by Jane Parikh
Business dining etiquette was on the menu at a dinner for Kalamazoo College seniors last fall.
With copies of a 77-year-old etiquette book on a nearby table, Meredith Parfet, director of Global Research Operations for MPI Research in nearby Mattawan, instructed about 100 “K” seniors on the intricacies of eating with the boss, business colleagues, or prospective employers.
She said the positioning of the knives, forks, and spoons at each place setting provides a visual guide to the order in which each eating utensil is used.
“It’s outside in and top to bottom,” Parfet said.
Her instruction on the proper use of tableware was one of several “Ah-hah!” moments for many of the students at the dinner. Another came when Parfet talked about proper napkin etiquette.
“Place the napkin on your lap when you’re seated, place it on your chair when leaving the table, and place the napkin to the left of your plate when you’re done,” she said.
Parfet’s presentation was part of the College’s twice-yearly, two-day Professional Development Institute (PDI) offered to “K” students in order to prepare them for life after graduation. Sponsored by the College’s Center for Career and Professional Development, the Fall Quarter PDI included workshops and seminars on topics such as networking and job hunting.
As a top level executive with MPI, Parfet has attended many business dinners both in the United States and abroad. She said sometimes the best thing to do is what everyone else is doing.
“Manners are a form of politeness. They show that you’re prepared, put together, and composed,” Parfet said. “Manners are also a way of setting things up so you avoid insulting people.
“The rule I always learned in a cross-cultural exchange is to show humility.”
Kathleen Kruse, a senior majoring in biology, said Parfet’s advice put her mind at ease, particularly when she discussed the art of conversation.
“Stick to discussing current events and don’t discuss politics, religion, or sex,” Parfet said. “Try to find some middle ground. People like to talk about themselves and things related to them.”
Tyrice Fitzpatrick said he wished he’d had this information when he was in Costa Rica for his Study Abroad program. Fitzpatrick, a senior majoring in English with an economics minor, said his knowledge of manners was based on what
he learned while working at a banquet hall during high school.
“When I was in Costa Rica I was surrounded by the most upper class people there, and I was uncomfortable because I didn’t know what kind of conversation to have,” he said.
Offering students the opportunity to learn about an important but often overlooked part of getting along in the business world was the idea behind the Etiquette Dinner, said Kalamazoo College Provost Michael “Mickey” McDonald.
“The more knowledge you have, the more relaxed you’ll feel,” McDonald said.
Here’s some additional advice from Parfet that likely won’t be heard during commencement activities. Graduates who break bread with the boss or clients should dress conservatively, double-check their breath, turn off the cell phone, take a deep breath, and smile.
“We want you to sit at a business dinner and feel confident,” Parfet said. “We want you to dazzle them.”