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How can I get my guests to get their butts to the dinner table?

The question

Years ago, when I first began attending and holding dinner parties, guests always came to the table when they were asked to. However, something has changed. It often takes 10 minutes to get my guests to sit down once the food is served, and the older they are, the longer it takes them, I find. What should I do?

The answer

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The same thing happens at my house all the time. I've spent years toying with solutions and have so far ruled out begging (too desperate), shouting (too aggro), a dinner bell (too steaming-hot cup of twee), the old get-them-to-the-table-10-minutes-early-trick (it works only once) and threatening to ignite a flaming aquavit-and-Oh Henry!-bar-filled moat around the table the moment the meal is served.

The best thing I've struck on so far is a play on musical chairs. You've got 10 guests? If there's a known and unrepentant laggard among them, put out just nine chairs, and make sure there aren't extras around the house.

People will think you're merely eccentric or forgetful for the first few minutes. But only until you point out the place setting in the corner on the floor.

Follow food writer Chris Nuttall-Smith on Twitter: . Have an entertaining dilemma? E-mail .

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