“Even Princess Diana dropped out of finishing school,” Myka Meier assured the 30 or so people participating in her “finishing program” at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel on Wednesday evening. The reference to a royal fail broke the ice, setting off nervous giggles as the students got the OK to dig into the hors d’oeuvres without fear of being judged on how they held their forks or folded their napkins.
For Meier — whose session was formally dubbed the Plaza Hotel Finishing Program with Beaumont Etiquette — displaying good manners in business settings and elsewhere isn’t about stuffiness or keeping up appearances. “We’re in a time where the world needs more kindness,” she said. “That’s really what etiquette is about, spreading kindness and respect.”
Meier founded Beaumont Etiquette five years ago in London, where she trained under a former member of the royal household. It’s based in Manhattan, but she travels the country in partnership with the Fairmont hotel chain to teach etiquette in cities like Boston. The two-hour course cost $125 per person. The Boston sessions focused on social and business etiquette, with perhaps more emphasis on the former — Meier referenced a Harvard-Stanford study that found success in the workplace is mostly based on social rather than technical skills.
Many people associate etiquette with table manners, and most are unsure about the proper protocol for a formal business dinner, with its multiple courses and seemingly as many utensils as a Crate & Barrel store. But Meier had it all covered: along with training on social cues, she addressed business strategies for networking and client hosting, including how to select wine for the table, and tricks for remembering names. Exhibiting authority and confidence in a business setting, she said, is all about body language and tone of voice.
Her goal, she said, is to change attitudes about etiquette from “something that people think is really antiquated into something relevant and modern again, especially with all the hot topics right now about gender and business and etiquette.”
Participants, like Jacqueline Deschamps, membership director of the Harvard Club of Boston, took it all in.
“I’m always looking to update and stay current, because as she talked about, social graces are always changing,” said Deschamps. “I often have to walk into rooms where I don’t know that many people, so being able to engage in conversation in a confident way is always a valuable asset.”
Meier also stressed what you might think is obvious by now — in 2018, it’s inappropriate to compliment a colleague’s body or appearance. “While it’s acceptable to say ‘I love your dress,’” she noted, saying “you look great in that dress,” is not.
Jill LaMonica, executive director at the Leahy-Holloran Community Center in Dorchester, said she was hoping to “learn some things I can take back to the community center to weave into our girls programs and the mentoring programs we do there.”
In the end, Meier told her audience, what mattered most “is that you leave more confident than you came in.”
More business etiquette tips:
- Keep cellphones and other devices off the table during lunch, unless it’s specifically been designated as a “working lunch.”
- At networking events, look into someone’s left eye while you’re speaking to them — it increases the chances they’ll perceive you as likeable.
- When hosting clients, it’s best to seat the most important person directly to your right.
-Avoid ordering foods that are messy to eat, like spaghetti, or that will make your breath smell, like garlic.
- If you have to choose the wine for the table at a business dinner, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir are always safe choices, according to wine expert Stefanie Korman.Margeaux Sippell can be reached at margeaux.sippell @globe.com.