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Around the Columns

Elbows off the table

table manners

Fingers or fork? A recent study looked for the best method for teaching etiquette to college students. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Anyone who has ever interviewed for a job over lunch appreciates the importance of proper table manners. Your mama probably told you to keep your elbows off the table, but she may not have explained which direction to fold a napkin in your lap, the difference between American- and Continental-style dining, or when it is acceptable to pick up asparagus with your fingers.

Colleges are trying to fill that knowledge gap by publishing tips online, handing out brochures, offering tutorials and more. “There are so many methods of teaching etiquette to students,” says Greg Chase, BS ’07. To find out which methods are best, Chase conducted a study in fall 2006.

First, Chase gave two freshman classes in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources an etiquette test. Then he divided students into four groups. The first group received no additional instruction, the second group got a workbook to study, the third participated in an online seminar with a moderator and the fourth attended a hands-on dining tutorial. Five weeks later, Chase retested the students to determine how much they had retained.

Not surprisingly, students whose instruction included direct contact with a facilitator performed better on the second test.

But students’ responses did surprise Chase. “It was neat to see how students were actually interested in learning about etiquette,” he says. “And the professors used the study to explain what we do at the University, and how research is done. Students actually learned about research at MU as well as helped us find answers.”

Based on the results of Chase’s research, Food Science Instructor Leslie Jett is collaborating with the Etiquette and Leadership Institute in Athens, Ga., to create a regional study.