By Marsha Fottler.
Whenever I invite more than six people to sit at my table I use place cards.
Some people consider place cards a foolish affectation on the part of an overly controlling hostess. But positioning people at table is an old and respected custom. In ancient China the guest of honor at a banquette was always seated so he faced east. In medieval times if a guest was seated “below the salt,” i.e. on the wrong side of a big salt cellar in the center of the table, it was a telling indictment of that person’s low social status.
When I use place cards, I’m confident it’s a courtesy to my guests. No need to awkwardly hover over the table wondering where and with whom to sit. Place cards put people at ease. Letting my guests know that I’ve considered their comfort is, well, comforting to them. They find their name on their personalized card and they nestle in knowing that particular spot is special, theirs alone.
Place cards allow the host or hostess to seat left-handed guests in a place where they don’t bump arms with the right-handed person next to them. If I know that someone has a “good” ear I might put that person at an end seat with the better-hearing ear toward the rest of the guests and no one seated at that person’s bad ear.
Generally, I do not seat spouses together. Frankly, I’ve heard all my husband’s stories. But, they’re delightful stories and one of my guests might just be entranced. I’ll give her that opportunity.
Where you position your guests is often the difference between lively, animated conversation and a dull evening. Think about people who have traveled recently, those who are passionate and peripatetic readers, others who know all the best social gossip. Sprinkle those folks around and they’ll keep the table chatter going from soup to dessert.
Place cards should match the décor and degree of formality of your table setting.
There are diverse place card designs and holders for place cards are widely available for just pennies. Sometimes it’s fun to make your own with stiff paper that you can fold like a little tent. Place cards should rest above the dinner plate in the center of the service. But, I’ve also seen cards located on a napkin that has been casually folded and laid across the dinner plate.
Recently I attended a dinner party where the hostess had the most imaginative place cards ever. She managed to acquire snapshots of each of her guests on their vacations. No names, just the photos. When suppertime arrived, each guest recognized the photo and took a seat.
During dinner the photos were passed around and everyone talked a little about that particular vacation. It was a great conversation starter. We all learned something new about a place we perhaps never visited. That evening validated my conviction that place cards are a small gesture that can contribute significantly to a successful evening.
-Flavors And More Magazine: July 2009