Mind your manners
Children power-lunch at a posh restaurant to learn the social graces
August Miller, Deseret Morning News
Today's politeness police seem to be shirking their duty. No elbows on the table? Many folks don't even eat at a table.
With menus revolving around handheld burgers, chicken nuggets, tacos and pizza, there are fewer chances to practice using a knife and fork.
Over the years, social graces have taken a back burner to casual dining habits. Yet good table manners still matter when you're trying to impress your schoolteachers, your future boss or your prom date, although most kids don't realize it yet.
"I've never been to the prom. I don't even know what state it's in," said 7-year-old Chase Bergerson of Salt Lake City, who was attending a manners class at The Metropolitan called "Ankle-biters and the Parents Who Love Them."
On June 4, Chase and six other children power-lunched at the posh restaurant, testing their etiquette skills on cream of potato soup, roasted chicken with polenta, and cookies and ice cream.
"Chase loves to eat, so I thought he might have a fun time coming here and learning how to do that in a pleasant way," said his mother, Amy Bergerson.
The class was taught by Jacque Riehl, Metropolitan's events coordinator. "I did some research and found that etiquette classes are really big in the big cities right now." Future classes in Riehl's series include tips for singles, business dining, romantic couples and how to eat awkward edibles such as lobster.
Getting a few pointers helps kids feel comfortable in dining situations, said Beverly Stone, a server at LaCaille restaurant who started teaching etiquette classes for junior high and high school students 13 years ago. During the spring and fall, Stone travels to schools and discusses such things as how to order food, how to tip appropriately and proper use of silverware. Then the students try out what they've learned during a dinner at LaCaille. The students get a discount on the meal, which includes escargot and flaming Bananas Foster. About 2,000 students went through the LaCaille dinners last spring, Stone said.
"Now when I'm waiting tables, I'll have customers who say that I came to their school when they were in ninth grade," she said. "They're the upcoming customers, and now they know how to order food and how to talk to me. When they know how to act, they can help others feel comfortable, too."
But you don't need a fancy restaurant to learn manners. In fact, the best place to practice manners is at home around the dinner table. Eating family meals together teaches children how to present themselves in public and helps build social confidence, said Riehl.
"Studies have shown that children who have at least three family dinners a week, over their lifetime make 40 percent more pay," said Riehl. "This is proof of how much further it can get them in society."
Other sources have documented tangible benefits from family mealtime. A University of Minnesota study found kids who often sat down to meals with their families seven or more times weekly tended to have higher grade-point averages and were more well-adjusted in general than those who ate the fewest family meals (two or fewer per week).
The survey of 4,746 Minneapolis/St. Paul middle school and high school students found those who ate more family meals ate healthier foods and were also less likely to feel depressed or suicidal, to smoke cigarettes or use alcohol or marijuana even when the researchers factored out issues such as race, family structure and social class.
Learning proper etiquette doesn't give you license to smugly point out when someone else uses the wrong fork. In fact, publicly correcting someone's manners is one of the most improper things you can do, said Riehl.
"Just let them do their thing. You know what's right, and that's all that matters," she said.