(By Kimberly Pope, Protocol & Etiquette Professional)
Picture this. Washington, DC. 2015. Some of you will get that reference. I’m at a leadership conference and we’re going to be served breakfast. As I sit down at my table, I reach for my napkin to place in my lap and that’s when I notice – it’s not there. That’s because the woman next to me grabbed the wrong napkin, throwing off the balance of the table.
Flash back to last fall, and I’m at a luncheon culminating the end of a seven month political leadership program. After the main course which included pasta with vodka sauce, an acquaintance sitting next to me begins to clean his fork with his white napkin. As I noticed the napkin become more and more soiled, orange in color, and visible to all at the table, I whisper to him, “What are you doing?” He says that he is preparing for his dessert. I subtly point out his dessert fork that’s already on the table and he says, “Ohhh, thanks!” Then he places his orange-soiled napkin and his used dinner fork on the table. There are countless examples that I can recall in my life where I’ve been witness to all sorts of dining faux pas. Sometimes it’s the result of learning bad habits, and sometimes it’s the result of not learning at all. I remember when I was a child watching adults turn their coffee cups down thinking that’s how you signal you don’t want any – only to learn as I got older that you shouldn’t and the proper thing to do is just say, “no thank you.”
Proper dining etiquette is such a very necessary soft skill. It can be the differentiator between you and your competition. Technical skills get your foot in the door, but personal skills get you the job, promotion, or “follow-up” opportunity. It can also give you the confidence you need to maximize the opportunity for your individual success. Not only does it teach you how to navigate the various courses, but it also teaches you how to be considerate of others and contribute to a pleasant dining experience for all. In the words of one of my favorite Downton Abbey characters, “Nothing should disrupt the sociability of the table.” And proper dining etiquette helps to ensure that.
I recommend exposing children as young as five to dining etiquette. At that age they’re eager to learn and show and tell their new skills. Age-appropriate teaching tools work well for children, while teenagers learn best from a hands-on dining experience. Recently I hosted a class for teens at Travinia Restaurant. A few students entered the class dreading what they thought was going to be a stuffy and boring class, only to leave having had fun and learned something new. The class gave them a chance to let their guard down and learn in a safe environment without judgement, and deep down they knew it was a skill set that would serve a greater purpose. The earlier we equip our youth with soft skills such as etiquette, we increase their chances for success in future development opportunities. All we have to do is expose them, and they will take care of the rest.
Woodbridge resident Kimberly Pope is the founder of The Pope Institute for Polish, Poise, & Etiquette, LLC in Prince William. She is a Protocol and Executive Etiquette professional, certified through The Emily Post Institute and the Washington Center for Protocol. Learn more at www.thepopeinstitute.com or email email@example.com .