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Teens learn table etiquette as part of leadership rites of passage


By Tensiha Waldo
The Post and Courier
Sunday, February 24, 2008
Amber Wade (from left) enjoys her lunch while her date Heyward Mack listens as Cindy Grosso answers his dining question and Dorothy Harrison listens.

Grace Beahm
The Post and Courier

Amber Wade (from left) enjoys her lunch while her date Heyward Mack listens as Cindy Grosso answers his dining question and Dorothy Harrison listens.

Fifty-two area high school students were told Saturday that knowledge is not power.

You have to implement what you know, clarified Cindy Grosso, founder of the Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette. "What good is learning something if you never use it?" she told the young people.

Grosso instructed a special, one-time course on etiquette and table manners at the Charleston Grill as part of the Charleston Youth Leadership Council's nine-month "rites of passage" program.

Mentors help young black males transition from boyhood to manhood, and Gabriel Magwood, president of the nonprofit group, said the program can make all the difference.

The teens come from various backgrounds; some are at-risk kids from broken homes.

"They've learned to be comfortable in shirts and ties and to communicate effectively, and after this event they will also be equipped with the tools needed to present themselves with confidence," Magwood said.

Hundreds of youths have participated in the program, and scholarships are awarded each year.

The teens graduate from the program today and will make their debut in society as men at the council's 18th annual Beaux Affair Ball next month. The ball is similar to the traditional Southern debut but centered on the guys. It will feature dining, dancing and a full-fledged show put on by the teens.

Saturday, the 26 teens from this year's class and their dates were treated to an elegant lunch while Grosso showed them step-by-step the proper way to dine. The lessons they learned would help them succeed in the business world and when they need to make a good first impression as debonair gentlemen.

"You'll be building relationships over food," said Grosso, who has been featured in numerous magazines and made appearances on daytime television series such as "Dr. Phil" and Oprah Winfrey's show.

Lunch lasted for a couple of hours, but here's a taste of what they learned:

Lesson No. 1: Don't end up on the floor.

Grosso demonstrated the appropriate way for the guys to seat their female escorts. Approach the chair's right side, your left side, with the woman always on your right, she told the youths. Gently slide the chair out at an angle.

Don't just plop down, but bend your knees with your back straight and sit on the edge of the chair, Grosso showed the ladies.

She cautioned them to make sure they felt the front of the chair with the back of their legs. "Don't miss this step. I don't want you to be on the floor," she said, laughing.

The students followed. Several of the young men quickly sat down right after their dates, but Grosso stopped some in mid-sit to tell them to be sure to sit properly, with backs straight.

Lesson No. 2: 'Know who you are.'

Mickey Bakst, general manager of the Charleston Grill, told the teens that they'd need the lessons about proper etiquette to impress prospective employers. He said he pays attention to dress, diction and attitude when someone applies for a job. The small things make a difference, Bakst said, such as firm handshakes and maintaining good eye contact.

"I'm telling you, it matters," Bakst said.

The restaurant is offering a summer job to one of the students from the group, whose identity will be announced at the Beaux Affair Ball in March.

Grosso stressed that the teens have to first know and respect themselves, and then they'd know how to respectfully interact with others. "But you have to know who you are," she added.

Lesson No. 3: Mind your napkin. And stay put.

A napkin shouldn't be opened above the table, Grosso said, so don't shake it out before putting it in your lap.

"I was about to do that, too," Kenneth Lee, 17, of downtown Charleston, mumbled.

Grosso told them they should only leave their seats for an emergency.

But if you must get up, leave your napkin in your seat, away from view, she said. "People don't want to look at a dirty napkin while they're eating," Grosso said. "It's not appetizing."

Lesson No. 4: Don't dip. Scoop.

Grosso showed them how to lean forward and sip their soup with tact.

Alonzo Linnen, 18, of West Ashley noticed Lee wasn't doing it correctly. "From the side, like this," he said as he demonstrated. "Don't go down in it. Meet it halfway. See, you're going to put your whole head in it."

Lee's date, Missy deSaussure of West Ashley, 17, giggled.

"What?" Lee asked. "I did something wrong?"

Asked if it were OK to use bread to scoop soup, Grosso said, "If I was in a restaurant like this. I might not do it."

But if one was determined, he or she could drop some bread in his or her soup and use a spoon to eat. But don't dip bread in and out of your bowl, Grosso said.

Grosso noticed most of her pupils hadn't touched their glasses. "I want you to know you can drink," she assured.

Given the go-ahead, just about all of the youngsters reached for their tea or water.

Lesson No. 5: Be confident.

Arlene Green of Mount Pleasant joined her 18-year-old son, Kristopher Green, for the lunch. He is the youngest of her four sons, and she said he plans to major in business administration and marketing when he goes to college.

"This will definitely help him," she said, adding that she hopes the etiquette training will help him feel comfortable in whatever setting he encounters in the future.

"Looking at his body language, he just seems so relaxed," she said.

Sixteen-year-old Heyward Mack wants to be a dentist, and he said his polished manners will help him one day get his dream job.

The Johns Island teen said he didn't know what to expect when he showed up at the Charleston Grill in his dark suit and silk blue tie. "I didn't expect to learn this much," he said.

Reach Tenisha Waldo at or 937-5744.


Copyright 1997 - 2007 the Evening Post Publishing Co.

Author: Tenisha Waldo

Source: The Post and Courier

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