By Eric Lam
Deciding to brush up on my table manners, I followed 70 Ryerson students last week to an etiquette workshop at the University of Toronto Faculty Club taught by Leanne Pepper, a certified etiquette consultant.
“You need to be more comfortable with being uncomfortable,” says Pepper, who has been teaching people to mind their elbows for more than 30 years. “It takes five seconds to make an impression and everybody wants to make a good impression.”
She says conducting job interviews or business deals over a not-so-casual meal is quickly becoming the norm for indecisive CEOs. “If I’m hiring and can’t make a decision between two equally-qualified people, how do you decide? You take them out for a meal,” she says. “It can make or break whether you get that job.”
So, to illustrate her more useful advice, follow Eggy, Ryerson’s beloved mascot, as he muddles through a hypothetical dinner job interview with Ryerson President Sheldon Levy.
No pressure Eggy, it’s only the rest of your life on the line.
1. The invitation says get to the restaurant at 8 p.m. Eggy should: a) show up fashionably late b) show up on time c) show up early so you can check out the menu.
Answer: C. If you have any dietary requirements, clear it up with the wait staff instead of at the table.
2. Eggy is a left-handed ram, but all the place settings are set up for right-handed rams (and people). He should: a) reverse utensils as he uses them, but leave them where they are on the table b) eat with his hands c) learn to eat right-handed, like normal people do.
Answer: A. There are two major styles — Continental and American — for the use of cutlery, but there’s no restriction on being left- or right-handed. Lefties have to eat too, you know.
3. Eggy gets his menu and is glad Sheldon is picking up the tab. He should order: a) the most expensive item on the list, with a side order of lobster b) a reasonably-priced entrée with a side of mashed potatoes c) a cheap appetizer.
Answer: B. Pepper remembers a man who met a company president for a lunchtime job interview and went with A, but didn’t even eat the lobster because he didn’t know how. The president wisely walked away, leaving the schmo with the bill and no job.
4. When their meals arrive, Sheldon watches to see if Eggy will reach for the salt and pepper.
Why? a) Sodium is bad for you and Sheldon is a health nut b) using the salt and pepper before your host is rude c) Sheldon is allergic to pepper.
Answer: none of the above. Pepper says people who salt their meals before tasting are often guilty of prejudging in other areas as well, a definite negative. That tricky Sheldon sure knows his behavioural psychology.