No Elbows on the Dinner Table, Please

Last fall when Career Center Recruit Coordinator Michelle Foley witnessed a student and potential employee stab a piece of chicken with a fork and proceed to bite a generous portion during a formal luncheon in front of several important employers, she knew that the campus was in dire need of a session on dining etiquette.
‘It was really a collective idea from a lot of people, including the sponsors, that our students needed these lessons which are just as valuable as learning how to do an interview, and anything else,’ Foley said.
Thanks to the efforts of the Career Center and sponsorship from Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Lending Tree, the idea became a reality two quarters later. A two-hour presentation complete with a four-course meal at the reasonable cost of $10 was served for 36 upperclassmen at the University Club last Wednesday, April 12.
A flier for the dinner was sent out through e-mail for students who were interested in learning proper table manners for business interviews, internship events and inevitable future wedding situations.
Kim Martin, a recruiter from Enterprise who has assisted in previous etiquette dinners at Cal State San Marcos, explained the importance of formal eating.
‘It says a lot about you when you’re able to conduct yourself during dinner,’ Martin said. ‘The results of a dinner interview can go either way just from what you order to using the right utensil. Good manners can make the difference a lot of the time.’
According to the Career Center’s Marketing Coordinator, Anthony Trama, the e-mails received an overwhelming response, resulting in a full crowd and a waiting list of 30 additional students. At 5 p.m., the doors of the library room were opened to smartly dressed students who introduced themselves to business recruiters and quickly settled into reserved seats, only to stand again to greet each other properly by shaking hands with neighbors to their left and right with firm grips. Thus, the secrets of fine eating were revealed before any sign of the first course.
Students were informed that eating lunch properly meant folding the napkin diagonally with the point facing away from the body, while dinner required an unfolded napkin on the lap. Tucking in was to be avoided at all costs, for mysterious reasons none other than looking proper, and under no circumstances were ties to be thrown over the shoulders.
Tables were covered with plates and numerous utensils, which required navigating; a PowerPoint slide was shown with three forks, two plates, knives, a spoon and separate glasses for water and wine.
The Career Center’s Assistant Director of Employer Relations, Mary Ann Profeta, guided students through the use of each utensil, starting with the soup spoon at the far right. Eating soup was an accomplishment in itself, requiring the student to scoop away from his or her face and quietly eating from the side of the spoon, taking care not to slurp.
Dining etiquette is probably done better justice in a book rather than an article, but the highlights of the night will be mentioned here. A number of students were surprised to be served (always from the right, and cleared from the left) sorbet with mint after finishing their salad (with the salad fork, which should not be used to stab cherry tomatoes, croutons, et cetera). This was to ‘cleanse the palate,’ or prepare the diner for the next course, leaving the mouth with a pleasant taste. Many were encouraged to put aside the ‘hungry college student’ mentality and not to consume the sorbet completely, but to lightly eat away at it.
As the students continued with varied luck through the main course of mashed potatoes, vegetables and chicken with the instructions of paced eating and cutting small portions, the recruiters at each table advised on topics such as proper dinner conversation (no crude humor, politics and religion), what to order (stay at a reasonable price range, avoid messy meals such as spaghetti and no alcohol is highly advised) and what to do in the event of an accident (leave dropped food or utensils on the floor and ask for help). Cell phones should be turned off for courtesy and come prepared. Students should bring with them a resume and know what to say at the moment of truth, when the manners have been put to good use for the ultimate goal of landing the job.
Though the dinner ran over the allotted time due to several students who perhaps were fashionably late, no one left without dessert (the best chocolate cake this college student has seen in a long time) and every guest, including the recruits, learned something new.
‘This was really informative. I learned a lot, just by folding my napkin, cutting food and serving others,’ said fourth-year electrical engineering major, Ryan Cheng.
To the relief of Foley, and many others, at least one student will have walked away remembering not to stab large pieces of poultry at the next formal luncheon.