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Perrin Cunningham

Etiquette Consultant


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Move over, Miss Manners. In Good Company, a business founded last year by UCCS philosophy professor Perrin Cunningham, offers courses in etiquette for the socially impaired, or for those who are just uncertain about their social skills. Cunningham's is not the charm school version (how to sit like a lady, etc.) but teaches the art of power dining and other business related protocol, including preparation, dining and conversational skills. Courses include topics such as restaurant selection, greeting guests, ordering the meal, selecting wine, handling payment, using the proper utensils, knowing how to identify the bread plate and how to properly excuse yourself for a potty break. Cunningham has more than 20 years experience in fine dining, special-event management and education. And she's certified as an etiquette trainer by Etiquette Survival of Los Gatos, CA and The Right Fork of New York.

Where did all of this protocol come from -- all of the silverware, glassware, bread plates, etc.? It really stems from the European aristocracy. Actually, from the Middle Ages working forward. It used to be that people had their own silverware and would keep it with them at all times. Normally, you just had a knife that you would use for a weapon, hunting, sawing and eating. If you had a fork too, that meant that you were a little bourgeois and if you had a knife, a fork and a spoon, you were probably rich. So the original use of silverware in Europe marked social status. Eventually that spread out and became more of a way of distinguishing between the rank and file of society.

What are some of the common business/dining etiquette mistakes people tend to make? Just being afraid. Being so concerned about what you are doing that you are not paying attention to the other person. As far as technical kinds of stuff, not knowing which one is your bread plate, using the wrong silverware, not ordering balanced courses. You don't want to end up being the only person at the table eating dessert and everyone is looking at you.

Are there definite foods that you should stay away from when ordering? Eventually no. With enough practice you can manage to eat anything. But there are some foods that are really difficult to eat well. Pasta, particularly spaghetti. Small, slimy things, like quail are difficult. Shellfish, fish with bones in them. You want to think about something you can eat neatly.

What's the most important feature of a business lunch or dinner? If you are the host, to make your client feel like he or she matters. That means being on time, turning off your cell phone, maintaining eye contact, asking good questions, listening.

Who most often takes your courses? That depends. Corporations often send their marketing or sales force, because they are out meeting with clients all of the time. I think it's very helpful too, for people who tend to stay in the office -- like technical people. Also, I've been surprised by the number of families who are interested. I think it's a way of not having to single out a person and say, "This person does not have good manners."

Do you have any etiquette nightmares? Two; not so much etiquette mistakes, but clumsy mistakes. Once, I knocked over a glass of red wine onto my boss's wife, spilling it all over her white suit. Then I made it worse by getting up to try to help her and in the process knocked over my glass of water on top of the wine I'd already spilled. The other thing I did was get up from the table without being careful not to move the tablecloth. Somehow, it was caught on my clothing and as I got up I pulled a bunch of other people's food off of the table.

For more information, see or call 635-8923.


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