I’ll be honest here: The holiday season is not my favorite time of year. It can be high stress, exhausting, and overwhelming. Quiet dinner parties and evenings catching up with family can deteriorate into fights and tears. It happens.
However, I found one clear-headed solution to one perplexing problem: the dinner party. I have posted links to Wired’s How-to pages before, and they’ve come through again with an article on how to choreograph lively dinner conversation. (They also have a whole range of ways to survive the holidays).
They assert that 8 to 12 people per table works best. If your family and friends total more than that–and I empathize with you, if this is the case–try to break the tables up. There aren’t many tables that seat more than twelve, in any case.
Wired wants you to “never seat friends next to one another,” and while I see where they are going with this–you don’t want any persons at the table so involved with each other that they alienate the others–this same tenet goes against the rest of the suggestions, which are all focused on balance and congeniality. If you know that Aunt Harriet adores your wife, I say why not sit them together? I would say that this is a better tip for those gatherings where there may be guests who are strangers to one another, when you want to encourage mingling. This most likely does not apply to holiday dinners; however, this may be a good tip regarding couples.
The third tip reads, “Ignore the old etiquette of alternating males and females.” I second this. Like white after labor day, this is a bit archaic and, while it probably began as a way to keep things interesting, may now stagnate interest if enforced against other more pressing concerns than gender: personality, gregariousness, politics, etc.
Wired also endorses what they call “The Stone Strategy,” and I have to say, as far as seating strategies go, this is pretty clear, reliable, and even clever in its “why didn’t I think of that” rationality. The theory of this system is to spread out “energy” around the table in order to keep the conversation, with minimal discomfort and disagreements. The goal is to keep anyone from being left out nor anyone from dominating (too much).
- Write the name of each person who will be at the table onto individual place cards, and sort these cards into four piles: H (high), M (medium), L (low), and ? (wild card).
- Assign the H guests first. Seat them diagonally from one another. Do not seat H people directly across from each other.
- Similarly, if you have guests with strong opposing views, seat them diagonally from each other.
- Seat the L guests next to the H people. As conversation crisscrosses the table, the Ls will be more inclined to participate because of their proximity to an H.
- Finally, scatter M and ? guests among the remaining open seats. Use your best judgment in these remaining places. Where will you be happiest?