OGDEN — The Weber State University students filed nervously into the banquet room at the Ogden Golf and Country Club.
Tables were set with white linen under place settings of multiple forks, knives, spoons and glasses.
A mirrored wall seemed to multiply the formality as students picked seats where they hoped to feel comfortable as they faced the task ahead.
“Your purpose at the meal is not to eat,” said Pat Wheeler, WSU coordinator of Recruitment & Career Development. “You are here for your interview, to get your message across.”
The 60 students, most in business suits or Sunday best, bought tickets for the annual business etiquette banquet, a chance to practice for job interviews ahead.
England Logistics, of Salt Lake City, co-sponsored the meal, dropping the cost to a student-affordable $12. England employees also sat at three of the nine tables, sharing with WSU staffers their job of portraying potential employers.
The goal was to make a strong 30-second interview pitch to the “employer” while not undoing goodwill with bad table manners.
“Companies spend millions of dollars developing their corporate images, and they can’t jeopardize that image with employees that will embarrass them,” Wheeler said.
“Some companies spend close to $500 to send employees to etiquette school. Many deals are made over dinners.”
Wheeler likes to share the cautionary tale of the $50,000 spare ribs. A few years back, a promising WSU business student interviewed with a major auto manufacturer at its Midwest offices.
“He was a shining-star student, about as perfect as they come,” Wheeler said. “The first night after a whole day of interviews, they took him to a rib place, probably on purpose. He ordered the ribs.”
People don’t look classy while scraping their teeth across sauce-laden pig bones.
“A week later, he got his rejection letter for a job that was worth close to $50,000,” Wheeler said. “I had recommended him, so I called up the company and asked what the problem was. They said he ordered the wrong thing for dinner.”
Back at the banquet room, the Weber State students were lounging in their seats. Most study at the John B. Goddard School of Business & Economics. A few were from WSU’s automotive technology department.
“Sit up straight in the chair,” Wheeler said. “Elbows off the table, hands resting in your lap.
“If you take a drink, hold your water goblet by the bowl, not the stem. Keep your head straight and tip the glass. If you tip your head back, you could get ice crashing into your teeth.”
When each course of food is served, all must wait for the host to begin eating, unless it’s a larger group and the host urges diners with food to eat before their meals get cold.
Silverware pieces are used either from the outside inward or from left to right, depending on teaspoon placement.
Rolls, butter and salad dressing are passed counterclockwise, and each diner must take only the appropriate share until all are served.
“I had one student tell me at his house, ‘When the bowl comes around the first time, you got to take what you want, because it ain’t coming around again,’ ” Wheeler said.
“Dining has become less formal over the years, so students don’t have the information they need for interviews.”
Wheeler guided her students through:
• Dinner rolls: Your plate is to the left. If the diner to your left takes your plate, it is better to go without bread than to steal the plate to your right and disorient the whole table. Also, do not slice a roll; break off each piece and butter it.
• Soup: Dip your spoon in a motion away from you. Your spoon rests on the plate, not in the soup. Do not tip your soup bowl to gather the last dregs of soup.
“Seems like a big waste of soup,” a student complained.
• Salad: Remove any olive pits left in your mouth with your fork, then place the pits on your salad plate.
• Palate-clearing sorbet: See the soup rules.
• Main course, then dessert served only after a bowl of cleansing lemon water, for dipping fingers to be dried with your napkin.
Wheeler also drilled students on when to stand as a courtesy, who is presented to whom during an introduction (depending on age, gender and status), and who holds open doors (the person who arrives at the door first).
Business marketing senior Megan Quilter, of Fruit Heights, was happy with her practice dinner-interview experience.
“I wanted to learn etiquette skills,” said Quilter, 22. “I want to present myself well at the second interview.
“I am very personable and can make a good impression, but I don’t want to hurt my chances with manners mistakes. Now I know it’s more about the interview than the food. I feel more confident now.”
Automotive technology major Rob Keates, of Salt Lake City, said he learned a lot.
“Potential employers may be taking us to lunch or dinner, and it’s important to show respect,” said Keates, 22. “I’ve had my share of nice dinners, but if a bowl of water with a slice of lemon was served, I probably would have drunk it if I didn’t know.”
Wheeler said she felt like a proud mother hen.
“I thought they did surprisingly well,” she said.
“In previous years, I had question after question, and ran from table to table. The three people from England Logistics said they had wonderful conversations at their tables.
“Those kids probably never thought they were really being interviewed, but all three people from England told me they met kids at their table they want to follow up on. You just never know.”