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Fine dining in sneakers

Gorrie Elementary first- and second-graders get a few etiquette tips for fine dining at Bern's Steak House.

By BABITA PERSAUDTimes Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 1, 2002

SOHO -- The first-graders spilled into Bern's Steak House, going everywhere, into the Florentine Room, up the wooden staircase.

"It's plenty red in here," said Zack Scott, 7.

"It's like a haunted house," said another child.

"Hey," said Tony Pizzo, pointing to a statue. "There's half of a guy. . . . And he's naked!"

"Excuse me, children," said Stephanie Mercer, nutrition manager at Gorrie Elementary, who took them on a field trip to Bern's.

"Stop running."

Then, she counted: "One, two, three."

The children froze in their tracks. Mouths closed.

"First thing, you should know about coming into a fine dining restaurant?"

"Be quiet," said Janelle Smart, 6, in a soft voice.

And that is how Mrs. Mercer's students, the Discovery Club at Gorrie, learned etiquette Tuesday afternoon.

A leader in the afternoon enrichment program, Mercer had already taken her class to McDonald's, where they toured the kitchen and ate Happy Meals, and Publix, where they learned how to grocery shop and munched on free cookies.

But Mercer wanted to give the children more: the other side of dining.

And so, on Tuesday, 20 first- and second-graders, along with about seven chaperones, stormed Bern's. They toured the kitchen and peered at the live flounder in the fish tank.

And they got a lesson in etiquette in the famed Cameo room.

Red on the walls, statues glaring down, senior waiter James Braswell held up a teaspoon. Then a soup spoon.

The children fumbled with the silverware.

"The salad fork is the smaller one," said Braswell, who has worked at Bern's for 10 years. "This is a dinner fork."

He told the children how to turn the fork over when finished eating.

And he told them about fine dining menus.

"We have caviar."

The kids looked puzzled.

"Fish eggs," said Braswell.

"Eeeewww," they said.

The children learned about all the famous people who have dined at Bern's.

"George W. Bush," said Braswell.

"Wow," said the children.

"John Travolta," Braswell added.

Another puzzled look.

"Do you know who John Travolta is?"

"I do," said a mom.

The children didn't eat at Bern's. But they did each receive a chocolate macaroon cookie, which they ate kid-style, with two hands.

"These are too good," said Lauren Lopez, 6.

Reporter Babita Persaud can be reached at 226-3322 or

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