Elbows Off The Table, Please: Annapolis Etiquette Expert Teaches Dining Skills

By Shantee Woodards
The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

Claudia Park will now butter her dinner roll piece by piece. Her purse will remain on the restaurant floor.

These and other etiquette tips were taught Tuesday by Diane Cookson, president of Annapolis-based Manners for Life-Etiquette for Success. When dining, Cookson said, women should not drape their handbags on chairs, but place them on the floor.

Park was one of six businesspeople at Cookson’s presentation at Severna Park’s Cafe Mezzanotte. The event, sponsored by the Entrepreneur’s Exchange, was intended to teach proper dining skills that can be used in client meetings and business-related events.

A roll should not be buttered in its entirety, but piece by piece as it is eaten, according to Cookson’s instructions.

“We could all brush up on our etiquette,” said Park, a corporate business manager for SuiteAmerica. “I’ll probably start using (the etiquette skills) immediately. Especially if I’m out on a client lunch or dinner. Or with my boss.”

Manners and etiquette are about more than keeping elbows off the table and placing a napkin on your lap. It is about creating a favorable impression.

An example of what not to do was furnished by former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates when he visited South Korea last year. Gates shook the president’s hand, which Koreans consider casual and rude.

“Dining etiquette is very complicated and detailed,” said Cookson, author of “Level Up! Business and Social Skills for Success.” “Your etiquette has to be right on and you have to be confident and comfortable with what you’re doing.”

In the two-hour course, the participants learned about table settings and how to signal the wait staff.

For example, wait staff know a customer is ready to order once the menu is closed. When a customer places a napkin in a chair, it shows he or she has left for a moment but will return.

Business consultant Patrick Lee now knows he should stay out of the server’s way when he or she arrives to set or clear the table.

“It was eye-opening. You think you’re helping out, but you’re making them not sure about what they should and shouldn’t do,” said Lee, who is based in Queen Anne’s County.

He also liked that Cookson teaches these skills to the young.

“Even if they’re not using them a lot, being able to go into a formal setting and have some idea of what’s going to happen is a great skill for a young adult to have.”

The session changed things in a different way for participant Cheryl Townshend.

“My husband needs to take me to fancier restaurants,” said Townshend, who works at Anne Arundel Community College. “McDonald’s just isn’t going to cut it anymore.”

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