WILMINGTON — Wilmington College students learned that, in spite of living in an increasingly casual and often coarse society, there is still a place for good manners and traditionally accepted protocol when interacting in a business or formal setting.
Three dozen students and staff participated in the annual Etiquette Dinner April 3 sponsored by the Student Alumni Association, Student Government Association and Sodexo, the College’s dining services provider.
Nina Talley, director of career resources, spoke briefly about appropriate conversation topics at a formal or business dinner — it’s best to avoid such hot-button topics as religion, sex and politics.
Katie Dittman, Sodexo’s senior marketing manager, presented a program that included table manners and step-by-step instruction in formal dining, which can be a bit intimidating when just viewing an array of forks in a formal place setting.
Consider the three-tine salad fork, which is located to the left of the four-tine dinner fork (maybe there is a fish fork on the far left) in a formal place setting, while the dessert fork is positioned with the dessertspoon above the serving plate.
Indeed, if one finds a fork on the right side of the place setting, that could only be a seafood or oyster fork.
Complicated? Maybe somewhat, however, Dittman explained everything — from the silverware, plates and glasses in the place setting to RSVPs, proper introductions and thank you notes — so it all made sense.
She said possession and display of that knowledge could impress a potential employer, client, dignitary or future in-law.
“It is all about projecting a professional image,” Dittman said, “but it’s important to know the first rule of etiquette is to never use your knowledge of good manners to put someone else down.”
Some of the tips she shared were: never ignore an RSVP request when invited to an event, give a firm — but not crushing — handshake, always start a meal using utensils placed from the outside in, place your napkin on your lap and leave it on the back of your chair if you need to leave the table during the meal.
When the meal has concluded, your folded napkin should be placed to the left of your plate.
Also, break off and butter individual, bite-size pieces of your dinner roll rather than taking bites from the roll, and always pass items from left to right. And remember, salt and pepper always travel as a team.
A modern adaptation of etiquette must address the presence — or omnipresence — of cell phones, which, Dittman said, unless one is an on-call physician or an expectant father, they should be silenced and stowed in a pocket or purse — or better yet, left in the car.
“Your cell phone should never be your number one priority,” Dittman said. “The ringer should be off and the phone should be out of sight.”
“Knowing good etiquette is a ticket to acceptance and respect in the social world,” she added. “It’s about how you’re going to carry yourself in your adult life.”