Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
The annual Dapper Dining event sponsored by Career Services was an evening of networking and light conversation that had absolutely nothing to do with the professionally catered three-course meal. The lessons learned far outweighed the well-dressed salad, warm chicken and asparagus entrée, and creamy strawberry cheesecake provided free of charge to participants. Students learned how to maximize their career potential through proper business etiquette — an experience one freshman attendee described as “Delicious.”
Students initially gathered in Kohlberg lounge for some delectable, pre-dinner networking. Etiquette expert Robert Shutt offered advice and took questions from the minglers. Swatties perfected the technique of feigning attentiveness whilst stuffing clusters of grapes into their purses — a foraging skill that will prove invaluable to those graduating with degrees in English and Interpretation Theory.
Another important skill taught during this session was the correct way to gracefully exit a group conversation — not, as many students attempted, by casually shuffling backwards, eyes closed, merging silently into another cohort. “You can’t see me if I can’t see you” is probably the saying most responsible for the curse of swawkwardness, dapper diners learned.
At dinner in the Scheuer Room, the students engaged in polite table talk, choosing generally accessible topics such as how the fresh greens in the salad compared to Sharples spinach. Modern etiquette has everything to do with subtlety, students were told, a point perfectly expressed by the mild flavor of the rice punctuated with buttery cloves of garlic.
Between small bites and paranoid glances around the table (“One must never finish first”), students basically totally forgot they were even eating. Some were preoccupied with historical trivialities — “that anecdote about feasting medieval knights was just blatantly incorrect. Forks didn’t come about until the Renaissance!” said one student who probably likes Sharples anyway. Others struggled with the elaborate method for consuming bread rolls — reach to the bread plate, pinch off a small segment, butter only this segment, place your knife against the bread plate, self-castigate while chewing slowly and trying not to cry. Repeat. The fact that the rolls were soft and approachable, the butter smooth and sweet and not scooped from a communal plastic trough, was totally overlooked.
“I was too busy learning how to facilitate communication in a business setting without risking a potentially distracting social faux-pas to notice that food was passing my parched lips,” said one student who is probably from Haverford.
One main point that was hit home again and again: “Remember, it’s about conversation, it’s about relationships, it’s about business, it’s not about the food or beverage,” Shutt said. “Whenever your decisions or actions are based first on getting to that food or beverage instead of the conversation, it’s often a bad move.” Luckily, the career-minded Swatties gathered for three hours on a Friday evening gave no more than a passing thought to the luscious offerings laid one after the other, fists clenching silverware and then self-consciously releasing it. One must, after all, grasp with poise.
It was probably sometime around the main course that participants even woke up to the fact that there was food in front of them. “I really only came for the sterling advice,” one student remarked. “The fact that this would be the last time until spring break that my food would be hand-delivered, catered, and edible didn’t even cross my mind.” This student later admitted to being born without taste buds or a sense of self-respect. “I totally had no idea we were even getting free food,” said absolutely no one ever.
Throughout the meal, Shutt continued to emphasize the importance of being engaged with your fellow diners and not with the meal, something students clearly had no difficulty doing. “If you sit down and grab your napkin and put in on your lap or tuck it into your collar or something like that, you may as well take your knife and fork and pound it on the table saying ‘to heck with your agenda! I’m here to eat, let’s get going!’” he said.
And get going we did, racing to Essie Mae’s en masse at exactly 8:05. Ketchup flew, greedy fingers grabbed french fries, and the true hunger of Swarthmore students was revealed — still present after three courses, which, after all, no one really noticed anyway.
Quotes attributed to Robert Shutt are accurate; quotes attributed to students are merely parody.
Photos by Rachel Berger/The Daily Gazette