The University Career Center hosted its first Virtual Etiquette Dinner via Zoom Oct. 20 from 6-8 p.m. The event allowed students to learn about proper dining manners in a professional setting such as an interview or corporate dinner. Students were invited to provide their own meal and follow along as etiquette coach Brenda Becknell guided them through a four-course dinner.

“This year was definitely different for us,” Becknell said. “Usually I’m walking around the tables and giving the presentation while I’m eating myself, so this new format was very unfamiliar. This time, I had Ali [Warren], my assistant, to demonstrate the proper eating techniques while I basically narrated and gave the instructions.”

The etiquette dinners are something that’s offered every semester, and everyone is welcome to attend as many as they’d like to, program coordinator Tori Coleman said.

“We have a really good turnout typically at every dinner we offer,” Coleman said. “For this one, we had around 150 students register, and so that was really encouraging. Hopefully we’re in person for the next one, but if not, then hopefully we have as good a turnout as we did with this one.”

Warren demonstrated the correct way to eat the dishes while Becknell talked the students through Warren’s actions. In between each course, students could ask questions while they finished their courses.

“Our plan was to have it uninterrupted during the explanation of the course, and then while we took a pause to allow our students to finish the course, we opened the forum up to questions,” lead counselor for the event Stephanie Harding said. “We wanted the students to first see how it was done and then they could ask for clarification if they needed it.”

One of the biggest challenges the coordinators faced was figuring out what to do for a meal as they couldn’t actually provide one to the participants of the dinner.

“We were trying to figure out if they could come pick up a meal or if we could get a restaurant to cater, but we just weren’t able to figure it out,” Coleman said. “So, we emailed those who registered a suggestive meal they could provide themselves with.”

The four courses were a soup, a salad, an entrée and something for dessert. Becknell said that while they provided specific suggestions, it was really up to the students.

“We really sort of let the students choose what they wanted,” she said. “But for the entrée, I did ask them to provide a challenging vegetable or dish. Simply because sometimes we pick really easy things that are easy to eat, but we wanted to have something challenging like pasta.”

Another challenge that faced the etiquette dinner was the disappointment of not being able to host the event in person, Harding said.

“This event is usually really fun, and everyone always ends up having a blast,” she said. “Plus, you get a free meal out of it. So, it was really unfortunate that we couldn’t all be together and interact with each other in the usual setting.”

A couple of weeks ago, the career center hosted a mocktail party online, and Harding said it was a great way to learn and prepare for the etiquette dinner.

“I was lucky enough to see how they navigated through that so we could sort of base this event off it,” she said. “We hoped we could make the etiquette dinner engaging enough so that students feel like they could interact and get as much from it as they might in person.”

Despite all the challenges, Becknell said that she still really wanted to host an etiquette dinner this semester no matter what format it took form as.

“People are still interviewing and hiring for jobs,” she said. “I just feel that someone’s dining skills are so important. I would never want for dining manners to be the reason why someone did not get their coveted job that they’re interviewing for. And recently, interviews aren’t just simply interviewing anymore. People are hiring personalities. I think it’s very important for them to have every edge they can, so that’s why I was really pushing for this.”

The etiquette dinner was just one event in a week full of how to behave in a professional setting, Harding said. On Monday, the Career Center put on an elevator pitch lesson, and there will be more events throughout the week that include interviewing and professional attire. More information is available at the Career Center’s website.

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