Large family gatherings always create a buzz of excitement from the volume of conversation that floats around the table and carries around the house. However, for a great many of us, this comes from clever positioning of both your guests and the table topics. As a hostess, the stress of managing the seating arrangements, coupled with keeping the mood jovial and festive, is enough to swear off ever hosting Thanksgiving again.
The first step towards a festive and stress-free family gathering is mastering the seating arrangement. Families by nature are complex: your aunt who suffers from hearing loss; your brother who is bringing his new girlfriend; your mother-in-law who would have liked to host the meal herself… everyone brings something to the table that can make or break your event. The key is to ensure that no guest is left out. If your guests are at ease with one another, you will find yourself relaxed and enjoying the festivities right alongside them.
My tips to remember:
- Avoid cliques: Separate relatives that speak frequently and mix them amongst those that are more inclined to feel like distant relatives to ensure that everyone feels included.
- Separate couples: Not only does this give the couple something to discuss on the way home, it gives the table a community feel, and keeps your single guest from feeling isolated.
- Southpaws in the corner: When possible, seat your left-handed guests at the corner of the table; this gives everyone more elbowroom.
- Host/Hostess closest to the kitchen: Unless you are trying to show off your new Thanksgiving wardrobe, seat yourself closest to the kitchen so you can discreetly nip to the kitchen without disrupting the meal.
- Remember the hearing impaired:. Always seat those with hearing difficulties next to someone they can engage with.
- Install a peacemaker: Put your peacemakers in the middle, with opposing viewpoints on opposite ends of the table. Even the most passionate of speakers will shy away from shouting across the table, but a clever seating arrangement puts the likely peacemaker in the middle as a backup.
- The welcome committee: New guests are best positioned next to, or across from the person they arrived with to avoid isolation and encourage conversation with others.
- Be sensitive to sensitivities: Drinkers, recovering alcoholics, the pregnant sister next to the guest who is struggling to conceive, and countless other odd-couples are best left peppered around the table rather than next to one another.
- Define the children’s table: Nothing creates more drama than putting the budding teenager or the infant that requires mummy’s attention at the children’s table. If you have a children’s table, consider the seating just as thoughtfully as you do for the adult table.
- Ensure everyone sees eye to eye: Whether you plan for a single table, or multiple tables, keep your guests at eye level by using the same chairs. No one likes eating their Thanksgiving dinner on your deck chair or from your bar stool; plan ahead and ensure everyone has the same chair.
Seating plans take time to reach perfection, and are likely to evolve over time, so start as soon as you know who is coming and be prepared to make changes right up to the moment you carve the turkey.