News and Articles

July 2003
The Anniston Star

Business of manners: Protocol school owner teaches children proper etiquette
By Jessica Centers, Star Staff Writer

"You only get one chance to make a first impression."

The famous phrase passed through Millie Chastain's lips as she tried to pinpoint precisely what it is she's selling at the Protocol School of Alabama.

The certified etiquette consultant teaches children such things as the proper way to hold a teacup and which fork goes with which course, but she's also teaching basic life and leadership skills she hopes will carry her students through every social situation.

Poise. Presence. Confidence.

Chastain - a Georgia home economics and life skills teacher for 30 years - retired in Talladega County and there founded the Protocol School of Alabama after being trained and certified at the Protocol School of Washington.

Hers may be the only etiquette school in the area, but it's not the only one of its kind. The Protocol School of Washington has trained and certified more than 1,200 men and women as etiquette consultants since 1988 - many of whom have gone on to start their own businesses.

Chastain said she saw the need for a local school specializing in manners because in today's busy and technologically advanced world children are not learning many of the essential social skills that would help them succeed in life.

The little things make a big difference.

Younger children look down when they greet someone, she said. They need to learn to speak to someone clearly. Shake their hand. Stand up straight.

"When a child possesses good manners, they are judged more favorable in everything they do, including school and extracurricular activities," she said.

Chastain charges $135 for two days of etiquette class for three hours each day, and a dining tutorial with a four-course dinner on the third day. Students ages 8 to 12 learn and practice how to introduce themselves, handshaking, eye contact, extending and accepting invitations, thank-you notes and proper dining.

This is the school's second year, and Chastain says business is doing well and she plans to expand. This summer, she had five sessions with about nine or 10 students in each. Last summer there were four sessions with about eight people in each.

"I've been very fortunate to have quite a steady growth and hope to continue to grow," Chastain said. Dorothea Johnson, founder and director of the Protocol School of Washington, has been in the etiquette business for 40 years but says she has seen the interest in training grow most rapidly in the past few years.

"[Graduates] come out of top universities and top colleges brilliant, but totally lacking in social skills and unaware of business etiquette," Johnson said. "I think this is why there is such a tremendous demand for etiquette now."

Chastain has taught private seminars for students preparing to enter college. Most of those clients contacted her individually and asked her to teach them professional etiquette to better present themselves in interviews.

In response, Chastain is putting together a schedule of classes this fall for 17 to 22 year-olds. Johnson said teaching etiquette is an ideal business because consultants don't have to employ a staff or buy or rent a building.

The Protocol School of Alabama doesn't have any regular employees at this point, just helpers Chastain pays on days she needs them. She said she might consider hiring a staff if the school continues to grow. First Presbyterian Church in Talladega lets Chastain use its space for free to teach her classes. The dining tutorial is at Armagost restaurant, and the cost of the meal is included in the camp's registration cost.

Chastain also has a one-day session at the church called Mothers' and Daughters' Tea and Etiquette that costs $40 per person. The daughters are taught the dos and faux pas of pouring tea, stirring tea, holding a teacup, placing a napkin, eating, making conversation and the duties of a proper guest and host. Then they show off what they've learned over tea with their mothers.

So far, parents have heard about the Protocol School of Alabama mainly by word of mouth. Chastain said her students are a combination of children who wanted to come to the camp and children whose parents wanted them to learn manners.

She tries to make it fun. Even her hardest test - a boy in the first class whose mother made him attend - told Chastain on the last day of camp that he had fun and learned a lot.

Chastain said she understands that some people might not understand the need for etiquette classes. "I think manners should be taught all the time," she said. "I'm not here to criticize anyone, but I do think manners matter."

About Jessica Centers
Jessica Centers, a University of Missouri graduate, covers business for The Anniston Star.