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Former Member

During the holiday season, many of us go out to eat more often than normal. While it’s gratifying to catch up with friends and colleagues over a meal, choosing where to sit at a table can be complicated and stressful -- especially when there are more than just a few people.

I’ve studied the dynamics of many social situations, but I haven’t read any research on how to choose a seat at a table. Of course, there is the notion the power seat is at the head of the table.  As a society, we unconsciously designate that seat as the one with the most authority. Choosing the power seat makes sense if you’re trying to gain advantage in a negotiation, but it doesn’t provide much help for a social lunch.

There’s also the colloquialism of “never sit with your back to the door.” This is advice I’ve usually seen attributed to maintaining the balanced energy of Feng Shui. However, in the lore of the American West, it’s also used to explain the untimely death of Wild Bill Hickok. Either way, it’s good advice but still not much help.

So which seat should you choose?

Alex Cornell provides an interesting resolution for this quandary. He divides the problem into multiple table configurations and makes suggestions for each one, including the following:

Six-Person Rectangle: How loud the restaurant is determines how important it is that you claim a middle seat. A quiet space allows for cross-table diagonal talking, and generally one conversation. A loud space, however, forces multiple conversations and less diagonal.

Alex’s advice is practical and useful, but he appears a bit stuck for a good resolution when the dining party is spread across two tables. Alex claims, “regardless of how you time your approach, you will inevitably choose too soon.”

My recommendation would be to avoid booking two tables. Instead, split the group over separate days.

What’s your advice for choosing a seat?

Please follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+. This blog was originally posted on Manage By Walking Around on Dec. 22, 2013.

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