Table manners do matter is the practical philosophy behind the annual CSUSM Etiquette Dinner, a signature event hosted by the Career Center to teach students the ins and outs of proper dining. More than 100 CSUSM students attended this year’s sold-out, educational and eye-opening event on March 10 at the Lake San Marcos Country Club.

Nationally, job interviews involving lunch are on the rise. The annual event aims to help students feel better prepared and more confident dining in a business setting. Good table etiquette can bolster positive impressions on prospective employers and similarly poor etiquette can jeopardize a job offer, said Pam Wells, director of the Career Center at CSUSM.

“A first interview with a prospective employer is typically held in an office or boardroom setting, but often a follow-up interview can involve meeting some of the company’s executives and concludes with a business lunch,” she explained. “Although the formal interview may have ended, employers continue to evaluate applicants even during the meal. How an applicant performs is a telling sign to the employer of how he or she would behave with a prospective client or business partner. A business lunch can make or break whether or not an applicant will get the job especially in a competitive job market.”

Sandy Punch, who created the dinner event more than seven years ago, presided over the four-course meal on March 10 and provided useful tips and dining instructions throughout the evening. Students learned about appropriate table discussions and what menu items to order and which to avoid, as well as practical dining how-to's like how to properly pass food, how to eat difficult foods like soup, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes, and how to signal to a waiter when you’re finished eating.

“I was surprised to learn that there’s a proper rule for eating salad croutons,” said 22-year-old accountancy major Kyle Casement. “I didn’t know that it was inappropriate to stab croutons to get them onto your fork. In fact to properly eat them, you are supposed to scoop them onto your fork using the edge of the plate.”

Another favorite etiquette rule of past participants has been discovering that when asked to pass the salt or pepper, diners should pass both together, referring to the duo as married. According to etiquette rules, salt and pepper always remain together, even if a diner has only requested that the salt be passed.

Diners also spent portions of the evening unlearning preconceived table manners. Students were taught that rather than slicing a roll and buttering the halves, it is best to tear off a bite-sized piece by hand and butter only that one bite before eating.

In addition to learning the dos and don’ts of dining decorum, students also practiced networking skills and fine-tuned their elevator speech. Attendees learned that when in a business environment a nametag should be affixed on the right side of the chest to be in alignment with a handshake, as opposed to the left which is customarily reserved for workers in the hospitality industry.

Among the CSUSM students discovering a newfound sense of professionalism and confidence was Jacky Fulop, who transferred to the University in fall.

“I feel more comfortable and prepared to dine with others in a business setting,” she said. “Not only did I learn about the rules of American table etiquette, but I was able to actually practice them and ask questions. It is important to be able to eat and converse in a professional manner without having to think about each move you make and sparing yourself from an uncomfortable encounter with a future potential employer.”

Beyond the popular table talk event, the Career Center at CSUSM continually offers innovative workshops and services to empower students and alumni to navigate the road to their career path. On Tuesday, April 5, the Career Center will host its annual Job Fair with more than 50 employers and graduate schools expected to attend. Helpful workshops are provided monthly on a variety of career topics from resume writing to job searching. This summer, the center will offer a unique workshop titled, I’ve Graduated Now What, on June 9. For more information on available services and upcoming workshops, visit the Career Center.

On Tuesday, April 5, the Career Center will host its annual Job Fair with more than 50 employers and graduate schools expected to attend.