There are so many ways of organising people at a dinner party. The great thing is that you can mix and match depending on who you like best. After all, it is your party (and you can cry if you want to).
Of course you can keep it traditional and do boy – girl – boy etc. At best, the nicest looking boys are on either side of you, at worst you can end up in a virtual tennis match of a dull conversation about the quickest way of driving to the airport, or property prices in the locale. (Conversely for men, women sitting together have the tendency to delve into “my favourite under-eye concealer” or even worse, child birth).
You can always ask people to move around with the pudding, but I find this a bit contrived, like you’re at a corporate convention and it’s in everyone’s best interest to gather up as many business cards as possible.
Usually, if people smoke, there will be a natural changeover in seating. Allow this to happen and don’t be a stickler for placement.
Sometimes it’s nice to put all the girls down one end and all the boys down the other. You have to know your guests quite well for this though. Are they a girl’s girl, or a man’s man ?
Don’t be afraid to mix personalities at your dinner party. There’s something about the formality and effort of a dinner party that puts people on their best behaviour. That means that spiky people can be charmed by those they usually find intolerable, or dull people shine when brought out of their shells by a gifted conversationalist. Don’t think that because people have different types of jobs that they won’t get on. Of that you should avoid discussing sex, money and politics. The best conversations are when your guests get stuck into debating all three.
Etiquette used to dictate that you put the most important man to the left of the hostess, and the most important woman to the right of the host. Yawn. Think instead about how people are going to get along and then plan from there. Shy people might benefit from sitting beside a great storyteller, or you may have two people you want to (subtly) introduce. Be conscious of non-drinkers – don’t put them beside the dipsomaniacs. At best, they’ll be bored, at worse they’ll be offended. If you know your guests you’ll be on safe ground. If you don’t know them (if it’s a business dinner for example), then try and find common interests and match them up that way. It sounds a bit naff, but it’s a good way of starting a seating plan.
And of course, if this all sounds dull and formulaic, you can ply them all with cocktails and let them pick their own seats.