TAMPA — With elbows tucked in and his linen napkin placed just so, 12-year-old Nick Cropper counted aloud the proper three cuts into his chicken entree at the Capital Grille on Sunday.
"No buzzards," Patricia Rossi reminded the class, prompting a few flailing arms to come to attention.
For 25 years, Rossi has taught etiquette, protocol and leadership to business professionals, politicians and athletes. On Sunday, she turned her attention to the table manners of Nick and nine other adolescents.
"With parents working so much, these skills aren't being taught in the home," Rossi said.
During the three-hour "etiquette camp," Rossi demonstrated correct posture, eye contact and that both men and women stand when greeting someone with a handshake. No bone crushers or limp fish, but a web-to-web grip that shows confidence.
"Stand with a purpose," Rossi told the class. "When you slouch, you lose 90 percent of your credibility."
The salt and pepper are bride and groom; they always travel together. The same goes for cream and sugar. And pass bread to the right; "if you pass to the left, you get left behind."
But even if the children forget all these tips, Rossi wants them to remember the No. 1 rule of manners: kindness.
It's a trait Rossi credits her grandmother with teaching.
"She would always say that every soul matters," Rossi said, adding that she doesn't care personally which fork you use, "as long as you're comfortable."
"You always need to be yourself, because that's all you've got," she said.
In addition to learning table manners and place settings, the class got a kitchen tour of the Capital Grille at International Plaza and Bay Street and a chance to question sous-chef James Shields about his job.
Tessa Wisniewski, 12, said it was her mom's idea to send her and 9-year-old sister, Sydney, to the etiquette camp.
"I didn't want to come. I'm glad I did because, well, I'm not going to put my elbows on the table, that's for sure," Tessa said. "I do that a lot."
Kevin Graham can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.