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Bringing It Home – The Saint Rose Blog

Tips on Business Etiquette for College Students (and Anyone)

Book cover for "Shine While You Dine," a business etiquette book.When you hear the words “dining etiquette,” what images spring to mind? Talking with your mouth full? Drinking tea with a raised pinky? What about pulling out your cellphone in the middle of a business lunch?

“Etiquette is simply appropriate behavior: appropriate specific to person, place, and purpose,” says Robert A. Shutt G’92, author of “Shine While You Dine” and an expert who has coached students and business people on manners and courtesy for nearly two decades. “Who we are with, where we are, and the purpose of our interactions all determine what is acceptable.” For example, we may speak, act, or dress differently depending on whether we’re with friends, our boss, or our parents or grandparents.

When we act appropriately, our fellow diners are more receptive to the message we want to communicate. Imagine you’re meeting a prospective client for lunch, and you put your feet up on the table. Will he or she want to hire you? “When we do not act appropriately, we create a distraction,” says Shutt. “So the simple, and often overlooked, goal of etiquette is to eliminate the distraction of inappropriate behavior.”

Specific guidelines change over the years, due to social norms and technology (students used to wear suits and ties to class – and smoke pipes), but Shutt points out that etiquette is, and has historically been, based on three foundational concepts.

  • Courtesy is an awareness of how your words, actions, and behavior affect those you’re with.
  • Respect is the awareness you have for the hierarchy of the situation (which can be formal, as in an organizational chart, or situational, like the hierarchy of people dining together.)
  • Focus is your ability to concentrate on a single agenda: the agenda related to the group convened for the meeting.

Let’s go back to that earlier question: how to handle your cellphone at the table – a hot topic today. “If you wish to use your phone at a meal – which should be very rare – or during a meeting, first ask permission from the leader of the event. This shows you respect the hierarchy,” says Shutt. “Second, use it only if and when it contributes to the topic at hand, which shows you are focused on the agenda. Of course, you should always use it courteously, perhaps by excusing yourself from the group to take the call.”

Shutt describes how he handled his phone during a recent luncheon project meeting. The project director had invited him, making her the leader. She asked Shutt if he had received an email related to the topic. “I said I had not, adding that I hadn’t opened my email yet that day.”

He asked permission to pull out his phone and check his email. She agreed. “I had 15 unread messages, but opened only the one I was looking for, and read it to her, then put the phone away,” says Shutt. “The phone use was courteous, respectful, and focused, which made this the right way to act.”

Shutt, who was featured on the CBS Evening News for his etiquette expertise, previously served as a training specialist in financial services; administrator and manager in education, retail, and hospitality; and professor in the SUNY system. He holds a M.S. in Education from Saint Rose, a B.S. in Business/HR Management from Excelsior College, and a B.A. in Business/Hospitality management from Michigan State University. Learn more about him at

Shutt will discuss business etiquette and dining in a professional setting during a four-course meal at 5 p.m. April 10 in Saint Joseph Hall Auditorium at Saint Rose. Students should login in here to register for the event. Pre-registration is required.

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