Business students get schooled in professional skills, etiquette

As Beth Reutter explains the difference between American and Continental styles of eating, the correct way to sit down in a chair and various other aspects of etiquette, one might assume she is lecturing to a room full of debutantes. But in reality, she is educating a very different crowd.

While some students decided to celebrate the end of classes Wednesday evening by partying, about 100 freshmen in Business concluded the semester in their Business 101 course as they sat down to a formal meal, held in the Peabody Private Dining Room. However, what may have seemed like a free meal was actually a seminar, designed to teach them etiquette standards in the business world.

“You’re not here for the food tonight, by the way,” Reutter, a teaching associate and the program coordinator of the hospitality management program at the University, told the students. “You’re doing business, you’re networking.”

As students dined through the three-course meal, they listened to Reutter present basic etiquette information they would be expected to know at any business meeting conducted over lunch or dinner, such as how to identify a salad fork from a dinner fork and how to use a napkin correctly.

“Etiquette is all about details and making life easier for other people,” Reutter said during her presentation. “Fortune 500 companies expect you to handle yourselves at the table. While this may seem like a social event, you are at a business event.”

The meal was held after the students’ final presentations for the introductory business class and was sponsored by Bosch, a consumer appliance and tool company, which allowed for the meal to be provided at no cost to students. The meal and seminar program cost the company between $2,000 and $3,000, according to Amy Fruehling, the senior associate director for Business Career Services who organized the evening.

“It’s kind of a fun way to go out with your fellow class of 2013 and learn these important skill sets at the same time,” said Mary Hvizdos, a freshman who attended the dinner. “I’ll probably take away the subtleties of the different ways to handle yourself, and the subtle inferences employers use to build opinions of you.”

Reutter made a point of explaining to the students the difference between the social and business worlds.

“In the business world there is no gender,” she said. “In the social world, there is and it’s usually the men taking care of women.”

Even with finals right around the corner, many of the students thought the meal was worth their time.

“In the business world, you’re going to need to know this stuff,” said Tunde Babarinsa, another freshman who attended the seminar. “It’s essential. It’s important to know the proper way to act and behave when you’re in a business meeting or anything that’s business pertained.”

Although freshmen may not learn these skills with the same urgency as a junior or senior, organizers say the event will help younger students both in the short and long run.

“They won’t be going out to interviews right away, but they may be job-shadowing professionals,” Fruehling said. “If they go out to lunch or dinner, we want them to understand what to do and how to act professionally. We wanted to get students thinking about companies and career paths and interested in them.”