Students earn their seat at the table 

By Barbara Black

The students approached the dining room at the Montefiore Club on Guy St. cautiously, as though it was a minefield. Employers are increasingly using the dining room as a hiring venue, and these students were about to learn how to wield their knife, fork and wine glass with aplomb. They were attending a session on business dining etiquette.

Yitian Su, an urban studies student, exercises her napkin at a workshop held by Alumni Relations on the finer points of business dining etiquette. Magnifying glass

Yitian Su, an urban studies student, exercises her napkin at a workshop held by Alumni Relations on the finer points of business dining etiquette.

Turn your cell phone off for a business cocktail or meal, etiquette expert Monique Lallier told them. Donít offer your business card unless youíre asked for it. When you receive a card, look at it before putting it away. Itís better not to greet an old client with a two-cheeked Quebec kiss, especially in front of the boss.

Arrive on time if the meal is in a restaurant, but if itís at a private home, delay your arrival between 10 and 20 minutes. Serve the ladies first. Donít start eating until everyone else is served and your host starts ó unless youíre at a big dinner where waiters are rushing about with plates. In that case, you can start after at least four or five people at your table have been served; otherwise, the food will get cold. Hold your wine glass by the stem so as not to overheat it ó unless itís cognac, in which case you want to cradle it to warm it.

This was complicated stuff, and the students had many questions. When can we start talking business, a student wanted to know. It depends on the length of the meal, Lallier answered. Right away at breakfast, just after the order is placed at lunch, but take your time at dinner.

Some students balked at the instructorís strong preference for the Continental way of holding the cutlery: fork in the left hand, with the tines curving down, and knife in the right. ďCut a piece of meat, push a bit of potato onto it, push it around to get some sauce, and put it in your mouth.Ē

The students complied, some of them awkwardly. They were used to the American style: cutting the meat, then transferring the fork to the right hand and using it like a shovel. What do I do if my boss eats that way? one student wondered. Just donít stare at him, Lallier said.

While table manners are culturally based, she told the students that they are based on simplicity, sanitation, security and social ease. Donít put your purse or eyeglasses on the table, because they might be unclean. When you get up to go to a buffet table, put your napkin on your chair, for the same reason. Wipe your mouth after taking a sip of wine. Women should put their purses under their chair so the waiter doesnít trip on them.

This was the last of five related workshops for students given by the universityís Alumni Relations office. Many of the students were recent arrivals in Canada.

Oatlhotse Gaborone, an engineering student from Botswana, said he was intrigued to learn in the session on personal finance that if he starts saving now, he could be rather well off by the time he retires. Ziyan Lu, an accountancy student, enjoyed the session on dressing for success.

Annique Jones-Doyle liked the expert on presentation skills, who taught by example. She made eye contact with members of the audience, used gestures that enhanced the points she was making, and slowed down her speech so that it could be well understood. As a result, Jones-Doyle recalled, ďWe hung on every word.Ē


Concordia University