Students mind their manners at etiquette dinner

Allison Wickler

Students arrived at the McNamara Alumni Center in their best attire Tuesday night and sat up straighter than normal in front of an elegant table setting.

Some of the 400 students in attendance knew the difference between a salad fork and a dinner fork, while others nervously scanned a table-setting diagram.

But if someone dropped a spoon on the floor, or the cherry tomato from their salad squirted out from under their knife, everyone understood.

Students attended the etiquette dinner to learn how to handle professional dining situations. The event was sponsored by the University Alumni Association, along with the Campus Career Offices and the Career Development Network.

Darcy Matz, an etiquette consultant and vice president of Profile Resource Organization, has led the annual dinner since it began in 2000 and discussed dining rules and guidelines during the three-course meal of salad, pan-seared chicken and a chocolate mousse muffin provided by D’Amico and Sons Catering.

The rules include keeping elbows off the table and napkins on the lap; chewing ice is also a faux pas.

She also shared other “fine arts” of etiquette, including handshake techniques, attire and body language.

Accounting first-year Nancy Xiong said she didn’t have a lot of formal etiquette knowledge.

“I never learned how to formally eat,” she said. “My parents just told me, ‘Use your fork and spoon.’ “

Trish Will, career services director for the Alumni Association, said they host the dinner each year because etiquette is important in making students employable.

Available seats for the $14 event sold out days before the dinner, she said. The majority in attendance were either seniors or graduate students.

“This is actually something we lose money on,” Will said. “We charge students less than half of what the meal costs.”

There isn’t a “type” of student that attends the dinner; students come from every college, with varying levels of etiquette skills, she said.

“It’s not that people have really horrible etiquette, it’s just that there are certain situations they don’t know how to react in,” Will said.

Graduate nursing student Meena Padha said she often meets with people who are more advanced in their careers and wants to be prepared in the future.

However, she said there were only a few things in the pamphlet provided at the event that she didn’t know.

“My weakest area is probably my napkin,” she said. “I don’t really think about it.”

Marketing first-year Kelsey Webster said she will be attending a lot of job and internship recruiting events in the future and wants to know what is polite.

Matz said many activities – especially those in the business world – now revolve around eating, so dining etiquette is important for everyone to know.

People have to be comfortable in dining situations and focus on the information they want to convey rather than worrying about their etiquette habits, she said.

Matz said most students know some etiquette rules, but there is always room for improvement.

“There are a lot of people who didn’t know there were

so many rules,” she said. “A

lot of times the people who need it the most think it’s the silliest.”

Architecture sophomore Anthony Patterson, who attended the event, said he considers etiquette important but hasn’t made it a real priority because he doesn’t attend a lot of formal dinners.

“You’re not trying to win jobs with your friends,” he said.

Chemical engineering graduate student David Gasperino said etiquette might be losing its importance among younger generations but the need for it will never completely go away.

“It can only become irrelevant if people have no manners,” he said.

Rules of etiquette have been entrenched in society for so long, Matz said, that she also doesn’t see them becoming irrelevant anytime soon.

“(The rules) either come from tradition or the majority comes from common sense,” she said.

She said that in professional situations, “It’s the small things that really set someone apart.”