As Times Change, She Returns to the Basics of Dining
By: Jim Hodges
The real reason for the class -- the entre before the entre, if you will --
was offered early to the 20 people sitting at tables in the NACA Room, hard
by NASA Langley's cafeteria.
"I've been at NASA Langley for more than 30 years," said Cheryl Cleghorn,
the center's outreach and protocol coordinator. "I've seen lots of changes
in the last five or six years."
Many of them involved money.
"Before, NASA was given its budget and did what it was going to do with it,"
Cleghorn said. "Now we're collaborating and competing for additional funds
for the center."
The key word here is "partnership," and Cleghorn brought together 17 women
and three men from Langley who might be called upon to dine with potential
partners who could bring business to the center. They were there to learn to
"Outclass the Competition: Dine Like a Diplomat."
It's a class Cleghorn has taught Langley Aerospace Research Summer Scholars
(LARSS) and Virginia Aerospace Science and Technology Scholars (VASTS)
attendees for three years. When she learned of NASA's push to foster
partnerships, it seemed only natural to offer it to the center at large.
Begin with this: It's not just manners. Cleghorn is a Southern lady who was
raised with manners, but this is something out of the Protocol School of
And, certainly, manners are a part of "Outclass the Competition," but it's
as much style and grace. And it's not like preparing for a cotillion.
"You can make a first impression in the first five minutes," Cleghorn said.
"Technical skills and knowledge account for only 15 percent of the reason
you get a job, keep a job, advance in a job. Eighty-five percent is your
commitment to people skills."
As an example, she offered a scene from the motion picture "Pretty Woman,"
in which Julia Roberts dines with three men, struggling with escargot and
with which fork to use for which course.
"Don't order something you're not familiar with," Cleghorn advised. "And
don't brush off bread."
In the scene, Roberts brushed caviar from toast points.
Bread is broken and buttered, piece by piece as it's eaten. "No butter
sandwich," Cleghorn admonished.
And no cell phone at the table. Nor purse on the table. You're there to eat,
but also to engage in conversation during a repast that can result in
Salt and pepper passed together. "It's like a married couple," Cleghorn
said. "You don't divorce the salt and pepper."
Don't overreach. Pass to the right. And on and on, small things that can
make a big impression.
Cleghorn brings up eating style: "American" vs. "Continental." American is
easier. The fork is used like a shovel. She suggests the continental "you
seem more confident and well-traveled" and a four-course luncheon provides
hands on training.
Soup was eaten by dipping out from the chin, rather than in.
The salad required the fork in left hand, knife in right, index fingers
providing pressure along the handle of each. The knife pushes food onto
fork, which remains curved toward the plate as it transports food to mouth.
The entre was handled similarly, though the menu offered a challenge
because, while chicken cordon bleu was easy enough, carrying on the back of
a fork after pushing it up by a knife takes practice.
Cheesecake for dessert was the reward for an adventure in fine dining.
A few more admonitions:
--"You don't want to eat off somebody else's plate, not at a business
--"No doggie bags at a business meal."
--"The proper way to hold a wine glass is by the stem, not by the bowl."
--And, "at a reception, only one thing in hand at a time."
The idea of the last is to carry food or drink in the left hand, keeping the
right hand free to shake with people you meet and greet. And to make the
meeting easier, put the name tag on your right side, rather than your left.
That way people look up the arm to see whose hand they are shaking.
It's a class Cleghorn hopes to teach again, because business will be done
over and over by people seeking partners for NASA Langley.
"I have another video of the 'King of Queens' that I show some students,"
But to this class, finding flaws in a scene of beer and belching would have
been a bit too easy.
The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman