If there’s one message northern Scottsdale resident SueAnn Brown wants to spread this year, it’s this: Etiquette is far from dead.
Growing up in Paradise Valley in the 1960s and 1970s, Brown was introduced to the high society life at 7.
Her mother, Delores Clark, was an actress, best known for her role in the 1972 Paul Newman western “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean,” and hosted more elaborate dinner parties and social gatherings at their home than Brown can count.
“I was wearing a name tag that said “Daughter No. 2,” Brown said jokingly. “I had to talk to people and shake hands, help with food and setting the table. I started learning real early.”
Her mother, who raised Brown and her two other sisters on her own, was a strict, hardworking woman.
It was important to Clark that her daughters grow up to be self-sufficient, independent women, just like her.
“When she got divorced, she wanted to make sure that we weren’t relying on anybody, that we could do what we needed to do, and I think that has been so much a part of who I am today,” Brown said.
Brown is now the founder of It’s All About Etiquette, a business she started in 2013.
As part of It’s All About Etiquette, Brown offers classes and workshops for children, teens and adults alike. And in these workshops, Brown teaches her students the etiquette dos and don’ts she gleaned from her mother.
However, it wasn’t her mother that pushed Brown into starting her business. It’s All About Etiquette was founded out of Brown’s sheer frustration with cell phones.
“God, it drove me crazy,” Brown said. “I was seeing the kids in the restaurant, and even adults, not looking at each other and they were on the cell phones, and I got upset about it.”
Brown thought to herself, “Where are we going with this?”
“It’s becoming very impersonal,” she added.
That’s where Brown’s classes come in.
Not only is Brown teaching children how to be polite at a young age, but she also shows them how important interpersonal relationships are – and how to build relationships outside of texting and social media.
“People are finally realizing we need to go back to basics,” Brown said. “It’s given people enough time to deal with all this technology and I think people don’t like it.”
All of Brown’s interactive, hands-on classes are taught at St. Bernard of Clairvaux Church in Scottsdale, and topics include handshaking, eye contact, dining etiquette, grooming and posture and more.
Programs for children are broken down by age group – ages 6 to 8 and 9 to 12 – and are offered as four-week programs with classes taking place on Saturdays. No more than 14 kids can take each class.
“When my kids leave my classroom, they are a changed person,” Brown said, adding that parents tell her they see a difference after just one class.
One of the more memorable transformations Brown has witnessed in her six years of running It’s All About Etiquette, however, was a young man with Asperger’s syndrome who took her class.
“He came in very shy and not confident,” she said.
Brown worked with him as she did the other children, even calling on him to get up in front of the class many times.
“And when he left my class, he was a different person,” she said, tearing up. “It’s just something I love to do.”
While children’s classes make up 65 percent of Brown’s business, she does have a healthy number of teens between the ages of 13 and 18 who enroll in her two-day workshops.
“It’s more of a college prep,” Brown said of the teen workshops. “We talk about job interviews, how to dress, social skills, meeting people and having eye contact.”
Brown’s classes book up quickly, with dining etiquette and table manners being the most common reasons parents enroll their children.
“I had a boy pull out a chair for his mother at a restaurant, and the mother just about passed out,” Brown said. “It’s so gratifying to do what I’m doing.”
Dining etiquette also happens to be the No. 1 reason businesses send their employees to Brown.
“They’re meeting clients and they don’t know how to hold a fork. That’s a big one and that can ruin a business,” Brown said.
One notable client of Brown’s was the entire San Francisco Giants minor league team.
They met with Brown two years ago to learn both dining etiquette and social media etiquette, a big topic for her teen workshops, too.
“That was really something, I had to teach them how to hold their fork, which looked like a cocktail fork in their hand because they’re so big,” Brown said.
Business etiquette workshops make up about 25 percent of her business, and Brown has worked with Marriott, CBiz, Charles Schwab and more.
Brown plans to expand It’s All About Etiquette and teach her classes at even more schools in the Scottsdale area.
Brown has worked with BASIS Scottsdale for two years teaching classes at the charter school that serves fourth- through 12th-graders.
Starting this month, she’ll teach classes at Scottsdale Prep, a charter school that serves fifth- through 12th-graders.
“I think we need to have a little love and kindness in our world, and if I can spread a little bit of that, good. That’s great,” Brown said.