The way we sit at the dining table can be revealing. Follow the most important seating etiquette rules and look like a duchess or a duke.
What seating etiquette is
Seating etiquette is the set of rules to sit at the dining table. Such rules are crucial to start a meal with the right foot.
Avoid behaviors that can disrespect and irritate other guests.
Seating etiquette rules
1) Wait for the other guests to sit
Sit at the table when the other guests do. If you are invited to supper, wait for the host to invite guests to take their seats.
2) Ladies and senior guests sit first
In Westerner etiquette, usually, ladies and senior guests sit at the table first. It is good manners to help ladies and seniors to sit. When the guest is ready, hold their chair with both hands, and gently pull it back away from the table. Then move it forward toward the table when the guest is ready to sit on it. The hosts should be the last ones to sit at the table.
On formal occasions, men are supposed to stand up when ladies or senior guests join the table as a sign of respect.
3) Sit in your assigned seat
Seating etiquette with assigned seats
On formal occasions, seats will be preassigned.
Usually, the host sits in the middle or at the head of the table. Then, the most important guest sits on the right side of the host. The remaining seats are assigned from senior to junior, trying to mix hosts by their gender.
If the hosts are a couple, they should sit on opposite sides. The most important female guest should sit on the right side of the male host. Similarly, the most important male guest should sit on the right side of the female host
Seating etiquette with free seating
On informal occasions, seating may be free. Wait for the hosts to point guests to their seats. If this does not happen, it is polite to ask whether seats are free or assigned.
When seats are not assigned, you should occupy the seat nearest to you as you approach the table. Picking your preferred seat is against etiquette. It signals that you are willing to walk over others to get what you like.
4) Keep a graceful posture while seating
Sit on the chair in the center of the seat. Do not sit on a border or on a side of it. Ideally, the chair is not too high or too deep. If possible, place your feet on the ground and rest your back on the backrest.
Move your chair close to the table. Gently lift it, do not drag it. The ideal position of the chair allows you to keep your legs under the table, but without your torso touching the table.
During the meal, do not invade the personal space of the neighboring guests. Keep your back straight and the elbows attached to the body. Do not spread or stretch your legs. Your legs should not occupy an area wider than your seat.
Try to keep your back at a 90º inclination. Do not lean on the table. Do not lean back far from the table as you risk getting dirty and appearing disrespectful. Avoid slouching.
Keep your posture. Bring food and drinks to your mouth and not vice versa.
5) Mind the position of your hands, elbows, and legs
You should keep both hands on the dining table when you are not eating. It is best not to rest your elbows on the table.
When you eat, both hands should be occupied with a fork and knife. If you are eating with only one utensil, and have one hand free, you should rest your free hand on the table. In some countries, you can rest your free hand on your lap, below the table.
6) Stay in your seat
You should stay seated for the entire duration of the meal. Leaving your seat during a meal is bad seating etiquette. It disrupts conversation and the flow of the meal.
Going to the restroom is the exception.
Seating etiquette: the worst mistakes
The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors.
A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.
Avoid the worst seating etiquette mistakes.
- 9/10. Spreading your elbows or legs.
- 8/10. Picking your seat.
- 8/10. Slouching.
- 7/10. Seating before the host’s invitation.
- 7/10. Seating before senior guests.
- 7/10. Eating with your elbows on the table.
- 6/10. Leaving the table before the end of the meal.
- Dining Dangers: A Cross-Cultural Study (researchgate.net)