“Mind your manners!” — A familiar chide for so many of us raised on “Yes, Ma’am’s,” Sunday suppers and mandatory thank-you notes. Unfortunately, our modern trends often shift away from traditional protocol, leaving a bit of a void for propriety. Charm Etiquette‘s Erika Preval steps in to fill the gap, translating classic conventions for a new generation. Her popular classes and workshops offer something for all ages and stages in a carefully created curriculum that allows students to fully understand the purpose of their lessons in an entertaining environment. We met up with Erika at one of her workshop partner restaurants (and SB fave), St. Cecilia, for a little hint at how she’s making it cool to be cordial.

Charm Etiquette Founder, Erika Preval

Charm Etiquette founder, Erika Preval

Who dished out the manners education for you as a child growing up in Arkansas?

I’d never considered it before, but now realize that it was the matriarchs of the family that strictly counseled my initial manners education as a young child. My mother and grandmother were always there to gently “guide” my navigation of various social situations, from church to school. Growing up with a schoolteacher as your mother and a grandmother who led the deaconess board, there was little wiggle room for improper behavior!

You’re a Spelman grad with an Economics and International Relations degree and a previous career in finance. How were you led to become a Certified Etiquette Consultant and start Charm?

Charm was created by happenstance. Not only was my mother an educator, but so was my father. I’d decided as a child that I would not have any sort of career in teaching, but life has a way of guiding your path! I’d traded corporate life to become a homemaker. The schedules of my daughters made it necessary for us to have dinner at restaurants between carpool and their club practices. Servers were constantly complimenting the girls on their manners. During my childhood, good manners were a given — an expectation — so I wondered what might be different. My solution was to launch Charm and modernize the approach for youth and young adults, decreasing the emphasis on perfection and focusing on leaving a charming impression instead.

Do you think that good manners have fallen out of fashion?

Having good manners hasn’t necessarily fallen out of fashion. Manners and etiquette have evolved. Society couldn’t function at its best if people chose to stop caring about how their actions affect others. However, my parents didn’t have to set parameters for texting at the table and didn’t date by swiping left or right via an app. As long as we have interactions with others, there will be a space for etiquette and manners.

We met with Erika Preval at one of her Charm Etiquette restaurant partner venues, St. Cecilia.

We met with Erika at one of her restaurant partner venues, St. Cecilia.

What are some of the more modern, contemporary manners you stress?

Be present. That’s the most important one. Technology has offered an amazing distraction. As wonderful as it is (I can speak to someone across the world without waiting for low long-distance rates), it often causes people to ignore the person who’s right across the table from them.

Since starting Charm Etiquette, what are some of the most frequent questions you’re asked?

The most frequent questions I’m asked begin with, “why?” While it was not very advisable to question adults when I was growing up, I understand that until modern youth can make a relevant connection with the rule of etiquette that I’m presenting, a shift in behavior isn’t likely. I welcome the “whys,” and when I host my last event (always dining), I turn things around and ask them the same  — “why do you think/feel … ?” It’s the best way to see if their EQ and leadership skills have grown; that they’re thinking about the results of their choices, rather than simply being told what to do.

What are some common misconceptions about etiquette training?

Some common misconceptions that I’ve received, prior to an event, are that etiquette training is boring; rarely anything positive, as it’s usually been an ongoing threat from parents leading up to our first meeting. Charm is anything but boring. The approach is different, and from the moment a guest walks in, they know that the experience is catered to them — even if it’s within St. Cecilia, Neiman Marcus or camping at The Georgian Terrace. They’re always excited to come to the next event and disappointed when our series is over. I’ll admit that the feeling is mutual!

Erika Preval of Charm Etiquette taps her family matriarchs, her mother and grandmother, with guiding her own etiquette education.

Erika taps her family matriarchs, her mother and grandmother, with guiding her own etiquette education.

Charm Etiquette just celebrated its second anniversary. Tell us your vision for the future of your business.

Charm began as curated etiquette and leadership events for small groups, hosted within locally owned businesses and restaurants. While that won’t change, I’ve expanded to include adult events: Social Studies. Events will include cocktail and dinner parties, bourbon and wine tastings – even the art of smoking a cigar. Social scenarios, that surely weren’t covered in Cotillion, but could lead to uneasiness should the occasion to host/attend such events were to arise, will be approached in a highly interactive and fun way inside of locally owned restaurants. Our first will be Chapter One: The Cocktail Party at GRAIN on March 25. I’ll also continue my writings concerning modern etiquette for my personal blog (simply put), The Southern Coterie and Southern Living.

If you could host a dinner party for anyone, past or present, who would you have seated around the table?

I’m partial to intimate gatherings with a variety of personalities. So, let’s see:

  • Justin Timberlake
  • Letitia Baldrige
  • Jimmy Fallon
  • Maya Angelou
  • President Bill Clinton
  • Condoleezza Rice
  • John D. Rockefeller

If you could resurrect one discarded etiquette tradition, what would it be?

Nothing in particular comes to mind, but I do miss traditional fashion and pride that people took in presenting themselves in public. From the grocery to the airport, the standard was a pulled-together look — especially for cocktail parties!

When you’re hosting guests from out of town, where do you take them to show off Atlanta?

Our guests tend to have some idea of the places they’d like to see in Atlanta, but I definitely try to squeeze in time at The Sun Dial to enjoy views of the city, Busy Bee Café or the Swan Coach House for Southern food, and a driving tour through the shops and residences of Buckhead, followed by cocktails and live music at JCT. Kitchen.

Erika Preval's programs at Charm Etiquette focus on modernizing traditional etiquette for contemporary situations.
Erika’s focus is on modernizing traditional etiquette for contemporary situations.

How do you treat yourself? What are your splurges?

Definitely travel — accommodations, food and adventures! For more than a decade, I’ve taken an annual trip … alone. I plan a few things that I don’t want to leave the destination having not done, but for the most part leave things open for happenings I find by engaging the folks who live there. Between trips, dirty martinis with blue cheese olives are my treat!

What’s on your personal reading list right now?

A recent Junior League of Atlanta Nearly New Store find: What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should) by Ronda Rich and Walt Before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919-1928 by Timothy Susanin

Name three things you just can’t live without other than faith, family and friends.

Paper and pen. Pearls. Whimsy.

The bar at St. Cecilia
The bar at St. Cecilia

Erika, we share your appreciation for modern grace and applaud your dedication to raising the etiquette bar… even at a bar! There’s great wisdom in time-honored traditions and the sassy twirl of pearls. Review all of Charm Etiquette‘s programming and registration options online at charmetiquette.com and follow along on Facebook and Twitter for regular tips.

Thanks to CatMax Photography for today’s beautiful shots.


About the Author
Katherine Michalak