IT&E Students Get Lesson in Dining Etiquette

Posted: November 15, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Robin Herron

As every businessperson knows, networking is often the key to success. And more often than not, networking takes place over a meal. Nothing to it, right? Wrong. Showing bad manners during a meal can leave a lasting negative impression.

In fact, says Annita Cox, workforce liaison in the School of Information Technology and Engineering (IT&E), consultants have told her that since business is usually conducted over a meal, they take prospective employees to lunch or dinner to see how they perform. “If they don’t know what to do or are sloppy, the firms won’t hire them,” she says.

To help students in IT&E learn the ropes in this arena, Cox got together with Darren Fabian, director of catering for Sodexho, the company that provides George Mason’s food services, to plan a lesson in dining etiquette. This evening, 11 invited juniors and seniors will get hands-on tutoring in this important networking skill as they share a meal. Fabian asked President Alan Merten and Mrs. Sally Merten for the use of their residence, Mathy House, for the occasion, and Cox enlisted IT&E alumna Neeran Saraf, who heads Saraf Software, to share some of her experiences. The cost of the meal is covered by IT&E’s Corporate Partnership program.

Fabian, who has done etiquette presentations for several Greek groups on campus, says students are eager to learn about the arcane matters involved in eating a meal properly, either at a social function, a business meeting, or a restaurant. And it’s not just what happens during the meal, he points out, but what happens before and after as well that creates a good impression. Everything from the proper clothes to wear to who should open the door are subjects he discusses.

Usually beginning by throwing a heap of silverware on the table and asking students to set their places, Fabian keeps the tone casual and friendly. “I basically serve the meal, then pick on the students during the meal. I like to make it fun and practical for them.” In addition to explaining what the various utensils are used for, Fabian offers pointers. “I tell them to watch other people, and do what others do. You never want to stick out. Follow the lead of the host of the party.”

He explains whether it’s proper for a gentleman to take off his jacket at dinner, whether you should eat your salad before or after your meal, how to participate in a toast if you don’t drink, how to tip properly, and what you should do if you don’t understand the Italian menu you’ve been presented. One question that always comes up, he says, is what time to arrive for an occasion. “I tell them, arrive on time. If the invitation is for 7 p.m., then be there at 7 p.m.”

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