Local Etiquette Expert Shares Dinner Party Tips

Adam Mahr of A Mano luxury boutique talks tablescape and seating charts.

The expert: Adam Mahr of A Mano luxury boutique, Naples

NI: What was your motivation for this display (pictured above)?
Mahr: A long-time client of mine in Port Royal told me she was tired of her tableware and wanted to buy all new plates, glasses, tablecloths, etc. for Thanksgiving last year. I said, “Not so fast,” which was heaven to her husband’s ears. “Let’s coordinate some of what you have and freshen it up with new porcelain by Marie Daage.” The client selected a few of her favorite pieces that she doesn’t often use, and then we coordinated the colors and patterns with her dining room. She wanted to use her William Yeoward glassware and raspberry chargers that she brought from up North, so we selected two patterns in four color combinations for a total of 16 pieces each for Marie to produce. The advantage of this assortment is never having to set the table the same way [because] all of the items coordinate with each other.

How would you describe the vibe of this table?
Eclectic! The client trusted me to pull together much of what she already had, using a $1,500 Astier de Villatte tureen as the centerpiece vase for flowers [paired] with Crate and Barrel $8 violet napkins, [as well as] her grandmother’s sterling silver candelabras with $2 votives from Home Goods.

How do you help clients create unique tablescapes for entertaining?
People accumulate so much tableware that they love but often never use because they don’t have enough pieces or they’re just bored with it after so many years. Either they ring it in or send us pictures, so that we can combine it with what we sell to bring excitement to the table again. We can even Photoshop different selections so they have an idea of what the new pieces will look like. In some cases, I work with their designers or even come to their houses in order develop a plan.

What are the keys to creating a memorable tablescape?
I think the best tablescapes should forget most of the rules and just be fun. Decide on your theme and try mixing different pieces to send a message. Every spring I sponsor an online tablescape contest on Instagram (@amanostyle), and I always find that the most interesting tables blend all kinds of things. For example, I encourage people to use their grandmother’s china and liven it up with newer pieces, make napkin rings by twirling real ivy, mix different stemware patterns, make place card holders out of shells, or hang tags off little favors. And don’t forget that dinner parties should have low lights and lots of votives. Once you’ve tried different assortments, take a picture with your phone and see how it looks. Sometimes that will pick up things that the naked eye misses.

The Seating Chart

The expert: Diane Carr of Southern School of Etiquette, Naples
NI: What does using a seating chart accomplish?
Carr: You want the conversation to flow easily among your guests. With a seating plan in place, your guests do not feel awkward in deciding where they should sit. No one will have their feelings hurt if someone in particular does not choose to sit next to them. Also, you do not want the energy and conversation to dwindle, so it is important to [pair] diverse personalities.

Are there any hard and fast rules about seating?
Alternating men and women seems like a dated concept, but I like the idea and so does Emily Post. The overall guideline for couples is to separate them. If you have a couple that is new to the group, you might split them up but make a conscious effort to have the matching spouse close by. Also, close friends do not need to sit next to one another. Instead put people together with similar interests or backgrounds.
Who should sit directly beside the host?
If there is a female guest of honor, this guest should sit to the right of the host. If there is a male guest of honor, he will sit to the left of the hostess. If there is one long table, it is customary to sit the host in the middle of a side and the hostess in the middle of the opposite side.

How do you handle seating for a bigger dinner party that will have multiple tables?
At a large dinner party, have a seating list at the entrance to the room. Each table should be named or numbered, and then the guest will be assigned to a particular table. At a theme party, it is fun to name the tables as part of the theme. Also, place cards should have the name on the front and the back of the card. The host and hostess should sit at different tables to assure guests are taken care of.

What is a never-fail strategy you use when formulating a seating chart?
Attempt to determine the personality types that will be seated at the dining table. You will discover that most of your guests do have a specific trait: introvert, extrovert, gossip fodder, charmer, politico, entertainer, outsider, or diva, just to mention a few. Mix these personalities up if possible.

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