Ms. Manners: Etiquette training for MCOB students

Author: Gene Stowe

business etiquette

For a decade, Vicky Holaway, the events coordinator for the Mendoza College of Business, has refreshed the manners of accounting students in preparation for meal-based interviews. For the past two years, she’s shared her wisdom with the South Bend community’s Young Professionals Network.

Holaway says the college once outsourced the etiquette training, but she brought the effort in-house, developing a PowerPoint presentation and a booklet that evolves as new issues arise. The advice given at orientation is important for students both when they are being recruited and when they’re hired for jobs that involve taking clients out for meals.

“Our students are straight out of undergrad and they’re going to be interviewing with national firms—the Big Four,” she says. “We just wanted to make sure that they were polished. A lot of our students know a lot coming in. There are a lot of little things they don’t know.”

Notre Dame students typically come with basic good manners—with the glaring exception of a lax approach to RSVPs, a widely recognized issue with a generation accustomed to informal showing up and hanging out. Holaway once got 50 RSVPs indicating they would attend when she invited 100 people to a lunch, but 85 people arrived.

Vicky Holaway

“Thank goodness I ordered extra food that day,” she says. “I would have run out of food. I tell them, ‘Don’t show up if you don’t say you’re going to show up. If you’re not going to show up, tell them. If the invitation doesn’t say “and guest,” don’t bring a guest.’ If too many people say they are coming and they don’t show up, if you’re paying $50 a plate, that’s a lot of money that you’ve wasted and a lot of food.”

Even well-brought-up students can use a refresher course on tableware and some refinement on the deeper mysteries of fine dining. The classes also typically include some 20 international students who might need a crash course in cultural niceties.

“We talk about a lot of things,” Holaway says. “We talk about the dinner setting and which fork to use when and how it is set up so you know you use the silverware from the outside. It can be confusing—‘Which drink is mine and which bread plate is mine?’ We talk about different kinds of food and the appropriate way to eat them, and different events. For example, a cocktail party, it’s not dinner and you don’t load up your plate.”

You can hold the red wine glass by the base, the white wine glass by the stem. If the baked potato comes wrapped in foil, don’t remove it—a rule Holaway learned in her research. Participants learn how to eat spaghetti, what to do with an olive seed, how to discreetly remove a bone.

The lessons are important both for students when they are being invited and for professionals when they do the inviting, she says.

“They’ll be going to dinner with clients and ordering dinner,” Holaway says. “If they’ve been invited, we talk about what to do, what not to do. If they are doing the inviting, they take charge of ordering the appetizers—lots of little details that they need to know that makes them look good with their recruiters and later on with the clients they serve in their jobs. I’ve had people come back later and say, ‘I’m really
glad I had that etiquette class.’”