You are attending a conference or other event which brings together a large group of people vaguely acquainted but not tightly connected.  There is a dinner where there are many tables seating 6-8 people each.  There is no assigned seating.  Assuming you care about whom you will sit with, what is your strategy for finding a place to sit?

  • To the extent possible, the high-status people will contract early and grab a table to themselves.  This is usually possible because in groups like this it is the high-status people who are most likely to know each other well.
  • Low-status people often prefer to sit with higher-status people, so they tend to play the waiting game and hop in on a table with some open seats.  This usually turns out to be a bad idea (dull and awkward conversation) but it takes a few bad experiences to figure this out.  By that time the lesson is irrelevant because your status has improved.
  • Middle-status people have learned to care less about the status of those they dine with.  And they are not yet so visible that everyone wants to sit with them just out of status-mongering.  So their optimal strategy is to move early and find an empty table and sit there.  They will be joined by people who are really interested in them and those are the people you want to sit with.
  • The latter is generally my strategy.  However, usually people don’t want to sit with me.  Consistent with the logic of the strategy, this is optimal when it happens.
  • There is must be something unique about weddings because there is almost always assigned seating.
  • The closer people are to being total strangers the stricter the status ranking becomes, in my experience.  Without anything to go on, it boils down to attractiveness.  A strict, linear status ranking leads to unraveling as everyone waits to join the best table.  This is when assigned seating is necessary.  But I don’t think this explains weddings.

The question is ripe for experimental research.