Etiquette Consultant Offers Advice Along With Hot Tea
The hostess at the Victoria Rose Cottage owns about 100 hats and rarely wears pants. Today she’s wearing a red, floor-length dress that swishes when she walks. She has a red hat and the perfect shade of red lipstick to match.
Wynn fits in well at the Old Town Clovis tea house a visit to the past where diners sip tea from tiny china cups and nibble on cucumber sandwiches. Servers clear tables in elegant attire and extravagant hats, and Wynn, a certified etiquette consultant, wanders from table to table asking customers if they have any etiquette questions.
One woman asks when is the proper time to send a thank-you note. “It’s best to do it right away,” Wynn says. “If it’s six months later, send it anyway and don’t apologize. It’s better late than never at all.” What about an e-mail thank-you note? “Don’t,” Wynn says. “E-mails are so impersonal, and think of when you receive something in the mail. Isn’t it special?”
Wynn chats about Italian etiquette with Marisa Silva, of Madera, who is finishing lunch with her daughter-in-law. Silva grew up in Florence, Italy, and moved to the United States after she married an American soldier in 1945. During Italian meals, the salad is always served last just before the dessert, she says.
“Let me warm your tea. We probably talked so much your food has gotten on the chilly side,” Wynn says before moving on to another table. In a matter of minutes, she answers questions about wedding etiquette, proper dating behavior and silverware. There are no typical questions, she says.
Wynn graduated from a two-day etiquette course in St. Louis, Mo., last summer at the suggestion of Elaine Loperena, owner of the Victoria Rose Cottage. Loperena wanted to hire an etiquette expert for the tea house and thought her hostess — a former teacher — was the perfect candidate.
“Joan always came here in such a majestic way. She had a presence,” Loperena says. “We would tell her, ‘You’re like a star from the past.’ She’s like someone out of the ’40s or ’50s. She has class and sophistication but not in a snooty way.”
Wynn, who had learned etiquette during family meals as a child, loved the idea. “I love beautiful things, and etiquette is one of those things that makes life beautiful,” she says.
Wynn answers customers’ questions at the tea house and offers private tutorials on topics such as flirting with Victorian fans, wedding etiquette and how to give a wine-tasting party. She taught a best man how to toast, a family how to eat properly and a nervous young man how to ask a girl out.
“There’s a desperate need for etiquette,” Loperena says. “People don’t know about etiquette and they want to know.”
Loperena and Wynn see etiquette mistakes every day at the tea house. Diners hunch over their food and blow their noses in the cloth napkins. Wynn’s pet peeve is a diner who monopolizes the conversation at his or her table.
“A conversation is a visit where everyone gets to talk,” Wynn says. “Once you’ve spoken, wait until everyone speaks before speaking again.”
Stephanie Barnett, an attorney in Beverly Hills, hired Wynn to teach wedding etiquette at her friend’s wedding shower. The shower guests learned where to place the utensils on a plate and how to give a toast. Never answer a cell phone during a meal, Wynn told them. The people at the table are the priority.
“Setting rules of etiquette brings civility to our society,” Barnett says. “It shows you care for other people like they teach you in preschool be nice to your neighbors.” At the November wedding, Barnett kept the rules in mind. The knife on the plate faced toward her and she didn’t clink her glass during the toast.
The rules stayed with her long after the vows, dining and dancing were over. “Now when I sit down for a meal with my colleagues or clients, I have in the back of my mind where my utensils sit on the plate and I’m acutely aware not to take a phone call,” Barnett says.
Wynn became a certified etiquette consultant after graduating from The Etiquette Institute in St. Louis, Mo. The two-day course was taught by Maria Everding, an etiquette author and instructor also known as Saint Louis’ first lady of manners. Everding certifies about 80 people a year to teach etiquette during monthly training sessions at her St. Louis school.