Students learn how to be charming, memorable at Etiquette Dinner

Students take part in the Alumni Association's annual Etiquette Dinner where students learn how to network with class.(Jenna Beaver)

More than 50 students sat around dinner tables, carefully eating their soups, salads, entrees and desserts while taking special care to mind their manners.
George Mason University Alumni Association hosted their annual Etiquette Dinner program on Wednesday, Oct. 27 at George’s Restaurant in the Johnson Center. Tickets were $10 each and seating was limited.
Eight volunteers served as table hosts, simulating employers or interviewers in a business formal setting. John Doyle, catering manager for Special Occasions Catering, and William Fry, Director of Retail Operations for Mason Dining, coached the diners from a podium.
“With the economy the way it is, a lot of people are networking,” Doyle told Connect2Mason.
“You're always going to be in different situations and social settings and going on lunch interviews. People are going to judge you based on the way you present yourself.”
Doyle and Fry served as the main speakers and etiquette experts, while seven alumni and Anna Goltz, assistant director of Alumni Affairs and organizer of the event, served as the evening’s table hosts. Doyle, Fry and the alumni volunteered their time.
The students, meanwhile, had to follow several rules during dinner in both eating and conversation.
“Wait for your host to start eating, then you join in,” Doyle said from the podium. “Have your three-minute elevator speech prepared in advance. Give the others a sense of who you are and what you do.”
Throughout the evening, Doyle rattled off a list of both polite and poor behaviors for formal meal settings. Many were straightforward and major, such as thanking the host for the meal or interview. Other tactics were more miniscule, such as arranging a fork and knife diagonally across the dinner plate (with the heads of both utensils facing the upper-left corner) to signal the waiter to come pick up the dishes.
The list of behaviors was long, but senior Muneeb Akhter said the knowledge was beneficial.
“In a corporate environment, you need to be able to make connections,” said Akhter, an electrical engineering major. “I learned how to deal professionally with other people around a dinner table. Next time around, I’m not going to make a big fool out of myself.”
Tevah “V” El Emmet, a sophomore marketing and management double major (also known by his hip hop performance handle), said he learned a lot of rules he normally wouldn’t pay much attention to.
“I think a lot of people know not to cause a scene, but they don’t know a lot of the small things about where to put napkins, where the plate starts and also how to conduct themselves,” he said. “You can use this [information] everyday, if not while eating, then in other settings, like interviews.”
Alumna table host Kate McSweeny, who obtained her juris doctorate from the School of Law in 2004, said she could have used an event like this during her undergraduate collegiate career. She is an associate at the Chadbourne & Park law firm in Washington, D.C., a member of three bar associations and an adjunct professor in the School of Law.
First impressions, she said, are all-important in today’s economy.
“When you sit down and have a meal with somebody, when you meet somebody and have to carry on a conversation, the more experience you have the more confident you can be,” she said.
“Being able to walk into a room, meet the people you want to meet, put your hand out, introduce yourself and work your way into a conversation is very important.”
The attending students probably felt the same way. Goltz began advertising for the event three weeks before the event, with tickets selling out about a week before the dinner, she said. Alumni Affairs has hosted at least one annual etiquette dinner since 2004.
“I think these skills are going to be helpful in helping them land their first job,” Goltz said. “This is an opportunity for students to prepare for professional and networking scenarios where presentation really matters. I don't know if we always do a good job of paying attention to that in college.”
Back at the event, Doyle and Fry outlined specific rules for all the different courses of the meal, while testifying to their importance.
“You may have the greatest background in the world and [aced] the interview, but you've got a soup stain running down your shirt,” Fry said. “[The employer] may have interviewed 20 people, but everyone will remember the person with the soup stain.”


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