Ace the meal, close the deal: New class covers business dining

September 6, 2018
Alisson Clark
College of Health and Human Performance

You’re meeting a potential new client over dinner, and business-wise, you’re crushing it. But then dining doubt sets in. Which bread plate is yours? What wine should you order, and are you supposed to swirl and sniff it? And why are there so many forks? 

Meetings are as likely to happen around a dining table as a conference table, but the typical college curriculum won’t teach you where to rest your chopsticks, when it’s OK to shift from small talk to shop talk, or why to avoid the chicken wings at a mixer.

A new class led by Lori Pennington-Gray, a professor of Tourism, Recreation and Sport Management at the University of Florida’s College of Health and Human Performance, gives students the skills to navigate those situations with confidence.

“Employers want their employees to have this knowledge,” she said.

The three-credit online class deals with more than place settings. Students write and give toasts, dive into dining protocols of other cultures and even learn how to mingle. Pulling from YouTube videos, online resources and her own experiences, Pennington-Gray demystifies the basics, pointing students to sources they can turn to for further information. 

lori pennington gray portrait

“I grew up with table etiquette, but when I started to travel internationally, I realized there was so much I didn’t know,” said Pennington-Gray (pictured above), whose work has taken her to Mexico, Korea, South Africa, Russia, Peru and the Caribbean.

For better or worse, “people will judge you if you don’t know what to do,” she said.

“In business, you’re always marketing yourself, and manners are part of how people perceive you.”

The class — called Farm, Fork and Table: Hospitality Business Etiquette for Success — is open to students from any major. Pennington-Gray plans to offer the course again in the Summer 2019 term.

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