Food for Thought: Head Table Seating Protocol

Edwin C. Berry Testimonial Banquet, Hotel Multhnomah, Portland, Oregon, 1955In a recent post about Space Needs for Sit Down Meals, I discussed head table space considerations. In this post, let's talk about protocol and seating arrangements.

"Protocol" is defined as rules of etiquette and ceremony.  

First, you should develop the protocol for order of rank. This will depend on your organization. A corporation may list the CEO as number one, whereas an association may list the volunteer chairman of the board rather than the paid association executive.

All seats at the head table should be filled, and it is usual to seat those who have a role in the program during that session. If it is an awards dinner, the honorees should be given high priority. If there is a noted speaker, he or she should also be high on the list. If someone is offering an invocation (where appropriate), he or she may be seated at the head table.

The event host should be seated in the center of the table, with the main VIP seated to the right. The second-most important person should be seated to the left of the host. It then continues right-left, right-left, until the table is filled. (So, the least important person is seated to the far stage left). 

NOTE: "Stage right" and "stage left" are terms used to indicate to the right or left of the person facing the audience. So, stage right to the audience would be to the left of those seated at the head table..

If there is a lectern on the table, the host would be seated to the right of the lectern, and seating would again go right, left, right left. In this scenario, the second-most important person would be to the immediate left of the lectern.

Additional head tables may be arranged to seat all those who need to be seated at the head table. I have seen a head table for 48 chefs at a culinary convention. There were four rows of twelve, with each back row elevated in tiers on risers. In the case of tiered tables, the first, or closest table, to the audience is for the higher ranking officials and guests.

Try to keep in mind:

  • Each seat at the head table should have a place card, thus eliminating confusion on who sits where.
  • Everyone at the head table should be formally introduced at the beginning of the meeting or event.
  • The head table should always be served first.

It is important to have a responsible member remain in charge of the head table arrangements, to give special consideration to details and to foresee problems before they occur.

Photo: OSU Special Collections & Archives via Flickr

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