By KAREN HERZOG
Table manners aren't child's play. But children who don't learn to wait their turn for the potatoes or to chew with their mouth closed may face challenges later in life - especially in their careers.
"The No. 1 reason people lose a job is they don't play well with others," said Mary Spencer, director of placement at the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Three times a year, the school offers etiquette and interpersonal skill workshops for engineering students who are preparing for job interviews. Lunch or dinner often is part of job interviews. The prospective employer is attuned to not only what the candidate says, but how he or she handles details of dinner - from selecting menu items to finessing conversation, Spencer said. That's because technical job skills aren't all that matter, especially if the job will involve entertaining clients over dinner.
“Table manners are considered shorthand for other aspects of etiquette," said Margery Sinclair of Glendale, who teaches etiquette classes for both children and business clients. "If table manners are fine, the rest of their social skills are considered good as well. Etiquette refers to all of the rules governing behavior. Manners refers to one's personal behavior." If children develop good manners, they grow up with respect and consideration for others, Sinclair said, and tend to have more friends. "Children who grow up with a knowledge of etiquette have a lifelong advantage." Sinclair has a favorite quote from "Miss Manners" Judith Martin: "Sloppy eating habits have probably ruined more relationships than evil hearts." Stressing table manners from childhood through adulthood sounds a bit old-fashioned, but it's part of the lifelong pursuit of happiness, according to both those who teach etiquette and the professionals who validate its importance. Spencer said MSOE started offering its workshops on etiquette after getting feedback from business owners and students about skills that needed honing, such as "what to wear to an interview and how to handle dinner."
"Students ate pizza and hamburgers for four years and all of the sudden, they were confronted with multiple forks and questions such as, 'Who orders, can I order a drink, do you crush the crackers for soup, which fork do I use first, and can I eat the flower on my plate?' " Spencer said.
Initially, MSOE had to do "a lot of selling" to get students who prided themselves on technical job skills to attend etiquette workshops, Spencer said. But turnout has been strong at the workshops taught by outside professionals. Donna Panko, owner of Professional Skill Builders consulting in Chicago, has taught some of the MSOE workshops, which cover general business etiquette and image building.