Princess Mia Thermopolis once sat at a dinner with Genovian politicians and caught her name card on fire. She then ate the palette cleanser between courses as if it were ice cream and ended the dinner by tripping a waiter carrying a tray of desserts. Annual etiquette dinners hosted by the Sherman and Gloria H. Cohen Career Center attempt to ensure that College of William and Mary students do not make these same tragic mistakes.
Students from the College gathered Thursday evening in Tidewater A on the second floor of Sadler Center for an etiquette dinner co-sponsored by the Cohen Career Center and the William and Mary Parents Fund. Typically held once a semester, etiquette dinners offer the opportunity to practice dining in a more formal setting than one of the College’s dining halls.
“Make your mistakes tonight,” Associate Vice President for Career Development Kathleen Powell said. “So when you have that interview, you won’t make them again.”
Before even placing their napkins on their laps, attendees began to learn how to use proper etiquette. Attendees placed their bags and backpacks beneath their various tables, took a seat and were instructed in how to unfold the ornately displayed cloth napkin in the center of their place setting.
Powell then instructed each table to choose a host to lead them in passing the bread bowl, which always goes counterclockwise around the table. This same counterclockwise passing technique was used for several other dishes throughout the meal, such as the butter plate, salad dressings and gravy boat.
Areas of focus included familiarization with a formal place settings, how to properly pass dishes and which utensils to use and how to use them for each course. Dishes served at the dinner included soup, salad, lasagna and chocolate cake.
In addition to dining etiquette, attendees were coached on how to interact with potential employers in a variety of different interview dining scenarios, such as ordering off a menu with varied costs.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t expect, actually,” Baylee Easterday ’22 said. “Like the whole price point thing, where you would order or ask for a recommendation based on what the other person would like, and you use that as a price point for ordering off the menu.”
Tips and tricks presented were to ask the host for a recommendation if there
are no prices listed on the menu and to be careful not to select a dish that is complicated to eat, like barbecue ribs covered in sauce.
Attendees learned about other tricky situations, including how to approach a serving dish that is out of reach on the table, what to do if you drop a utensil, what to do if something gets stuck in your teeth and how to politely excuse yourself from a table.
Not only does an etiquette dinner teach attendees how to dine professionally, but it also offers advice on interviewing and professionalism.
“I wanted to learn more about dining etiquette, and this was an interesting and straightforward way to learn about it,” Cohen Career Center Program Assistant Julia Brown said. “The speaker was knowledgeable and relatable. I thought that the most helpful part of the dinner was when the speaker discussed what one should actually do during an interview; these were things that I didn’t know and that are very useful in general.”
Correction: This article originally stated that the Parent & Family Council co-sponsored the Etiquette Luncheon. The William and Mary Parent’s Fund actually co-sponsored the luncheon and this has been corrected in the article.