Tyler Tarp sat down at an empty corner table in Restaurant International. “Thanks,” he said to the hostess, just as she scurried away.
“How are we doing today?” asked a smiling waiter who emerged from the nearby kitchen door. “I’m Constantine, welcome to Restaurant International. This is half restaurant, half my classroom.”
Constantine, a tidy man in a black dress shirt with an open collar, laid down some menus on the table and left to retrieve a water pitcher.
As he left, one of Tarp’s three other lunch mates, Aysha Harris, arrived. She was fashionably late.
“I lost my wallet,” she said. “So I had to replace everything today. Forty-five bucks for your student card and bus pass, I need a driver’s licence and a health card.”
“This is like the third time I’ve lost my wallet this year, so I’m just a mess,” she said with a giggle.
As the rest of their friends, Kyle Sheldrick and Y Nguyen, arrived they were well underway in their sole assignment – have conversation and good food.
Eating food and chatting with friends is now a gen-ed elective at Algonquin College, known as “the dinner party.”
The quartet of material and operations management students are one of a handful of test groups piloting the class, which aims to teach them about table etiquette and fine dining across many cultures.
“I wanted to apply it to my business professional life,” said Tarp, explaining why he took the course. “There’s going to be a lot of formal dinners and such as you come across business partners and you may want to actually be aware of the etiquette required.”
Menus in hand, they made their selections.
“Can I get the duck confit?” said Sheldrick.
“For the duck, is medium rare okay for you?” asked Constantine.
“If it’s suggested,” replied Sheldrick.
It isn’t, and everybody got a good laugh when Constantine returned and said there is no such thing as “medium rare” duck. Like chicken, duck is simply cooked.
For Tarp, Harris and Nguyen, it was a soup and steak dish.
With their lunch served, they set to work.
Each member is provided with a sheet of paper that contains their discussion topics. On Feb. 9, their topics were centred around dinnerware.
“Are there any rules you know or have about how dishes and glasses should be used while dining,” Harris read aloud from her paper.
“That brings up the pinkie rule!” said Sheldrick.
“Yeah, is that an actual thing?” asked Harris.
“Is it just for girls when you drink out of your cup that you lift your pinkie up?” continued Sheldrick.
“I think it’s part of French etiquette,” chimed in Tarp.
“It depends on culture,” added Nguyen.
It is hearty discussion like this that Kathlyn Bradshaw, the coordinator of the dinner party, said constitutes a good chunk of the learning experience.
“It gives them the opportunity to explore, experiment, think about their own experiences and practices,” she said.
In addition to discussions, students also participate in an online discussion board, where they post photos of their food, and research international dining practices.
At the end of the course, they plan and host their own dinner party.
Because the course is brand new and there was very little promotion, there are only a few students in it this year. Bradshaw hopes to see more next year.
“Students just don’t know about it,” she said. “This is a possibility, this is a choice (students) can make.”