Pass the good impression, please!

By Abby Rhodes
November 4, 2010

Seniors Josh Janes and Daniel Gorenz aren’t worried at all about convincing potential employers that Bradley University has prepared them well for the professional world. But if a job interview is conducted over lunch, will these industrial engineering majors be so confident when choosing which fork to use for their Caesar salad, or which direction to pass the breadbasket?

“Table etiquette is something you’re definitely not taught in the engineering curriculum,” said Gorenz. “It’s a challenge you might have on the job, but you don’t have the classroom experience and wealth of knowledge to draw from like with other problems.”

While these common conundrums aren’t addressed in Bradley’s classrooms, a crash course in fine dining etiquette is one of the ways the University’s Smith Career Center prepares students for any challenge that may come up in the professional world. Every other year, the center invites Bradley students to participate in an Etiquette Dinner where they are guided through the formal dining process.

“Simple rules of etiquette such as knowing how to hold a utensil, how to handle a minor issue such as spillage, appropriate interactions with tablemates and wait staff, carrying a proper conversation, being a gracious guest or host, and other issues we addressed at the dinner are all important and are looked upon positively when done well,” said Dr. Rick Smith, Smith Career Center’s director of career development.

Janes graduates next month and expects to begin using his polished protocol almost immediately.

“My interviewing process has started, so I thought it would be a good idea to freshen up on the rules,” said Janes, who knows working lunches may be a regular component of his career. “I’ll be meeting clients or other companies where I’ll be doing business deals during meals or hosting.” 

The students received step-by-step instructions for dining including everything from how to correctly place napkins in their laps to how much sweetener is appropriate for drinks – just one packet – to how to handle the dreaded hair in the soup. At each table, a corporate sponsor or Bradley University professional played “host,” taking the lead when each course was served and offering tips on how to conduct business during a meal.

University Dining Services prepared a gourmet, five-course meal to complement the formal setting, with some of the French cuisine posing unique challenges to rookie fine diners. Cherry tomatoes in the salads and bone-in chicken for the main course tested dexterity and petite dessert cakes begged the question, “Finger food?”

Participants were encouraged to ask questions during the dinner and career center staff moved through the room gently adjusting form and ensuring no elbows were on the tables. It was a supportive, light-hearted environment all focused on giving Bradley students a leg up on their competition in a tough job market.

“It is never too late to make a good first impression,” said Smith. “Developing proper dining and business etiquette helps everyone – the student, the employer and anyone the student interacts with in the future.”