HomeEtiquetteModern MannersFormal EventsSeating plans and precedence

Seating plans and precedence

Seating Plans And Precedence SEATING

Seating is different at official formal events from the conventions at a social or purely private party. The host is seated at the centre of the table and as a general principle, guests radiate out from the centre of the table in order of precedence. (At a private dinner the host would more usually be at the head of the table.)

The principal guest is placed on the host’s right. Traditionally the principal guest’s wife would be placed on the host’s left, the host’s wife being placed on the right of the principal guest. If wives are not present, the second most important guest would be placed on the host’s left. It is now as likely for the host, or the principal guest, to be a woman, in which case the same basic principles may be applied, with any necessary adaptations employed to achieve the desired balance.

Guests’ partners should be placed according to the precedence of the guest invited in their own right. It is up to the host to decide whether husbands and wives are to be seated together or apart. The former is easier to arrange, but the latter (which is always followed at private dinners) gives both husband and wife a chance to meet new people. It is usual to adhere to alternating the sexes. At single-sex dinners the same basic rules apply and seating is arranged in order of precedence.

At an official event when there is a governing body or organising committee, important members or other subordinate hosts – the ‘home team’ – should be interspersed among the principal guests. For instance, at Buckingham Palace banquets, members of the extended Royal Family would qualify under this heading.

Guests of Honour
Whereas in some situations social rank may still be deemed to be of utmost importance, at the majority of events considerations such as professional status and age are now treated as equally determining factors. In other words a hereditary peer or their spouse should not be seated in a place of honour above, say, the main supporter of a charity.

The nature of the occasion should offer indications as to the relative significance of guests. A guest of honour must be seated to reflect his or her status, and, by way of example, the chairman of a host company, the MP of the constituency in which an event is held, a foreign dignitary whose country is being honoured or a benefactor should all be recognised and seated appropriately.

Guest Lists at Official Events
For a party of not more than 30, a seating plan may be displayed. For a party of up to 100, a numbered drawing of the table may be displayed with a list of guests alongside it in alphabetical order, each with a seat number.

For parties of more than 100, each guest may be provided with a printed table plan, with the names listed in alphabetical order, and a table diagram with their seat marked or a card with their table numbers. Alternatively a number of boards may be on display.

Naming Styles
A guest list at an official event requires names and titles to be listed in full, formal style, as on an envelope, rather than in the more informal social style.

Prefixes such as ‘The Rt Hon’ and suffixes such as ‘OBE’ should be used.

Male guests without a title or rank should be styled ‘Mr’ rather than ‘Esq’. An untitled married couple would be listed separately as ‘Debrett, Mr John’ and ‘Debrett, Mrs John’.

Any guest invited by virtue of office should be so indicated: for example, ‘Hertford, Sir William, KBE, President of the Society of Stationers’.

Peers are shown by their exact rank in the peerage. For example, ‘Aldford, The Earl of, JP’; ‘Aldford, The Countess of’. The definite article is optional for the ranks of viscount and barons and their wives and widows. Consistency in these listings is important.

Peers by courtesy are not prefixed by the definite article (ie simply ‘Audley, Marquess of’, ‘Burlington, Earl of’, etc).

Privy counsellors are accorded the prefix ‘The Rt Hon’.

Baronets are accorded the suffix ‘Bt’.

Crown honours and decorations should be included, and degrees, etc, where appropriate.

SeatingPlansAndPrecedence PRECEDENCE

Lord Mayors and Mayors
The Lord Mayor of London has precedence throughout the City immediately after the Sovereign, and elsewhere immediately after earls. Other lord mayors and mayors (lord provosts and provosts in Scotland), as well as council chairmen, have precedence immediately after the Royal Family on their own civic premises, and after the lord-lieutenant elsewhere in their city or borough.

On occasion these guests may, as a courtesy, yield their precedence to a guest of honour, or, for example, to an archbishop at a church event, to the Speaker of the House of Commons or the Lord Speaker at a parliamentary event, to the Lord Chief Justice or the Master of the Rolls at a legal function, etc.

Outside their areas of jurisdiction all (except the Lord Mayor of London) have no precedence, other than that which courtesy, or the occasion, may demand.

Ambassadors, high commissioners and chargés d’affaires should be placed at the top table, their relative precedence being strictly observed. It is recommended to seek advice from the Marshal of the Diplomatic Corps concerning the order of precedence at the time of an event.

As a general rule, diplomatic representatives from countries that do not enjoy diplomatic relations with each other should not be invited to the same event. When, as sometimes happens, it is necessary to invite them, care should be taken to avoid placing them near each other.

Top Table
Ministers of the Crown and privy counsellors should be placed at the top table.

Important dignitaries of the established Church, that is the Church of England, are placed high among the guests. High dignitaries of other churches and faiths should, as a courtesy, be accorded status immediately after those of the same rank from the established Church.

When an event takes place within premises belonging to an organisation or institution, a senior representative of that organisation should be invited and placed high among the guests.

When the principal guest is the Sovereign or other head of state, a member of the Royal Family, a prime minister, a member of the Cabinet or someone of comparable importance, inviting some or all of the following and their partners should be considered:

– the lord-lieutenant of the county
– the lord mayor, lord provost, mayor or provost of their specific city, borough etc
– the high sheriff of the county
– the chairman of the county council

Those who accept would be placed in this order of precedence after such principal guests.

Official Lists

Lists of Patrons etc

As a general rule, the form used on an official or similar list should be as for addressing an envelope.

Names on programmes, brochures etc are traditionally listed in order of precedence. Alternatively, an acceptable solution is to list names in alphabetical order, the sole exception being that the Sovereign and other members of the Royal Family must always come first. Members of the Royal Family are always shown with the royal style, usually in full: that is, ‘Her Royal Highness ……’.

Others should be treated consistently, either in the formal or social style, whichever is to be adopted.

Formal Style Social Style
His Grace the Duke of Mayfair The Duke of Mayfair
Her Grace the Duchess of Mayfair The Duchess of Mayfair
Her Grace Mary, Duchess of Mayfair Mary, Duchess of Mayfair
The Rt Hon the Earl of Aldford Lord Aldford
The Rt Hon the Baron Hill Lord Hill
His Grace the Archbishop of York Or The Most Reverend the Lord Archbishop of York The Lord Archbishop of York
The Rt Rev the Lord Bishop of Ely The Lord Bishop of Ely
The Very Rev the Dean of Lincoln The Dean of Lincoln
The Rev Mark Brook The Rev Mark Brook
The Rt Hon Neil Green The Rt Hon Neil Green

There is no rule for the position of ‘the’ in lists of peers: for example, ‘Rt Hon the Earl of Aldford’, ‘The Rt Hon Viscount Tilney’ or ‘Rt Hon Lord Hill’ are not incorrect.

Similarly, it is not laid down whether one should use upper or lower case for the first letter of ‘the’ within a sentence, except that the former must always be accorded to The Queen in formal address.

Peers and peeresses are given the territorial designation only if it forms an integral part of the title: for example ‘Earl Alexander of Tunis’ but not ‘Lord Prescott of Kingston upon Hull’.

Peers and peeresses by courtesy and former wives of peers are not accorded ‘the’ or any formal prefix.

Untitled Men
Untitled men are either consistently shown as ‘John Debrett, Esq’ or as ‘Mr John Debrett’ and doctors (holders of academic degrees) as ‘John Debrett, Esq, DSc’ or ‘Dr John Debrett’ (not ‘Dr John Debrett, DSc’).