Etiquette, Protocol, and Customer Service

As event planners, we have the opportunity each day to provide unparalleled customer service and an unforgettable experience for every guest. But planning events in the world requires a balance of protocol, tradition, and the occasional costume.

General Etiquette and Protocol

Arrival Protocol

Some details to consider:

  • Are your principals or guests arriving from out of town?
  • Are they high level enough to be greeted at the airport and at the hotel before the event? Or should they just find their way to the venue?
  • Will you have a snack or a bottle of wine delivered to their room?
  • Will you or someone from your organization host them at dinner the night before the event?

Flag Protocol

  • The place of honor is to the audience’s left (over the speaker’s right shoulder).
  • The U.S. flag, as the home country, holds the place of honor, followed by state, city, university, organization, etc.

Seating Protocol

The most simple approach to follow:

  • Host and co-host – OPPOSITE each other.
  • Guest of honor – to the host’s RIGHT.
  • Second highest-ranking guest – to the co-host’s RIGHT.
  • From there, seat in ranking order, alternating on either side of the host and co-host.
  • Be mindful of balancing men/women, language ability, overlapping interest, or expertise.
  • On occasion, the best seating plan may necessitate breaking protocol. For example: informal events; seating guests based on what they have in common, rather than rank; speakers’ time constraints; principal’s preference.


  • Remember to include tokens for speakers, as well as higher-level gifts for your principals/guests.
  • Think about what fits the theme of the event, the tastes and interests of the principals, and the institution or location; it’s ideal to have a gift reflect the spirit or values of the institution, or a cause that’s important to the host.
  • Local artists and local food products are always appropriate gift items to consider.
  • Don’t forget that presentation is as important as the gift.


  • Brief your principals on cultural norms (e.g. the custom of exchanging business cards in Japan, the appropriate use of jokes, etc.)
  • Use conversations about the venue and food as discussion stimulators.
  • When communicating with guests who may not use English as their primary language, speak clearly and slowly, but do not yell.  
  • Above all else, communication is key to creating a positive experience for your guests, audience, and your volunteers.