Belly shirts and cell phones at the dinner table. Twisted ball caps, frayed jeans and flip-flops at nice restaurants.

Belly shirts and cell phones at the dinner table. Twisted ball caps, frayed jeans and flip-flops at nice restaurants.

Local etiquette expert Deborah Thomas still has hope for manners in modern American society.

"The thing I like people to remember is the person who represents the best etiquette is never self-absorbed," said Thomas, founder of DTN Productions in Worthington.

In business for 26 years, she teaches courtesy to people of all ages and is finding a public eager to be nice to one another.

She recently participated in a question-and-answer session with ThisWeek.

Will manners ever make a comeback?

Yes. But keep in mind that manners are determined by society, so as far as a comeback, manners are evolving constantly. So the ones that will come back are the ones that society says, "We should reintroduce that."

Who's taking etiquette classes these days?

I would say everyone who wants to be more competitive. I'm not finding a downturn where people are less interested, because the personal side of doing business is recognized as equally important as the business side because we do business with people.

What should a man remember on a first date?

I think one thing that has not changed is women like the gentlemanly, chivalrous treatment. I don't think that's ever going to change, but I think there will be difference in what a Baby Boomer thinks than what a Generation Y person thinks. Some women still don't mind if a man opens the car door for her but there's an equal number of young women who think that's not necessary.

And a woman?

Make sure she takes her money because in today's environment it can't be assumed he will be paying the tab.

Are politics and religion still off limits at dinner?

In a business setting, typically yes. I think when it comes to a social situation people like to know how other people feel. I won't say it's off limits but it is important to keep it civil.

When walking with a woman, should a man still position himself closer to the street?

That's considered a basic. Yes.

What's a proper way to toast?

Two things to consider: If you're the one receiving the toast, you're not supposed to raise your glass before the toast is over. If you're the one who's offering the toast, don't read one of the books on a scripted toast. A toast should come from the heart. It should be brief. It shouldn't go over the line or be too personal.

What tips should people remember at weddings?

One of the old rules that I find still has great application today: you're not supposed to take your gift to the wedding. You're supposed send the gift in advance. Remember, the bride and groom don't open the gift at the wedding. That never happens.

When it comes to the finer points of etiquette, who's easier to teach, young people or older people?

I would not say there is a difference. I would say it's the individual. I would say it's the person who has more interest. I wouldn't say it's age relevant.

Thomas' Web site is She can be reached at 614-888-7790.

-- Gary Seman Jr.

Deborah Thomas