I over-think everything. It’s part of my personality. Sometimes this works out for the better because you don’t miss the little details on things. Sometimes it’s for the worse because I waste a lot of time thinking about things that don’t really matter in life. I’ve been in the process of trying to find a balance between over-thinking and under-thinking table settings for quite some time now. I have no definitive answers for you yet unfortunately, but here are some anecdotes from along the way.
The Beginning: Starting with Family Functions
When my family gets together for any holiday it is always +18 people. My Aunt Lisa is the one who originally started putting name tags at the table. She would buy +18 little trinkets (sometimes an ornament, sometimes a decorative item to place on a shelf) and attach each of our names to one of them and then arrange them around the table. After Aunt Lisa started, everybody started to follow suit. When we got to my mother’s holiday to host, I was put in charge of the seating arrangements for Easter. I sat there thinking about it for a long time – who talks to who the most, who doesn’t get to talk to another person often enough, what arrangement would be the most awkward, who did I really want to sit next to, does Pop REALLY want to be surrounded by all four of his daughters? These questions went on for a long time. There wasn’t really a right or wrong answer to this since we’re family and we spend most of the time eating anyway, but this is where my over-thinking of table arrangements began.
The First Mistake: My 22nd Birthday Party
I’ve always had a lot of different groups of friends. I have my school choir friends, my engineering friends, my high school friends, my church choir friends, my work friends… there’s just so many of them. So what I decided to do for my 22nd birthday was have a get together of the “lucky 13”. The 13 people that I thought had made the biggest impact on my life over the course of the past year. (After a ginormous 21st birthday party, I decided to keep it small.) I spent time making up name cards for everybody and wrapped them around a pack of candy cigarettes (which I found on vacation in Savannah, Georgia). I made a layout in Microsoft Excel (because I use Excel for everything) and knew exactly who I wanted to sit next to who for the evening. I was able to fade different groups into each other so that everybody would be familiar with and feel comfortable around who they were sitting next to. The problem? I arranged the table at a long rectangular table. We were given to round tables. By the time I arrived, there were already people sitting down and it seemed silly to move them, so I didn’t. While it was still a nice evening, I still think it would have been a lot better with different seating arrangements.
My Second and Third Mistakes: My Attempt to Avoid the First Mistake
The next time I attempted to make name tags, I avoided the first mistake all together. It was a large dinner at the Melting Pot. I’ve been there many times before and I knew the hostess very well and I knew EXACTLY what the seating arrangements would look like. The kicker to the melting pot is that you get to choose a cheese, an entree and a chocolate fondue. Well, in my genius I decided that we should have people rotate positions throughout the course of the evening so that #1) they got a chance to see everybody there and #2) so that everybody could eat exactly what they wanted instead of needing to compromise – so I asked everybody what they wanted ahead of time and created a massive Excel spreadsheet seating chart (sense a theme?) that accommodated everybody’s first choice of options. Let me explain – at the Melting Pot there’s one burner for fondue in the center of the table and the four people around it all eat out of that one pot – so if you wanted the same cheese as somebody, but not necessarily the same chocolate, you would be compromising. I thought to myself – I wouldn’t want to compromise what I’m eating, so why would anybody else want to? Well, this was slightly a hot mess (my new favorite phrase) because I forgot that everybody would need to take their drinks and utensils with them – this was the second big mistake. Keep your guests from having to move around a lot. This should have been obvious, but it just made so much sense at the time. Everybody had name tags and their name tags told them exactly which seat to move to for each course. (The graduating seniors all even had blue and gold tassels attached to their name tags!)
This was the second problem of the evening – the third problem over all. One or two people showed up that I wasn’t necessarily expecting – and I didn’t have any extra supplies to make them more name tags. I got some last minute supplies from the Melting Pot, but they probably felt weird that they didn’t move the whole meal. Or, maybe they were happy they didn’t have to move?
Either way, it was a good evening – and I learned a lot. Hopefully I’ll remember it all for next time!