Myka Meier doesn’t own a single pair of sweatpants. Or jeans.
Those statements make a little more sense when you learn her background. Meier is an etiquette expert who trained under a former member of Queen Elizabeth II’s royal household, and now runs a finishing program called Beaumont Etiquette.
That might conjure memories of The Princess Diaries, or antiquated values of how a lady should act in public. (Cue eye roll.) While much of her work does focus on the outward — maintaining eye contact and good posture — it all stems from inspiring a sense of confidence and respect, Meier says.
“It’s not about holding forks and knives correctly. Etiquette is about treating others kindly, and that never goes out of style,” she says. Fair enough. Many are so reliant on technology to make connections, we’re at a loss when it comes to holding actual conversation around a dinner table of, say, new colleagues.
Clearly, Meier has hit on something salient; she sees thousands and thousands of clients each year, and her etiquette courses at The Plaza Hotel in New York City have sold out. (They’ve since opened more.) The topics covered in her classes range from ghosting to when it’s OK to sleep with someone: not your grandma’s etiquette classes.
Based in: New York
Graduated from: University of Florida, B.S. in journalism
Years in the business: I launched my company almost three years ago.
Previous jobs: Wrote press releases for PR companies; worked in event planning at an integrated communications firm in London
How did that lead you to etiquette training? In London, I worked a lot with U.S. companies expanding globally for the first time, and the topic of etiquette kept coming up — how you communicate differs greatly from place to place. It can make or break a relationship.
Prior experience: I attended many traditional finishing schools, in England and Switzerland, which covered western etiquette. That was purely out of my own interest.
What your classes at The Plaza entail: There are after-work courses called Plaza Propers, which are for men and women over the age of 21. Those include wine and food, and we discuss a different topic each week, from business networking to dining to weddings. They cost $75 per session. Then there are Saturday intensive classes, for men and women over 18, which are five-hour trainings with guest speakers and experts. Those run for $599 per session. Finally, we have courses for kids and teens, ages 5 to 17, which are $125 per class, including food and beverage.
The age and gender makeup of your clientele: Mostly millennials, a mix of men and women. They’re well-educated and know they have a lot to learn. They went to good schools and are trying to find good jobs. About 80% of my clients are there on their own volition; sometimes, a bank or law firm will send employees for corporate purposes.
Technology is moving in such a way that makes it harder to practice good etiquette — we have constant access to everything, all the time. How much of your work is focused on teaching Facebook-addicted millennials to have in-person interactions? A lot. The more time we spend online, the less time we’re interacting face-to-face. You go into a room and don’t know anyone, so you pull out your little comfort zone — your phone — and it makes you unapproachable. We’re losing those soft skills of meeting and greeting: proper handshakes, eye contact, body language, strong posture.
What are the most common questions you get from students? “How do I start a conversation? I don’t know what to say!” My advice is to never start out with, “What do you do?” That’s the No. 1 thing to ask, especially in New York, but it comes off as opportunistic. Instead, I suggest starting with, “How do you know the host?” or “How long have you been working with your employer?”
What about online etiquette? We go over email, social media, cell phone etiquette, and online dating.
Online dating etiquette seems like it could be its own years-long course. In your profile, you should only list what you’re looking for — not what you’re not looking for. List the positives. I got a question from someone who had been ghosted recently, and to be honest, the person doing the ghosting is the one who needs the etiquette training. That’s horrible.
Email is also a big one, and not using text message language. No smileys in formal business emails. When addressing people, the most senior person gets listed first.
The most surprising thing millennials don’t know: Dining etiquette. We live in a fast environment where everything comes to us on demand. We eat at our desks. Everything is casual. People tell me they don’t know which fork or glass to grab.
The idea behind this business, though, feels fairly antiquated. Aren’t there more important ways to spend time than learning how to properly fold napkins? In business, or on a date, or really in any social interaction, a lot is done over a meal. Imagine sitting across from someone while food is flying out of their mouth. You’d be distracted by their social manners. I teach modern, practical etiquette, like how to spit out your food in an emergency so it doesn’t fall out of the napkin. I’m not teaching how to stack peas on top of your fork.
What’s the biggest etiquette faux pas? Being on your phone when someone is talking to you, during a meeting or a conversation. Or talking on your phone in the middle of a restaurant.
Best part of the job: Giving people the confidence to navigate a dining table or communicate professionally. Everyone is in my class for a reason. Sometimes they’re not progressing at work, sometimes they feel voiceless. I love seeing them really excited to practice what they’ve learned, from voice training to holding themselves properly to shaking hands. My job is to be brutally honest in the nicest of ways. Your mom might tell you that you look great in that dress, but someone needs to tell you truth.
Most challenging part of the job: Someone who isn’t receptive to change. A company might send an employee — or a mom might send a daughter — who just doesn’t want to be there. They feel it’s a negative thing, being preached upon. I’m trying to change the perception of what etiquette is, that it’s empowering and fun.
Who, in your opinion, is the pinnacle of excellent etiquette? Princess Grace of Monaco. You’d never see her running down the street and flailing her arms; she’s so composed and well spoken. She always made people feel important.
Your most important lesson about starting a business: You will fail many, many times. When I first launched in New York, my phone didn’t ring for a month. I wanted to go back to my comfort zone [to my day job in communications], where I knew I could make money. But in those cases, you’ve just gotta change tack. I said, OK, nobody’s heard of me, so what can I do to change that?
What your wardrobe looks like: I’m very formal. I don’t own a single pair of jeans or sweatpants, but that’s me personally. Say you just run to the corner store in baggy sweatpants with holes, and that’s the one time you see your future boss or miss an opportunity to introduce yourself to someone. You never know who you’ll meet.
You do own sneakers, though, right? Yes. And there are days I don’t wear makeup.
Next, meet the only female pro skywriter in America.