where deals are clinched – the dining table. And because things don’t “just happen”, we advise you play it smart at this table with a seating chart. 

Planning the seating arrangement is an art. Where you place your guests conveys volumes about the level of esteem you place on them, their value and your understanding of protocol. Get it right and everyone feels respected and walks away from the table with more than a good meal. With a successful business connection won over, it’s a win-win. 

Here are 5 business seating strategies to take note of:

Rule 1 – Every event and restaurant is different

At officious events with large groups, it is expected practice  to have place cards and assigned seating.  If it’s a relaxed event at a casual venue or a small group of four or less,  such formalities are not necessary and  may make the meal feel awkward and stuffy. In this case, have the host greet and escort the guests to where you want them to sit instead. 

Round tables are a great option if you have an odd number of guests so that no one sits next to an empty seat. With long tables, the decision whether to have end seats depends if you prefer to have  formal hosts at the table and denote the rank of your guests, or place everyone equally on both ends of the table. 

Rule 2 – Seat by rank, not gender 

In business meals, guests are seated according to seniority and importance unlike a social party where seating may be arranged by alternating women and men. 

Typically, the host sits in a seat with the honoured guest to his or her right. In a long table setting, the host(s) would sit at the ends of the table. However, the host may choose to take a centre chair, with the honoured guest seated to the right, to communicate a more equal and open setting. Less important guests are then arranged according to rank, around the table. In strict protocol, if spouses are invited, it is not necessary to seat them together. 

Rule 3 – Know your guests

Always research and try to find out about your guests’ preferences. For example, if you know your guest is a left-hander, place him or her on the left corner of the table and have staff adjust place settings so that he will feel most comfortable when dining. Such thoughtful considerations will not go unnoticed.  Your guests should always have the best seats in the house. If your table has great views of the city or even the dining room, always seat guests so they can appreciate the view, your host(s) can face the wall or even have their backs against the window. 

Rule 4 – Seat with intention

Never be random about placing each and every guest. Beside seating the important guest-of-honour, also consider similar business interests or common topics that would be able to spark conversations and bring out the connections you want to achieve. As a host, introduce guests to each other and share their common interests, in the hope that it will encourage easy conversation through the course of the meal. .

Rule 5 – When in Rome…

Pay attention to the cultural sensitivities when planning a seating chart and do your research. In different cultures, where the host or guest of honour is seated may differ. For example at a Japanese business meal, The guest-of-honor is seated upon the “kamiza,” the seat of honor, typically situated farthest from the entrance. And when there is a “tokonoma” (alcove) in the room, the guest-of-honor is seated in front of it. The host or lowest-ranking guest is seated nearest the “shimoza” (entrance). 

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Illustration by Zelda

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