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School of Public Health etiquette dinner helps prepare students for workplace leadership roles

From how to be seated to where to place your napkin as you leave, a certified coach covers the skills that boost confidence and professionalism.
Dee-Anna Green presents to a group of students seated at dinner tables

About 550 students in the Texas A&M University School of Public Health are expected to graduate next month, and Dee-Anna Green, PhD, helps them understand that professional success depends on more than academic credentials alone

As assistant director of career services, Green coordinates the etiquette dinner held every spring to help interested students (as well as faculty and staff) brush up on their table manners and other social skills.

“As public health professionals, we are in the ‘people business,’” Green said. “Many job interviews and other business matters take place over a meal, and knowing basic protocols will help our students demonstrate that they are polished professionals even in the earliest stages of their careers.”

Employers agree. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, Forbes magazine dubbed business meals “a test of character,” noting that those who lack dining etiquette skills are at a “significant disadvantage.”

Certified etiquette coach Randi Mays-Knapp, a former recruiter for a Fortune 500 company, led the March 28 School of Public Health dinner at Miramont Country Club in Bryan. She said the return to standard business practices in the wake of COVID-era social isolation makes mastery of social skills even more important today.

“Too often, we don’t know what we don’t know,” Mays-Knapp said, recalling the time she saw a young man in a restaurant stab a link of sausage and hold his fork parallel to his face while taking bites off the ends of the sausage. This behavior would hinder the man’s success in a career that involved interacting with colleagues, clients and others over meals—and could prevent him from being hired in the first place, Mays-Knapp said.

Mastering appropriate mealtime behaviors during her job search led Ashna Patel, who is set to graduate in May with a master’s degree in health policy and management, to attend the event.

“I have always been nervous about eating in front of people, so I wanted to learn more,” she said. “I’m glad the event also included things like tipping, to-go boxes and other manners—skills students don’t learn in the classroom.”

At the dinner, Mays-Knapp gave the 60 or so attendees numerous shortcuts for remembering dining protocols. For example, the thumb and forefinger of our left hands can form a “b,” a reminder that our bread plates are to the left of our place setting. Similarly, our right hands form a “d,” which indicates that our drinks are to the right. Where do forks and knives belong? “Fork” has four letters, just like “left,” and “knife” has five letters, like “right.” Forks belong to the left of the plate and knives to the right, Mays-Knapp said.

Mays-Knapp covered all aspects of dining, including how to be seated, where to place your utensils to signal the waitstaff to either remove or leave your plate, where to put handbags and what to do with your napkin during and after the meal. She also discussed introductions (make eye contact, hold your hand out, shake hands for two seconds) and how to make small talk (ask open-ended questions so that you learn more about the person’s interests and background).

Patel and other attendees said they are grateful for the experience.

“I love knowing that Dr. Green and Career Services are here to support us and want us to succeed,” she said.

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