The Cougar Etiquette Dinner


Skillfully sidestepping the busy wait staff, Mylene Barizo circulates among the 100 diners attending the Cougar Etiquette Dinner in the Todd Hall atrium. She stops, chats casually with student-athletes seated around tables for eight, then moves on. Members of the athletic department, other University units, and Pullman community leaders are table hosts.

Barizo encourages questions, offers advice. Trying to catch people between bites is tricky. The three-course meal includes grilled Coho salmon, mai-fun noodle lace, oven-roasted game hen, garlic potato puree, and sautéed seasonal vegetables. Dessert is raspberry sorbet.

Barizo is regional human resources manager for dinner sponsor Enterprise Rent-A-Car. As a guest lecturer in Richard Reed’s Principles of Management and Organization class earlier in the day, she told some 360 students about the organizational structure of her company, and how different levels of management impact decisions and strategy.

She opens the evening with a light, 15-minute PowerPoint presentation on dining etiquette beamed to screens overhead. WSU athletics arranged the event in partnership with WSU Career Services and the Department of Hospitality Business Management.

“We took the first 85 student-athletes to sign up. The list filled fast,” says Pippa Pierce, program director for personal development in Intercollegiate Athletics. “It’s a different type of event. The students are receptive. They learn a lot. The food is good.”

Those intimidated when they hear the word “etiquette” don’t give themselves credit for what they know, says Barizo. She considers her presentation a refresher course. Etiquette is being comfortable. Take small bites. Avoid talking with food in your mouth. Keep elbows off the table. Always pass food to the right. Excuse yourself before leaving.

With more and more companies taking job candidates to dinner as part of the recruiting process, it behooves students to learn proper dining practices.

“Your ability to maneuver successfully through a business lunch or a dinner will allow you to concentrate on the business at hand-giving, sharing, and receiving useful information,” she tells the students.

Networking should be done in small snippets-before, during, and after a meal. When shaking hands at an introduction, hands should meet at the webbing. The handshake should be firm, with one or two pumps, but not too hard.

Guests should ask their host to recommend a couple of choices from the menu. Don’t order the most expensive item-steak and lobster, with all the trimmings, for example. This isn’t the time to “load up” on food or drinks. If an eating utensil falls on the floor, don’t pick it up and place it back on the table. Let the wait staff take it away. If you are excusing yourself temporarily, leave your napkin on the chair. The napkin should be left on the table at meal’s end.

Barizo also addresses formal-dinner place setting, with attention to glassware and silverware, and their uses, while dining either American- or Continental-style.

As a table host, Fritz Hughes shares ideas about “effective ways to network, how to carry on a conversation, and who takes the lead.” The executive director of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce enjoys visiting with the students and exchanging small talk about their athletic endeavors, academics, and future plans.

“The more practice you have [in formal dining], the more comfortable you will be,” Barizo says.