News for the Hospitality Executive
|By Kimball Payne, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 29, 2003 - Don't reach for that extra roll, remember to scoop away when eating the baked French onion soup and if some of your food happens to fall on the floor, by all means resist the urge to get on your hands and knees and crawl after it.
While these skills may not go on a resume, the waning economy and competitive job market is putting a higher premium than ever on first impressions that has made etiquette an increasingly important part of getting hired or going home empty handed.
So last week, more than 100 sharply dressed Christopher Newport University business students received a two-hour crash course in decorum in the elegantly decorated ballroom of the Omni Hotel from Lynne Tully, president of The Professional Edge, Inc.
During the second annual Etiquette Dinner, students, assorted university professors and other professionals dined on hard-to-eat dishes, such as baked French onion soup and pasta with a cream sauce that were deliberately served to test even the most gracious of eaters. Many groups of students chortled when they were required to choose wisely among three spoons, two forks and two knives.
"The purpose of a business dinner is business," Tully said as she roamed the room fielding questions and giving advice. " Even if you're starving, the food is secondary."
Some of the rules presented during the evening echoed admonitions many of the students probably heard at their family dinner tables, such as "never chew with your mouth open" or "don't talk with food in your mouth." Other lessons were less obvious, such as the proper way to place utensils on the plate to indicate the difference between a pause in eating and a finished meal or how to appropriately pass salt and pepper shakers.
Though not part of the standard business curriculum, the information provided at the dinner is aimed at helping polish students' social skills before they hit the job market and have to attend business events.
"We're ostensibly educating students to go out into the business arena," said Donna Mottilla, dean of CNU's school of business. "These events are often important in the business world."
Even successful businesspeople use tricks to navigate the elaborate settings often found at business meals. Jeffery Martinovich, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of MICG Investment Management, still uses a technique he picked up during last year's dinner that helps remind him which pieces of a pre-set table are his.
"Drink has five letters and so does right. So your beverages are on your right-hand side," he explained. "Food has four letters and so does left. So your bread plate is on your left."
At the end of the evening students received a cheat sheet of quick tips to help them remember the information that will hopefully put them at ease with the idea of a business dinner.
"Anyone who goes to one of these events will definitely learn a lot," said Camille Narain, a senior business student from Yorktown.
"I thought it was great," said Brian Cotter. "For $10, you can't beat it. It was a nice break from the cafeteria and also really informative." The sophomore business student said he would be much more confident now walking into a business meal.
The dinner looked most of all to develop self-assurance in the future entrepreneurs.
"It's knowing the basics so you feel comfortable in the environment," Martinovich said, "so you can enjoy the evening more and not worry so much about making a mistake."
With a bit of luck the etiquette dinner will keep CNU's business students from making the same blunder Oscar Wilde did. "The world was my oyster," the 19th-century author wrote, "but I used the wrong fork."
Quick tips on business meal etiquette:
-- Once you have picked up a utensil it should never touch the table again.
-- Order something easy to eat; try to avoid soups or messy meals.
-- Scoop soup away from yourself to avoid spilling.
-- Always pass the salt and pepper together.
-- Keep the same pace as the person you are dining with.
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(c) 2003, Daily Press, Newport News, Va. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.