Eat drink and be wary

Eat, drink and be wary

Etiquette expert examines the art of the mealtime interview

Tall, slim and sandy-haired, Anthony P. Cawdron is partial to perfectly tailored suits and silk pocket-handkerchiefs. He possesses a veddy British wit. His accent has softened slightly in 15 years of living in America.

He has spent six of those years at Purdue University, where Cawdron plans dinners and events at the university's presidential residence. On one such occasion, he'd planned a formal dinner with his usual eye for detail, making sure the courses flowed seamlessly and the silver and china gleamed.

But then Cawdron's staff reported something that shocked the most jaded among them. Even Cawdron - who has witnessed distinguished guests chucking toothpicks on the floor like barroom peanuts and using knife handles to clean out their ears - was appalled. In the midst of the meal, as guests murmured appreciatively over good wine, one man suddenly grabbed a fistful of the creamy linen tablecloth and used it to blow his nose. Loudly.

Ever the gentleman, Cawdron took it in stride. After all, the only thing worse than having bad manners is letting the guest know how bad his manners are. So he continued to make sure the wine glasses remained full, the service remained seamless and the guests - even the nose-blowing guy - remained content.

If not to the manor born, Cawdron could take excellent care of someone who is. An Air Force brat, he traveled extensively with his family as a child. The early exposure to travel, dining and hotels prompted him to pursue a hospitality career.

Cawdron proceeded to build a resume that included turns as an assistant butler at Winston Churchill's former birthplace, a restaurant manager and a faculty member at a Swiss hotel school. As head butler at London's Sutton Place, he worked with several members of the Royal Family, including the Queen, Prince Charles, the late Princess Diana and the late Queen Mother.

Through a faculty exchange program with Iowa State, he wound up in the land of corn and cattle in 1990. After the exchange ended, he became event coordinator at ISU's president's residence. When ISU president Martin Jischke was hired to helm Purdue, he and his wife Patty asked Cawdron to come with them.

Today, in addition to his event-planning duties, he instructs hundreds of Purdue students each year on the intricacies of proper service and business etiquette. Occasionally he takes his lecture on the road.

Which is why he's at North Dakota State University's Alumni Center, teaching students the art of the business handshake and which wine glass to use. Because - in this post-charm school era - there aren't that many opportunities to learn business etiquette. Cawdron keeps the proceedings light with his arsenal of amusing stories and Old World charm. It helps break the tension of getting through a meal that could make Miss Manners fumble: hard rolls, French onion soup capped by a stubborn slab of melted cheese, chicken Alfredo atop slippery noodles, runaway peas and a dense wedge of cheesecake.

But by meal's end, Cawdron's mission is accomplished. The students have been drilled in everything from appropriate dinner conversation to the art of genteelly cutting cherry tomatoes. They leave the dinner armed with a pocket-sized etiquette book, the confidence to face their next business dinner head-on and a minimum of soup stains on their shirts and ties.

Jolly good show.

Palm pilot

Cultivate a handshake that's firm, not bone crushing, timid or lingering. "Gentlemen: Don't have one handshake for men and another handshake for women. That's actually sexist. Have a good handshake for everyone."

The drink takes the man

Hard to handle

When in Rome...

Table-ready

You are how you eat

Well-seasoned

-- T. Swift