And Don't Slurp Your Soup


Students sit down to a five-course lesson on dining etiquette

By Emily Judem '06
Photography by Fred Field

"Apparently when you're choosing wine you propose to the table, 'Does anyone prefer red over white?'... I thought you'd order what you like and then force other people to drink [it]."
Michael Kiprop '07
For the last three years Michael "Kip" Kiprop '07 has dined in establishments where the favorites tend toward pizza and burgers and diners arrive in their pajamas. But next year Kiprop will be working for Barclays Capital in New York City, and he suspects college eating habits won't impress clients and bosses.

"I've heard of cases of people being fired for not behaving well at the table," Kiprop said.

On November 16 he was one of 60 Colby seniors who traded sweatpants and dining hall trays for dress clothes, a five-course dinner, and an etiquette lesson. The students were joined by some 40 area alumni for the fifth semi-annual etiquette dinner, sponsored by the Student Alumni Association and emceed by Varun Avasthi, director of dining services.

The etiquette dinner is part of a "real life" series aimed at teaching real-world-bound students practical skills they don't learn in class. According to Avasthi, etiquette is important for college seniors entering the professional world. "The basis of it is you're going out into the world for the first time in a working environment, and you have to know how to conduct yourself," he said.

For that reason the etiquette meal always includes foods that are difficult to eat politely. This year the challenge began with a skewered-beef appetizer, which Avasthi advised one should eat "very delicately, and as nicely as you possibly can, without hurting yourself in the process." Italian wedding soup and lemon sorbet were served before the main course, which included sun-dried tomato, leek, and ricotta-stuffed chicken roulade, potato pancakes, and a vegetable medley. Finally, guests were served coffee and cheesecake in phyllo cups.

While enjoying the offerings, guests learned how to correctly sip soup, politely tell a coworker she has food in her teeth, and even the correct way to spit food out. As Avasthi put it, "You don't want to put chewed food back on the plate for everybody else to see what you did with it."

Whether it was that lesson or the finer points of dining manners, the Colbians were eager learners.

Kiprop said the event taught him several helpful guidelines for professional dinner engagements, such as how to order wine for clients. "Apparently when you're choosing wine you propose to the table, 'Does anyone prefer red over white?'... I thought you'd order what you like and then force other people to drink [it]."

Suzi Swartz '07 hopes to be an English language assistant in Austria next year and doesn't see herself ordering wine for her boss anytime soon. "Unless you're working in some Fortune 500 company and you're going out with the CEO ... how many of us are really going to go to a five-star restaurant?" Swartz asked. But still, she says etiquette might come in handy. "I think a lot of times the eating atmosphere in Europe is a little less casual than here."

Andrew O'Connell-Shevenell '07J doesn't want to work on Wall Street, either. He plans to travel to China next year in order to study the mind-body connection through meditation and other practices"an endeavor that is unlikely to include many cocktail parties. But he said the lessons weren't wasted.

"There is this dynamic of elitism [associated with etiquette], but at least you have that skill," O'Connell-Shevenell said. "So if you need to enter that world, you can enter that world. Because we're certainly in a place where that world exists, and that world has money and that world has power. And if you want to be able to move things around, you've got to be able to enter that world."

Whether students attended the dinner to learn rules they'll have to follow every day, to acquire skills they'll rarely use, to meet alumni, or just to eat some good food, all seemed to enjoy themselves. "It was a lot of fun," said O'Connell-Shevenell. "It feels cool to just ... know how to not be a slob."
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  • On March 6, 2007, Cynthia Lett CPP CEP wrote:
    I am the Executive Director of the International Society of Protocol & Etiquette Professionals and while I applaud having an etiquette education dinner, the table setting is wrong. The dessert fork should be under the spoon above the plate. The seafood knife and salad knife are switched. If you are going to teach people proper dining, at the very least the tools used should be correct.