When organizing a very formal event and entertaining dignitaries—such as government, military officials, or foreign diplomats—the host or hostess of an official luncheon or dinner seats the guests according to rank. Traditionally, the host and hostess sit at the head and foot of the table, respectively. When they are friends with a number of the guests, they may choose instead to sit opposite each other in the middle of the table, where it will be easier for them to converse with more people.
When both women and men are attending the event, seating works as follows:
- The highest-ranked male guest sits to the right of the hostess.
- The man next in rank sits to the left of the hostess.
- The wife of the highest-ranking man sits to the left of the host. (If the man is unmarried, the highest-ranking woman takes this seat.)
- Spouses in attendance who don’t hold an official position are seated according to the rank of their husbands or wives.
- Guests who have no protocol ranking are seated according to the unspoken rank the host assigns to them. The host ranks guests as he chooses, basing his decision on age, social prominence, personal accomplishments, and mutual interests shared by seatmates. Proficiency in a foreign language also comes into play when foreigners are among the guests.