April 21, 2011 | Theo Voss

Junior Theo Voss learned about how to eat his roll and how to exit the table at this year's etiquette dinner.

Last week Thursday, April 14, at 4:50 I made my way over to the Prince Conference Center to discover how well my mother’s lessons on table manner had sunk in. I met up with 37 other juniors and seniors to learn from associate director of academic services Dana Hebreard, an expert on manners, about what to do in formal food situations.

“I think that we live in a very fast paced, rushed culture, and eating is a ritual activity,” Hebreard said. “And table manners have always been important, whether you’re eating at the family dining room table or with an employer.”

Learning to behave

The dinner was organized by dean of student development Bob Crow to prepare upperclassmen to comport themselves professionally in the working world. Hebreard geared the evening towards professional situations like a dinner interview with a large company or a dinner meeting with a client or employer—situations where table manners are essential to a good first impression. “You can dazzle a potential employer, and that can often result in a job offer,” she said.

The night started off with a short presentation on etiquette basics while we wondered if it was polite to drink our water before the food came out (it was). Before the meal, even Crow learned something new—it is proper etiquette to stay standing until the host and most of the guests arrive, a rule most of us broke before learning it. We also learned to enter our seats from the left and exit from the right, a rule that has to do with how the wait staff serves each course and clears away empty plates.

The salad and buns started off the meal, the questions and myriad mistakes. One person asked, “Which one is our bread plate?” so we were taught a neat little trick: if you make a circle on each hand using your thumb and pointer fingers and extend the rest of your fingers straight up, your left hand makes a “b” for bread (which will be on your left) and your right hand makes a “d” for drink (which will be on your right). This is best done under the table, so no one sees.

Rules of bread

Another person asked, “When should we eat our bread?” and Hebreard went into a three-minute speech about the rules of bread, including rules about eating it during the salad course and eating it by ripping off small pieces and buttering those, not the full bun. At that point junior Bekah Williamson at my table looked down at her fully buttered roll, while I tried to quickly finish eating the large chunk of bread in my mouth.

Along with learning about bread, we learned the rule of twos: only use two scoops of dressing, two pads of butter or two sugar packets.

Another mistake at my table came with the forks. The number of forks indicates the number of courses, three in our case, and we were supposed to start with the outermost fork and work inward. After we learned this, senior Sanna Gabrielsson, glanced at her two dirty forks: we were still on the salad.

The main course was chicken breast encrusted with savory hazelnuts, topped with rosemary raspberry sauce and served with three-potato hash and asparagus. During the meal we learned that you should always taste before seasoning, something that Henry Ford actually looked for when he interviewed for executives, and a rule I almost broke.

A few slipups

Crow admits to breaking a few rules himself, despite attending this event for the past several years. He didn’t hold the glass by the stem (I didn’t either, it felt awkward), and he caught himself talking with food in his mouth—a huge mistake according to my mother.

By the time the main course was nearing completion, I had to leave, so I followed the manners I was taught. I carefully folded my napkin and placed it to the right of my plate. I apologized to my table for having to leave early (I had a wedding to go to) and exited my chair to the right. As I walked out I heard my tablemates ask another question about sharing. They said, “Theo had to leave, are we allowed to eat the rest of his food?”

Overall, I remembered more of my mother’s table manners than I thought, and they held up quite well, even though she didn’t cover the more obscure and high-class rules. I had the basics down.

A lineup of forks

Detail of the table

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