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Fast Track To The Grownup Table

05/19/2017 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey

Gallery: The Importance Of Etiquette [3 Images] Click any image to expand.

The Importance Of Etiquette 

By Patrice Doucet 

Most of us have been there:  sitting at the dinner table, staring at someone who’s talking while chewing their food, with the “monkey grip” on the fork stuffing food into one little chipmunk cheek at a time.  You know the person, often someone you love dearly, who blows their leaky nose into a cloth napkin!  Where do you begin in changing that behavior?  One woman is making it her charge to teach children proper table etiquette that they can take not only home, but into adulthood.

Denise Raymond is meticulously put together, from her short, perfectly fixed hair to her flawless makeup and tastefully, stylish clothing.  She speaks in a soft, patient tone and if you close your eyes, you can still see her beautiful smile from the sound of her voice.  Hardly the prude you envision in an etiquette teacher, she’s vibrant and has proven that teaching children table manners can be done in less than two hours!  That’s right.

Since 2012, the East St. Peter branch of the New Iberia Public Library has held what’s become one of its most popular workshops, one day in the summer and fall, free to boys and girls ages 7-11 years.

The class opens with the children learning to set a table using a tablecloth, small centerpiece, napkins, real plates, silver ware, breakable drinking glasses (with ice), punch and real food – everything that might spell disaster for a child who doesn’t know how to handle himself. The children learn where to position everything on the table using the acronym FORKS.  Working left to right, the Fork is on the left, O is for the plate in the center, then comes the Knife and Spoon on the right.  Ever mistakenly swiped someone’s bread plate or water glass in a restaurant?  Here’s a tip Denise shows her students:  Make an “ok” sign with each hand; the right hand forms a “d” for drink that goes on the right.  The left hand forms a “b” for bread plate that goes on the left.  

Denise uses foods like “slippery” deviled eggs, chicken salad and ham and cheese sandwiches, fruit kabobs, and boudin, teaching her students how to handle finger foods of all sorts.  She says the more experience the children have in handling the food, the more comfortable they will be at the table and consequently have fewer accidents.  

Using ladles and tongs, the children are taught how to pick up a variety of foods with something other than their hands.  At one point, Denise may purposely knock over a small drink on the table with her elbows or by reaching for something, to demonstrate what can happen when you don’t ask for something to be passed instead.  Speaking of passing food, if you are asked to pass the salt, Denise advises passing both salt and pepper, so that the person receiving can pass them both to the next person who might want both.  There’s an important lesson, that many adults have missed, on the tactful art of taking something unwanted, like a piece of crab shell or a boudin skin, from the mouth and transferring it to a napkin.  In one minute’s time, the children are taught the proper way to sip soup, with the soup spoon pushed away from them, so that any drips fall back into the bowl.  Every moment is a teaching opportunity; even during a fun moment of decorating cookies Denise talks to the children about the importance of trying different foods.

While the class is casual attire, Denise says some of students come dressed in their church best.  Even more amazing than what she accomplishes in such a short period of time is that the children thoroughly enjoy the class and soak in what they learn.  “They’re so proud to go home and point out to their parents things that they should or shouldn’t be doing at the table.  I’ve been approached by parents who tell me that they don’t eat in the den anymore; they’ve moved back to the table.”   

Supervisor at the library, Denise has worked among children for the past 19 years, but it was her time spent in catering, another passion, that lead to the idea of an etiquette workshop.  It wasn’t until five years ago, when she really observed children fidgeting at the tables of weddings, anniversaries and other dining events, that she told herself she could teach them what to do to be more comfortable at the table.  “Most children misbehave at the table because they don’t know what they’re supposed to do,” she says.  She presented the idea of the etiquette class to the library, where numerous other workshops for children take place, and says they were sold on the idea.

One of nine children in her family, Denise says learning manners and the joy of entertaining came early in life.  “My mother was one who loved to entertain, whether it was hosting a card game or inviting friends for dinner.  She would set the table with flowers from the yard, make a cake and cook a nice meal.  She acted as if a queen was coming to dinner.  We’d be playing outside and she’d call one of us [often me] to come and bring something to the table.  Back then, it was a treat to be among adults.”

Denise advises parents to begin taking their children to restaurants at a young age so they can become accustomed to sitting for an hour or so and know what’s expected of them.  “Practice at family type restaurants first before graduating to nicer, quieter ones,” she recommends.  She discourages toys at the table, at home and particularly a restaurant, and instead recommends feeding young children a little something before going out to eat so that they don’t become hungry and cross before food is served. 

The workshop has been so successful over the years, that Denise has been approached by both teens going to nice dinners and women asking for her help.  “One day I got a call from a woman who was almost talking softly into the phone, explaining that she and her husband were having the husband’s boss for dinner and she didn’t want to embarrass her husband by doing the wrong thing.  She didn’t know if there was a different way to hold a glass of red wine vs. white wine.”  Indeed there is.  Denise says red wine glasses should be held under the round of the glass and white wine by the stem.  “It wasn’t until the end of the conversation that I realized the boss was at the house while we were talking,” Denise laughs.

The fruits of Denise’s labor have made their way back to her.  I’ve always said, “Work hard in silence all your life and let your success make all the noise.  When I see one of my former students at a restaurant and they’re smiling from ear to ear, proud to show me that they’re applying what they learned, that speaks the loudest.”

This summer’s FREE workshop titled If You Please will be held July 26, from 1-3 pm at the East St. Peter St. branch of the New Iberia Public Library.  To sign up, call (337) 364-7670.

Today, In Print Etiquette Patrice Doucet

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