Dinner helps students develop dining habits for professional world

Anne Osborne

It was more than a formality.

Although tea glasses and bread plates crowded the tables in the Washburn Room Nov. 6, the evening reached beyond fancy settings and good food.

“It’s information that students are wanting to hear about as it pertains to their entering the job market and beginning interviews for positions,” said Vicki Baer, coordinator of the Mom Nonnie etiquette dinner. “So many jobs nowadays use group interviews that involve a meal. Our focus [at the dinner] was directed primarily at proper etiquette, especially as it relates to the business interview setting.”

About 150 people attended the meal, sponsored in part by Student Activities and Greek Life, Career Services, Campus Activities Board, the School of Business and the Washburn Student Government Association. The majority sitting around the tables, trying to remember how to cut chicken European-style and whether to pass salt and pepper together or separately, were students.

Nonnie Cameron Owens, certified consultant in American and Asian etiquette, hosted the meal. Owens, or Mom Nonnie which she prefers, covered everything from the correct way to enter a room to what topics to avoid at the table – politics, religion and sex.

“Most of the time you have a meal, it’s with friends and you’re really casual,” said Josh Shald, WSGA president. “That’s what’s fun about it is it’s an environment you’re not always going to be in, and it makes you feel professional.”

As the main representative of the student body in high-power circles, Shald said proper etiquette has served him well many times. When exchanging civilities with people like community corporate leaders and the university president, it comes in handy knowing how to juggle plate, glass and handshakes.

Mom Nonnie’s interaction with attending students began with hors d’oeuvres and basics about courtesy. A three-course meal of salad, stuffed chicken breasts with parsley buttered noodles and tomatoes Clarmont followed, accompanied with a PowerPoint instruction manual. Mom Nonnie filled in the gaps with more pointers and humorous illustrations. It was fun mingled with real-world tips and English trifle for dessert.

“Not all of society is informal,” said Baer. “On a college campus that’s the case, but when it gets into the business world and corporate settings, meetings often center around a meal. There is a corporate level where there’s a high expectation of appropriate behavior. And dress and manners are important even in a casual setting.”

It’s knowledge, said Shald, that is smart to stash in the back of one’s mind when treading professional ground.

“It’s something [students] can use later in life, and it gives them some kind of competitive edge in the professional world,” said Shald. “Business leaders are looking for people who have a wide range of skills.”