The worst thing that can happen in a dining experience is if someone acts like a boor at the table. Face it: no one wants to associate with someone who slurps through the soup, makes a sandwich of the dinner roll, or talks to everyone at the table while chewing. It is a complete turn-off, which automatically closes all doors of opportunities. A pig at the table becomes an unwitting victim of etiquette bullies, who take utmost delight in pointing out the mistakes. I witnessed such an event years ago when I was a still a journalist in Singapore. I was at a dinner function and next to me was an American lady who, I learned, was casually sizing up people based on what they’d do with the dinner roll.
“You know how to eat the roll!” she gushed just as I took a bite of it.
She continued: “You know how to tear it into small pieces and butter them unlike those across the table who cut it in the middle and spread butter.”
Flabbergasted, I just looked at her even after she handed me her name card that said she was some sort of an etiquette expert. I flashed her a wry smile and continued to ignore her the rest of the evening.
That incident is not a nugatory one. It smacks of a high-handed attitude of a know-it-all towards the ignoramuses, and which blatantly ignores context. Dinner buns, after all, are not compulsory in an Asian dining setting. Asians do observe dining etiquette. Seared into my memory, I pushed for holding a seminar on western dining etiquette for teenagers when I went back to teaching. I felt strongly they must be armed to the teeth when they venture out of their homes and it begins with dining etiquette. It took several tries to finally get it right. There was always something going amiss. For instance, one time the organizer was a drifter who conned us into believing they could hold such a seminar (imagine – they had no cutlery!). The other time the organizer didn’t serve food after the seminar, saying it wasn’t part of the package we paid for (she didn’t tell us it was a separate payment for the food!).
But this year everything fell into place with the help of the staff of Aston Imperial Bekasi Hotel & Conference Centre. Under the tutelage of Pak Vino, Food and Beverage manager of the hotel, the grades 7 and 8 students of the Cambridge Preparatory Classes of Global Prestasi School (GPS) were lectured on the dos and don’ts of western dining etiquette. The program included a brief lecture on its history followed by the very detailed rules in, for example, using the cutlery, eating the dinner roll, sipping the soup, using the napkin to wipe the mouth, body posture during eating, the plate codes, when to start eating, proper and improper attire, leaving the table to go to the restroom, behaviour for both men and women, and many more. The students were immediately tested on what they heard from Pak Vino – they sat through a four-course lunch that included a beef salad as an appetizer, mushroom cappuccino with garlic crouton for soup, chicken cordon bleu as the entrée, and Imperial crispy banana with vanilla ice cream for dessert.
Prior to the seminar, the students were treated to an inside look at the hotel as they visited the various departments and sections of Aston Imperial. It was a good way to introduce them to the hospitality industry. Who knows? Some of them might end up as executive chef, food and beverage manager, head of housekeeping, executive manager, or general manager of a property in Indonesia or overseas in the not-so-distant future.
It was a sight to behold my students all looking grown up in their formal wear. There was pre-dining etiquette seminar briefing on what to wear and what not to wear. There were a lot of whining and groaning when they heard that sneakers, jeans, t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops were not considered appropriate attire for the seminar. Furthermore, I had to remind the ladies to practice walking in their heels if they intended to wear heels.
The table manners seminar for GPS was held on March 3. The four-hour-plus affair saw the hotel buzzing with activities the moment the parents dropped off their children who went home with goodie bags after. Screams and giggles floated through the lobby when everyone saw what each one was wearing. But inside the Dynasty meeting room on the second-floor seriousness punctured with episodic laughter reigned as they navigated through the intricacies of following the dining etiquette outlined by Pak Vino. Rounding off the good experience was being told that the students were very well-behaved.
Additional photos by Mayang Anestia