Wednesday, July 27, 2011
When it comes to landing the perfect job, dinner table etiquette could count for more than you might think. By Sue Schleifer
When I volunteered to be a table host at a recent etiquette dinner sponsored by the UL Lafayette Career Services and Moody College of Business Administration, I had no idea that I would feel compelled to talk with a student about personal space.
The young man sitting next to me was surprised by the etiquette speaker’s instructions on where to place his napkin. Career Services Director Kimberly Billeaudeau told us to fold the napkin in half, with the folded side toward our lap and place it once everyone is seated. He thought he was supposed to put the napkin on one knee. I understand why he thought that. He didn’t have a lap because he spread his legs out so wide that the napkin would have fallen through to the floor. I know this because he kept bumping my leg. Finally, I felt that for his benefit, in case he goes to an interview dinner in the future, I needed to tell him that if I was interviewing him, I would not appreciate that he kept bumping my knee. He quickly moved his legs closer together.
Dr. Patricia Lanier in the Department of Management at UL, who coordinates the dinners with Billeaudeau, later told me she notices that many students today have a different sense of personal space than do other generations. She and her colleagues often tell students they need to stand back a bit when coming to talk with them.
I must admit that I learned a few pointers at the etiquette dinner myself. I didn’t know if the bread basket is on the table in front of me, I should pick it up and pass it to the right without taking a roll first. One student asked, “What if the basket never makes it back to me?” Some students were also disgruntled to learn that they shouldn’t mop up the last bit of sauce on their plate with their roll.
As Billeaudeau began her presentation, I scanned the first slide and saw that it said name tags should go high up on the right shoulder. I thought I was discreetly moving my name tag to the opposite side. Then I noticed that several students at my table followed my lead and did the same thing. Billeaudeau then told us that when we shake hands, our eyes go to the right side so that placing the name tag there makes it easier to read.
Some table habits are harder to change. “Once you have used a piece of silverware, never place it back on the table,” Billeaudeau instructed. “They are to be placed on your plate.” I noticed the woman sitting next to me had not followed this instruction. Then I had to decide whether to say something to her or not. After I saw her do this incorrectly a few times, I decided that my role at the dinner as a representative of the Acadiana Society for Human Resource Management was to be helpful. So, I smiled and suggested that she place her knife on her plate, which she did.
The students at my table were also surprised by the etiquette lesson to not put salt and pepper on their food until after they had tasted it. They joked about the fact that there was no Tony’s on the table.
“With the competitive job market, having this type of training can enhance a student’s marketability,” Billeaudeau says. “The students are given the opportunity to practice the etiquette lessons as they are taught.” Billeaudeau tried to take the mystique out of the long list of etiquette lessons. “Etiquette simply means consideration of others.”