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Seating arrangements are common practices at official ceremonies but also at fashion shows or business dinners. There are always a lot of sensitivities, especially when a better seat was expected. That happens regularly for there is only one main table and only one first row. Every organizer wishes to avoid disappointing guests and therefore a lot of effort is put in the preparations.
A seating arrangement determines who sits where at the table or who is seated on which row, but also who are the most important attendees and what is the best chair. The seating plan should be made objectively so it is clear why certain choices were made. In the public sector the dignitaries are seated on the front rows, companies give the best available seats to important clients. Those with equal functions are seated equally. Speakers, sponsors and family members often get a first row seat, which everyone will understand.
|Photo: an usher of the Protocolbureau is preparing the seating arrangement|
However, seating guests is also about managing expectations. For that reason it is often difficult to please everyone. Each protocol officer has experience with complaining guests or guests who refuse to sit down. It also happens that people unsolicited, take a seat on the first row. Others swap their own place cards and exchange it for a better one.
Seating guests is also about managing expectations
Complaining guests are almost never to be found on the front row and rarely at the very rear, but mostly in the middle. The seating of this group of invitees, in protocol also called the second echelon, listens very closely. The second echelon often requires attention, but the host does not have the time to give this attention. For this reason, the Protocolbureau is often asked to assist.
Centuries ago, the European monarchies have developed a methodology, which allows for an objective seating arrangement. Each country has a so-called protocol list with a logical hierarchy of the most important officials. The more people a functionary represents, the more important he or she is considered and so the higher he or she is seated. A Head of State is seated better than a Minister and a Chairman of a Parliament higher than a Mayor. Protocol also provides guidelines about the ranking of the chairs. The main seat is usually in the middle and the second seat is on the right, the third seat is on the left, and so on. The first row is more important than the second row.
European monarchies developed a methodology, which allows for an objective seating arrangement
Companies use the same methodology but for economic reasons. A fashion designer seats the customers or potential customers on the first row. Seating arrangements are also a means of bringing people together. For lunches or dinners people are placed next to each other on the basis of mutual interest. Companies seat account managers next to the customers.
The Protocolbureau is an expert in making seating arrangements. We even developed our own computer programme for this purpose. This programme was first used at the occasion of the Royal Wedding of (then) Prince Willem-Alexander with Princess Máxima. The programme makes it easier and faster to seat guests. However, a good seating arrangement will never be effortless. It always requires preparation and coordination.
By Jean Paul Wijers, founder and director of the Protocolbureau in The Hague
Want to know more? Go to the website of the Protocolbureau for more information about seating arrangements: protocolbureau.comChoose another article of your interest in the blog archive in the right column. Or scroll further down for books about protocol, interesting links, articles about protocol and protocol related tweets.