A Question of Service…

A few days ago, Tim and Nina Zagat wrote on the Huffington Post that the hospitality industry should consider developing a ‘service degree’ that could be ‘taught on-line.’ It’s an interesting idea.

Tim and Nina, powerhouses in the hospitality industry that they are, have no experience running a restaurant, however. They suggest that this Degree in Service would be a Front of House answer to the higher prevalence of culinary school grads in restaurant kitchens nowadays.  It is worth noting, that the relevance of culinary degrees is a hot-button issue at the moment, as well. Because at it’s core, the hospitality industry still runs as an apprenticeship model. There are good reasons for that.

There are almost as many different styles of cuisine and service as there are restaurants. There is no way a basic degree program could effectively teach all these nuances, within a reasonable amount of time.  Culinary schools, and virtual classrooms can definitely get the basics in—what temperature must food be maintained at, not storing meats above vegetables, serving from the left, clearing from the right—but then you add in the human element. Everything you learned in a classroom can’t prepare you for the walk-in refrigerator not holding temperature, or how to handle the parents who let their four year old wander into the kitchen.

There are many processes that are specific to each restaurant, as well. Regardless of the level of degree one may have attained, everyone pretty much starts at the same level in the kitchen and in the front of the house. Those with degrees do tend to move up the ranks faster, but I have seen culinary school grads start as dishwashers, just as those without degrees. I have as many servers on my staff that began as bussers as I have career servers.

The biggest challenge I face, honestly, in training staff?

The level of digital stimulation everyone has become comfortable with nowadays. Getting my staff to put down their Smartphones, forget constant internet contact, and re-learn to look people in the eyes is harder than you might think. I have had applicants answer their cell phone in the middle of an interview, and think that is completely normal.  And past the interview process, I’ve had trainees think nothing of texting their roommate while I am showing them how we count banks and track cash in our restaurant.

Obviously, those candidates did not last long.

But my point is that hospitality is a human industry. The only way you can get good at it is by interacting with people. You cannot get an education as a server by sitting in front of a computer screen. The last thing I need is for my staff to be spend more time with machines.

Training in the restaurant industry is a challenge, yes, but it is also an opportunity. Training is not a “burden” for the restaurant; it is a cost of doing business.  A good restaurant would rather train it’s own front of house staff than have to un-train habits that don’t work in their establishment before they can even begin to instill the habits that work best.

Restaurants that value service should put in the work to develop a solid training program, and stick to it. It’s not easy; it’s work. Train trainers on your staff. Have benchmarks that your staff must meet. Train your staff everyday in pre-shift meetings. The education in a restaurant should never stop. I still learn something new everyday. It’s one of the things that I love about this industry.

What do you think?

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