The seating arrangement is probably the most important part of Chinese dining etiquette. Your Chinese friends will not expect you to know everything about proper banquet culture, but they will greatly appreciate it when you are displaying some knowledge of the subject since it shows your respect for Chinese culture, etiquette and traditions.
Chinese banquet seating arrangement in ancient times was enacted according to four-tier social status: 1. the imperial court, 2. local authorities, 3. trade associations and 4. farmers and workers. In the modern society, the structure simplifies to the host and the importance of the guests.
The main seat, reserved for the host of the banquet or the guest with highest status, is the one in the center and faces to east or faces to the entrance. Those of higher position sit closer to the main guest of the banquet. The seats on the left hand side of the main seat are second, fourth, sixth, etc in importance, while those on the right are third, fifth, seventh and so on in importance. The guests of lowest position sit furthest from the main seat. When a family holds a banquet, the main seat is for the elder.
In ancient times there was a piece of furniture known as an Eight Immortals Table, a big square table with benches for two people on each side. If there was a seat facing to the entrance, then the right hand seat when facing the entrance was for the most important guest. If there was no seat facing the entrance door, then the right hand seat faces to east was the main seat. The seats on the left hand side of the main seat were, in order of importance, second, fourth, sixth and eighth and those on the right were third, fifth and seventh.
In a formal banquet hall of many tables, the main table is the one which situates furthest from the entrance. The tables on the left hand side of the main tables are, in order of importance, second, fourth, sixth and so on, and those on the right are third, fifth and seventh. Guests are seated according to their status and cohesion with the host of the banquet.