Dinner at KU serves as lesson on etiquette

Erin Wolfram, left, with University Career Center and an etiquette expert, explains how to hold utensils at a recent business dinner.

Table Etiquette 101

A few etiquette tips courtesy of Erin Wolfram, assistant director of the KU Career Center and a professional etiquette consultant.

• Your mom’s probably already told you not to put your elbows on the table. She was right, Wolfram said. Here’s why: When you put your elbows on the table, it hinders your space, she said.

The wait staff can’t bring a new course to you if your elbows are in the way, she said. Or, if you’re finished, they can’t easily access your plate to take it away.

• The napkin. Grab it, and unfold it to your right, and fold it in half. Put it on your lap, with the crease toward your stomach.

• Even sitting down has a proper procedure. First, stand behind the chair, and take a step to the right. And as you step to the right, pull your chair back. Then, stand in front of your chair, and as you sit down, pull the chair in.

This should ensure you avoid hitting the table, knocking your drink over or other various calamities.

• One of the tough ones for students to pick up, Wolfram said, is placing silverware in “resting” and “finishing” position.

Finishing position lets the wait staff know you’re done with the meal so they can pick up that plate.

For resting position put your knife horizontally across the top of the plate with the pointy part of the knife toward the left.

The fork should rest at 4 o’clock on your plate, placed diagonally with tines up.

This lets the wait staff know you’re not finished yet.

When you are actually done, flip the tines of the fork over, and drop the knife parallel to the fork.

Luckily, the students at the dinner had three courses to practice all that.

Erin Wolfram walked around the room, gently correcting the little slip-ups.

Bring the food to you; don’t go to the food.

Always wipe your mouth before you take a drink.

Pass across your body, and receive across your body.

Welcome to Kansas University’s etiquette dinner, a popular event with students that occurs once every semester.

KU brings in members of the local business community to dine with students at the Adams Alumni Center so the students can learn some of the basic rules of etiquette and professionalism.

And Wolfram is the person who knows all the rules. She’s employed by KU’s Career Center and has been certified as a professional etiquette consultant.

“I think that what I try to do is to be quite general in the training that I teach, to give them some basic tips that allow them to get through a situation without getting noticed in a negative way,” she said.

In addition to the once-a-semester events, Wolfram will spend some of her time going to classes and speaking at other events, too.

“We were seeing a lot of need for etiquette in the workplace or professional interview settings,” she said.

As she walks around the room in the Adams Alumni Center, students interrupt their dinners to stop Wolfram to ask their own questions, too.

Is it OK to sop up a tasty sauce or dressing with bread?

Yes, Wolfram said. But you should be sure to poke the bread with your fork, swirl it around a bit, and then eat it with your fork.

Dan Napralla is vice president of consumer goods at Huhtamaki, a De Soto packaging and disposable products manufacturing company. He was one of the business leaders who attended this dinner.

He said he applauded the students who came not just for the etiquette tips, but also for the opportunity to network with representatives from local businesses.

“I think that etiquette in general is not what it should be,” Napralla said. “By the same token, I don’t think we should be so highly structured that we’re worried about some of the details.”

He also said he was impressed to see freshmen and sophomores among the students who came to this event, joining the usual complement of seniors.

“I applaud them for taking the initiative to start up a network early,” he said.

And selfishly, he admitted, his company is also looking to network with potential candidates for jobs in the future.

Gina Gerstner, a KU senior from Frankfort, said she definitely picked up some good etiquette tips: how to eat bread, which way to pass the sugar and how to sit down properly.

The business representatives also offered interviewing and networking tips, both at a question-and-answer session before dinner, and during dinner conversations.

“It was really great to network with a lot of businesses that were here and to hear about people who are doing jobs in the industry that I’m going to be doing,” said Gerstner, who is majoring in journalism. “I heard a lot of great tips for the interview process and job hunting in general.”

Wolfram said the program’s popularity — about 65 students showed up for the event — can be partly attributed to the difficult economy that students find themselves entering.

“I think that nowadays, especially with the economy, you really need to be at the top of your game when you’re going out to look for an internship or a full-time job,” Wolfram said. “So the more you can do to prepare to make yourself be professional, the better.”