Modern Etiquette: "Seats of Power" in business entertaining

WASHINGTON Mon Sep 10, 2012 8:51am EDT

File photo of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) talking to Spanish King Juan Carlos (R) during their meeting at Mansarda (Mansard) restaurant in St. Petersburg, February 24, 2011. REUTERS/Dmitry Astakhov/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

File photo of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (L) talking to Spanish King Juan Carlos (R) during their meeting at Mansarda (Mansard) restaurant in St. Petersburg, February 24, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Dmitry Astakhov/RIA Novosti/Kremlin

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In the business world so much energy goes into getting it right at the negotiating table even the savviest business executive can forget how to play it smart at another equally important table: The dining table. And I'm not talking about silencing your phone during a meal and knowing which fork to use.

One of the most important aspects of any form of business entertainment is the seating chart.

Where you place your guests, especially international guests, conveys volumes about the level of esteem you hold them in as well as your own understanding about of protocol. If you get it right, everyone feels respected and you look like a pro. A clear win-win.

Here are the finer points of Business Seating Strategies:

* Always choose a restaurant or venue that you are familiar with. Book well in advance to secure the best table, avoiding tables that face a mirror or are near the kitchen or restrooms. If you have an odd number of guests, request a round table so that no one sits next to an empty seat.

* When creating a seating chart, the position of honour is always to the right of the host. If you have more than one honoured guest then the second highest-ranking guest sits to your left. When there is a third honoured guest they sit to the right of your first honoured guest. You'll notice that gender does not play a role in determining a seat of honour while rank does.

* If multiple languages are to be spoken, include appropriately placed interpreters at the table.

* Share your seating plan with the maitre'd or let them know that you will be directing seating when you arrive. For large groups you may wish to use place cards.

* As the host you should arrive early and greet your guests at the entrance. If you and a guest arrive at the same time, walk in together, pause at the captain's station, and allow the captain to lead you to your table. The guest follows the captain while you follow the guest. Once at the table, indicate to your guests where they should sit.

* If you must go to the table to await your guests, don't order a drink or open your napkin. You want to look as if you just arrived.

* When your guests arrive, rise to greet them, and remain standing until they are seated.

* Leave your napkin on the table until all your guests have been seated. If there are business issues you'd like to address before the meal, leave your napkin on the table until those discussions are concluded. Placing your napkin in your lap will signal to the wait staff that you are ready to order.

Of course not every point will apply to every entertaining setting or event. However, adhering to these basic guidelines as much as the situation allows will demonstrate respect and an understanding of Business Seating Strategies.

(Pamela Eyring is the president and director of The Protocol School of Washington PSOW.L, which provides professional business etiquette and international protocol training. Founded in 1988, PSOW is the only school of its kind in the U.S. to become accredited. Any opinions expressed are her own. PSOW's website is: www.psow.edu.)

(Editing by Paul Casciato)