"When I got married, I had no problem with the commitment, the dress, or the guest list," says Julia Reed. "The issue was how to properly seat a group of people, who ranged in age from 8 to 80, at our rehearsal dinner. During my seating trauma, I consulted Vogue's Book of Etiquette. Here are my six rules for stress-free seating at any occasion."
In my firm opinion, seating couples together shows a lack of imagination. In 1788, the book The Honours of the Table deemed placing the sexes alternatively around the table risqué. Soon afterwards, though, it became the norm.
Though the food should be excellent, it's the conversation that is the essence of every gathering or dinner party. In Victorian England, hostesses competed for the best talkers, with Robert Browning being in particular demand.
Twelve dinner guests that is. Take into consideration the size of your table, of course. But one of the most festive dinner parties I ever hosted seated 12 of us shoulder-to-shoulder. The forced closeness of the space spilled over into an entertaining conversation.
In one of the most famous books ever written about food, The Physiology of Taste, published in 1825, French culinary philosopher Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin decreed that in order to have a successful party, guests should be carefully "chosen so that their professions will be varied, their tastes analogous, and that there be such points of contact that the formality of introductions will not be needed."
Consider people's political views as well as those that can offend or be easily offended.
A lighthearted debate is one thing, but no one wants to dine on the set of Hardball. Seat opinionated guests with dinner companions who are less apt to take offense.
Host and hostess should sit at separate tables.
At least once a year, my mother gives a large, seated dinner that requires not just her dining table but round tables spread throughout the house as well. She and my father each anchor one, and close friends, also well-known to the other guests, host the others.