Mind Your Manners
One Mom’s Account of a Zionsville Manners Class
Writer / Rebecca Wood
Research touts the benefits of family dinners. Spending an evening meal together has been credited with everything from higher academic performance to lower risk of substance abuse. The family dinner is meant as a time to recharge, relax and commune.
The image that pops into my mind when I hear the term “family dinner” is a serene meal shared with loved ones. As of late, our family dinners looked different. With four young sons around the table, our suppers would best be described as “rowdy.” After one particularly “colorful” meal, I proclaimed a threat that sent shivers down my sons’ spines.
The table fell silent.
This wasn’t an empty threat; this mama meant business. After a little online research, I discovered Serenity in downtown Zionsville offers manners classes. Serenity hosts two etiquette dinners. The “Backwards Dinners” provide training on 30 points of etiquette. “Manners Matters” is a dinner with more extensive instructions on everything from conversation starters to chivalrous behavior. Dinner costs range from $35 to $80 depending on the number of guests in the reservation (plus the additional costs of tax and gratuity).
Within minutes, I registered the boys for a dinner class. I broke the “good news” to my sons. Their reaction was akin to announcing a surprise root canal. Each son uttered a protest, and there were many passionate arguments over the superfluous nature of etiquette and manners.
When Sunday night rolled around, the boys’ mood remained somber, and the fact that they had to wear “church clothes” certainly didn’t raise spirits. They walked into Serenity for the 5 p.m. dinner with a mixture of skepticism and despair.
At Serenity, we were ushered upstairs. Serenity is an 1868 home that was converted in 2008 into a restaurant on the main level and two private dining rooms upstairs. Our family was seated in one of the upstairs dining rooms with a table the perfect size for our family. The room touts period charm and original historical features that wowed this history buff.
Within minutes of being seated, our server announced this was a “Backwards Dinner.” The boys perked up in their seat. A “Backwards Dinner” meant the courses would be served in reverse order, she explained. Dessert would be the first course followed by the main entrée; the soup or salad would be served last. The boys were absolutely giddy at the thought that they could eat dessert without the obligatory eating of a vegetable!
The server listed the dessert and dinner options for the boys’ selection. This alone proved to be a treat for the boys. The dessert choices were extensive, but they unanimously picked chocolate ganache cake. Within minutes, four young sons were served their own cake slices.
That’s when our instructor Carol Marquiss entered our room. Quickly she put our group at ease with her easygoing demeanor and lighthearted delivery on manners. It became apparent that she wouldn’t be giving a dry lecture, but a give-and-take presentation where questions and comments would be welcomed.
She directed the boys to look at their plates and utensils. With the backwards theme, the place setting was jumbled. The boys, with Marquiss’ guidance, put the utensils in their proper places. They found this task to be entertaining.
As she continued to talk, the boys finished dessert and were served main courses. Three sons selected chicken fingers with a side of sweet potatoes and green beans. One son picked pasta with the same sides. As the boys continued to eat, Marquiss provided instructions on napkin folding, meat cutting and where utensils should be placed during a meal.
I certainly remember providing similar directions at home, but Marquiss’ techniques seemed to resonate with the boys. I noticed a few sons attempting to cut their chicken in the appropriate manner. Another son rested his knife along the edge of the plate as recommended by the instructor.
During the final course, three boys ordered the chicken velvet soup (similar to the soup served at the famed L.S. Ayres Tea Room). One son selected the fruit salad. Marquiss continued with tips on everything from proper placement of elbows at the table to cell phone manners during mealtime.
When we left the table, I noticed one son set his napkin in the proper place (on his chair) to signify his dinner was finished. This small gesture provided reassurance to this mom that some of the instructions may result in changed behavior.
With complete honesty, I cannot say that our dining room table immediately transformed into a bastion of peace and tranquility. Four boys still make dinner lively. But since the class, I have seen the boys make little efforts to implement proper dinner manners and act like gentlemen. And for that, I’m grateful the boys attended the class.