NU learns some table manners

Olivia Bobrowsky

Last summer, the president of a small design company took McCormick sophomore James Cascarano out to lunch.

“It was an informal situation, but it got me thinking,” said Cascarano. “It would have been nice to have focused on talking to the person, rather than wondering what to do with all the silverware.”

To fix the problem, Cascarano attended the Winter Etiquette Banquet Tuesday evening. The annual event, which is hosted by the Northwestern Alumni Association and Northwestern Class Alliance, offers students a four-course meal and a lesson in proper business dining etiquette.

“I stress how to hold your fork and how to eat your soup and all the nuances,” said Robert A. Shutt, the business etiquette expert who led the banquet. “But in a business situation, you shouldn’t be concentrated on how you’re dining, but what you’re trying to accomplish. Etiquette is about eliminating distractions.”

Shutt started with distractions that might arise before the meal is even served, from how to greet someone to how to remove the napkin from the table. As the dinner continued and a wait staff served the first course, Shutt delved into an endless line of details, fielding questions from the audience throughout his presentation.

“His approach was pretty laid back,” said Lauren Herpe, a career services coordinator who organized the event. “It was very interactive. I was pleased the audience was so involved.”

The etiquette expert said the audience was one of the most “inquisitive” he’d ever seen. One student asked a question he’d never heard before: How to deal with a revolving door (let the man go first, so the lady doesn’t have to push the door). Another NU student offered a tip he was unfamiliar with: In order to prevent lipstick stains on a glass, lick the rim.

Shutt said he always appreciates input from students, as etiquette is an ever-changing field.

“Sleep not when others speak,” for instance, became, “Text not, Blackberry not.”

Aside from a litany of rules, Shutt also talked about the history behind etiquette.

“The very first meals were attempts at sabotage,” he said. “That’s where the toast comes from. Medieval knights used to clink their glasses with enough velocity so that some of the liquid would spill into each other’s glasses. If they were still standing in five minutes, the drinks weren’t poisoned.”

Given today’s unstable job market, Shutt said etiquette is more important than ever because it can give an applicant an edge over others.

“I’m here because of the interviews I’m doing for internships this summer,” Cascarano said. “I want to know how to impress people.”

[email protected]