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Who Sits Where at a Business Meal?

The business meal is a great opportunity to make a positive impression whether you’re a host, the guest of honor or a participant. The more you know about what to expect and what to do, the more you can focus on the most important part of a business meal: being a participant. But if, instead, you are fretting about what to do, then your focus will be on your anxiety and not on the conversation.

What to do starts when you arrive. If your host hasn’t yet arrived, wait in the lobby rather than being shown to the table. It would be presumptuous to just pick a seat at the table ahead of your host’s arrival, and it would be awkward to have to move to a different seat at your host’s request.

As you approach the table, wait for your host to indicate where guests should sit. If you are the host, be prepared with a plan as to where you want everyone to sit. For a typical four-person group that includes the host, a guest of honor, the guest of honor’s assistant and the host’s assistant, here are five steps to indicate who sits where:

1. Determine which is the best seat. Usually it is the seat facing out into the room with its back toward a wall, but not on an aisle where wait staff and patrons are walking by. I once witnessed a person in the aisle seat be doused with a large glass of iced tea. Not a pretty sight, and not something you want your guest of honor to experience.

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2. The host assigns the best seat to the guest of honor.

3. Once the guest of honor’s place has been identified, the host sits immediately to his or her left. Rule of thumb: The guest of honor sits on the host’s right.

4. Next, the host seats the guest of honor’s assistant next to the guest of honor.

5. And that leaves the seat with its back to the aisle for the host’s assistant. Someone has to sit there and that role falls to the host’s assistant.

What happens if there are six, eight, ten people or more at the meal? In that case the host should find out in advance the shape of the table and its location in the restaurant. The host can then preplan who sits where, using a diagram of the table and place cards. The guest of honor is still seated on the host’s right; others can be assigned seats according to rank or to facilitate conversation among participants. The place cards can be arranged on the table ahead of time according to the seating plan so there is no confusion as to who sits where when the party arrives at the table.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.

Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.

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Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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