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Tiffany’s Breaks Out the Good China at Manners Classes

October 26, 1988

NEW YORK (AP) _ Food fights are a faux pas at the elegant tables of Tiffany’s, where moppets sip instead of slurp from the finest crystal and china.

″At first, they have looks on their faces like, ’My mother made me do this,‴ said Annie Cater, who runs table manners classes for Tiffany & Co. in seven cities. ″But by the time the class is over, the little boys are seating everybody at the graduation party and the kids are toasting one another.″

In the past two years, Ms. Cater has helped polish the table manners of more than 900 children and adults, including executives concerned about which fork to use at important business lunches. It all started with the kids.

″A friend said, ‘I want you to teach my Brownie class some etiquette.’ So I got the (Tiffany’s etiquette) book, the silver, crystal and china. I had 28 8-year-olds in my face. I almost died,″ she recalled.

She succeeded, though, and went on to convince Tiffany’s that it could market the concept. Now, there are 109 kids, ages 8 to 16, on the waiting list in Houston, and classes are springing up in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Costa Mesa, Calif.

″They learn not to shout across the table, to pass the salt over their arm - things they’ll remember,″ said Ms. Cater. ″I think it’s (successful) because I’m not their mother. There’s no peer pressure. I make it very comfortable for them.″

″It’s just such fun. Children are fascinating,″ she added.

And unpredictable.

″I was on live TV with a little boy. I said, ‘Jason tell everybody what this is.’

″He said, ‘It’s a finger bowl.’

″I said, ‘Do you have those at home?’

″He said, ’Yes. My father drinks margaritas out of those.‴

Most kids first guess the bowl holds lemonade or soup. But soon, they’re dunking their pinkies like pros.

″We do use Tiffany china, crystal and silver,″ said Ms. Cater. ″We’ve had a couple of things spilled, but nothing broken. I think they know when they come in here that it’s special and precious. Once they hold it, they’re going to like it.″

After learning the basics in a class of 12 during two hour-long sessions at the store, the students dress up for a graduation meal at a hotel.

Afterward, Ms. Cater often gets thank-you notes. One boy wrote: ″Now, I can eat with the kings.″

″What makes me feel so good about it is they go home and they use the things they’ve learned. Even if they’re going to McDonald’s that night, they remember that their bread and butter plate is on the left and their glass on the right.″

Adults are flocking to the classes, too - learning the rudiments of napkin- folding and olive-nibbling at mock dinners and cocktail parties.

″If you’re out in the business world and don’t have good table manners you’ll be in trouble,″ said Ms. Cater. ″If you know what fork you’re going to use, then you can listen to the business conversation, enjoy the food and what’s going on around you.″

The lesson price differs, depending on the city. In Houston, it’s $65 for children and $100 for adults.

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