Jules Hirst is on a mission to show that social and dining etiquette need never go out of style — and shouldn’t.
An etiquette expert who has appeared on “NBC Nightly News” and “Good Morning America” among other shows, Hirst hosted a free class titled “Adult 101 for Teens: Etiquette” recently at the La Cañada Flintridge Library that attracted about 10 attendees. The point of it all, she said, is to help people of any age present themselves confidently, even in situations that might make them uncomfortable.
“First impressions are big,” said Hirst, who has a website at juleshirst.com, after the class. “It sets the tone for everything else. And if you are questioning ‘Do I take an etiquette class or not?’ … take the dining portion, because so many of our life events happen over a meal.” Think birthdays, graduations, dates and proms, she said.
“Whatever it is, there’s generally going to be a meal attached,” Hirst said.
Hirst skillfully engaged the audience using photographic slides and props such as a table with dining utensils, and coaxing people to stand up and introduce themselves in front of the class.
“Etiquette is like stage lighting — you don’t notice it until it is bad,” she said in her opening remarks.
One of the many tips she gave audience members was that if you have bones, gristle or other unwanted food in your mouth, discreetly remove it onto the tine of your fork and place it on your plate.
“The rule is the way it goes in is the way it comes out,” Hirst said. “You’re going to cover it with something, because no one wants to see my chewed-up piece of fat.”
Audience members also learned about making a good first impression. After some of them rose to tell the group their name, age and family and other details, she had them introduce themselves to each other by saying their names and giving handshakes. Stand, smile and extend your hand, she advised; a limp grasp or bone-crushing grip both should be avoided. The point, again: Avoid feeling or appearing insecure.
Kassidy Knight, 13, participated in all of the class exercises, from speaking in front of the group to sitting at a table in front of the room with others. Hirst stood and displayed the proper way to set up a table — bread on the left, meal in the middle and water on the right, or BMW — use a napkin (dab with it) and even how to pass bread (to the right).
“I don’t know how to eat well, and now I’m learning,” LCF resident Kassidy said afterward. “Hopefully, I remember it.”
Hirst also discussed online etiquette. Among the things to keep in mind when going online is to be polite, Hirst said, adding that everything posted there is public, permanent and not anonymous.
She appeared to make believers out of her audience on the importance of social and dining etiquette. Attendees thanked her after the class concluded.
Russell Knight, the father of Kassidy, was one of the attendees who thanked Hirst and said he learned a lot despite being familiar with many of the rules.
“It was fun and they did a great job,” Knight said.
Aaron Kang, 11, who attends Palm Crest Elementary School, sat in the front row with his father, Peter, and brother Elias for the etiquette class.
“I know how to get the fat out of my mouth when I’m eating,” Aaron said after the program had concluded.
Hirst said she thought the programs went well because people were asking questions and participating.
“It seemed like everyone was on the same page,” said Hirst, who has traveled to various L.A. County branch libraries for the program.
Some tips from Hirst during the class:
• Sit up straight at the table to make a good impression
• The host and hostess sit at the ends of the table
• Everyone can eat when the host or hostess begins to eat
• Keep your hands on your lap or resting on the table when not eating
• Elbows on a table are acceptable only between courses and not while eating
• Do not season your food before you have tasted it; that can be considered rude to the chef
• Once a utensil is used, it should never be placed on the table again
• Salt and pepper are a pair and they must travel as such at a table
• If dining with a group, wait until everyone has been served before eating
• Keep pace with others at the table and do not eat too slowly or quickly