Manners still matter
Recently I had the privilege of attending a program at Buffalo State College entitled “Manners Matter”. This program, now in its ninth year, is a formal “mocktail” hour and six-course dinner offered to the student body at a very fair price. Throughout the evening, students enjoy a lovely meal while hearing from speakers regarding various aspects of etiquette and table manners. They are also presented with challenges that test their social skills.
The event was sponsored by Travelers Insurance and developed by the campus’ Hospitality Department, who worked in conjunction with Sodexo and Buffalo State’s faculty to ensure the evening went off without a hitch. Hosts Lisa August and Josh Blumberg were superb.
I, along with twenty or more professionals, was invited for the purpose of acting as a community host and mentor to a table of eight students. Our table was also host to Sodexo’s own Paul Kerns. Together, our group had a rather fabulous time.
Students were first taught the importance of dress, posture, proper greetings and introductions. They were shown how to hold a wine glass and plate while still having a free hand with which to greet others. The “mocktail” party was a challenge for many of the students I came in contact with. It seems a shame that so many employed, studious twenty-somethings would have no idea how to handle the basics of meeting and greeting new people with an air of both friendliness and confidence. It really says a lot about how much our society has changed regarding manners. These skills were expected and exhibited by most young people until the social revolution of the 60s—especially young people looking for employment. But there were a few shining stars, and as a community guest I enjoyed having the opportunity to meet students and hear about their individual interests and goals.
The dinner was a pleasant surprise. Despite the sizable room, the Sodexo staff and student volunteers worked hard to provide excellent service to their guests throughout the lengthy meal. My table was made up of eight seniors, and while sitting with complete strangers is always somewhat uncomfortable at first, it took very little time for us to begin truly enjoying ourselves. Most of the students were eager, talkative and had a good sense of humor about the somewhat awkward circumstances.
Together we enjoyed the meal, which was designed by the chef to be a challenge. A small cup of tasty squash soup was served with an extraordinarily large piece of puff pastry emerging from it, taking up most of the surface area of the soup itself. Salad was served in an unwieldy—yet edible—Parmesan crisp, and dinner included skewered shrimp. Each course provided an ample level of difficulty, but with assistance from the community guest and notes provided throughout the meal, each table managed to navigate each of the social and edible roadblocks that were presented.
Etiquette may seem like something that belongs to a lost generation, but manners will never go out of style. Understanding the importance of social interaction and conducting yourself properly is especially useful in uncomfortable situations. Other colleges and universities should work to provide similar programs to their student body, as it was obviously a struggle for many of the students to properly introduce themselves and network.
If you’re looking to brush up on your table manners, here are some basics from About.com:
*Your water glass is the one on your right.
*The bread dish to the left is yours.
*Put butter on your bread dish. Break off bite-size pieces of bread to butter and eat one at a time.
*When you finish eating, your knife and fork should be placed across your plate pointing to 11:00.
*Be on time.
*Turn off your cell phone. Your full attention should be on your dining companion or you will give the dangerous impression that you think there is someone more important than him or her.
More information can be found on About.com, and also elsewhere on the web: