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Tepper first-years attend dinner to learn manners, social skills

Credit: Celia Ludwinski/Photo Editor Credit: Celia Ludwinski/Photo Editor

For Tepper first-years, an etiquette dinner is a delicious four-course meal in the University Club on the University of Pittsburgh campus, as well as a chance to network with faculty and student leaders. The catch is that they must exhibit and learn proper table manners.

“The majority of freshmen, while they do not have awful table manners, do not necessarily know some of the more subtle nuances,” said Meghan Durbiano, a senior in business administration and the current president of Carnegie Mellon Business Association (CMBA), the organization that runs the etiquette dinner. “Some of them may have had exposure at weddings or formal events, but that does not necessarily mean that they know to turn their cell phones off or which fork to use.”

“Etiquette is a means to an end,” said Milton Cofield, the executive director of the undergraduate business administration program. “We use manners and appropriate social behavior … to properly represent oneself in situations where these behaviors are expected or required.”

Cofield and Kristen Carew, a senior in business administration, led the event and directed students on how to properly eat and behave during each course of the meal. “I first experienced any type of etiquette training when I went to the etiquette dinner myself as a freshman,” said Carew. “Since then, I’ve been to a lot of interviews, corporate events, and other dinner events … and it has definitely been important even if it hasn’t been at the front of my mind…. Now it’s not something I actually have to think about anymore.”

The rules of etiquette range from obvious to esoteric. “The interview dinner is not the time to order that $75 steak on the menu,” said Cofield. “Wait until the host orders, and then order something less expensive.”

Cofield stressed that etiquette dinner is about something broader than just table manners. “It’s about what are appropriate social behaviors, not just for formal dining, but for all kinds of situations where people need to understand what the protocols are, what the proper behaviors are, and, perhaps most importantly, what the negative consequences of inappropriate social behavior are,” Cofield said. “If you don’t have good manners, that’s going to hinder your ability to make a good impression,” Durbiano said.

Cofield also explained that it is crucial for first-years to learn these sorts of manner-related lessons now, rather than expecting to learn them later in situations where opportunities are at stake. For incoming students, the etiquette dinner offers a rare chance to make social mistakes and learn from them, an opportunity not likely to be available in real-life business situations.
Cofield also added, “The sins of the system are that people will not tell you if your behavior is not appropriate, but they will enact a penalty against you in their minds.... That penalty could cost you a job, a date, or some other type of relationship.”

The etiquette dinner may include seemingly tedious instruction on topics like table setting or social courtesies, but upperclassmen insist that the dinner is more about learning to navigate the social guidelines and expectations of the business world.

“The whole idea is really to not only give freshmen the opportunity to practice etiquette, meet other students and upperclassmen, but also to expose them to the social side of business,” said Durbiano. “Just in general in life, you should know these things.”