Ryan P. Smith, San Francisco State University
Murray Mackenzie, University of Nevada
Food and beverage training facilities are not easy to operate and maintain. This chapter looks at four full-service style restaurant training facilities that have been used at different universities and the positives and negatives associated with each method. There is no “best” method for a training facility in university education, but the purpose of all training facilities should be to teach managerial and soft skills that are best learned through practical experience.
While formal food and beverage (F&B) university educational training programs date back over 100 years, the volume and number of programs have significantly increased in the last 30 years. Traditionally, programs are situated in autonomous schools, colleges within a university, or as sub-departments in schools or colleges of business. Traditionally most hospitality departments/schools/colleges have integrated a practical training component into their F&B programs. This chapter will focus on F&B training facilities that when in use, function as a full-service restaurant with a kitchen and service element to them. There are other training facilities that are used primarily for cookery skills, wine tasting, or bar training; however, these will not be addressed as a full-service restaurant tend to be the most common.
Running F&B training facilities requires a significant amount of funding and depending on the model adopted, may operate at a profit or loss. Training facilities are broken down into two major categories, a “laboratory” (lab) and a “restaurant”. Both types of operations generally serve the university in some capacity by providing a place to dine. The operational hours and main objective will vary. A lab-type facility has clearly defined intended learning outcomes, where the lab is built around meeting those outcomes. It typically loses money, as it is not designed to generate revenue. In addition, it is only in use when a class or course needs to meet to obtain the learning outcomes. It is traditionally closed outside of class use. Alternately, a “restaurant” training facility ideally, should also be designed around a clear set of learning objectives. However, the goal is to generate revenue or be revenue-neutral. Typically the operating hours are consistent throughout the year regardless of whether the classes are held or not. Therefore, restaurants typically need paid staff (not faculty) to continue operations. Often though, this goal is unattainable and these restaurants too run at a loss, albeit at a smaller loss than labs. Larger universities may have both training labs and training restaurants. A number of universities have debated recently whether it is necessary to incorporate F&B training into a degree-granting hospitality management program, due in part to the high costs of running training restaurants or labs with some USA hospitality programs foregoing practical training altogether.
This chapter discusses different methods of how these facilities have operated at different universities and the intended learning outcomes of the courses that operate within the operations. Four different operational methods of delivering F&B training facilities are examined, including: 1. Lecturer oversight with graduate students operating, 2. Tenure/tenure-track (T/TT) oversight and operation. 3. School/department staff oversight with lecturer operating, and 4. Catering division staff oversight with lecturer operation. Each model has individual strengths and opportunities while also providing unique drawbacks.
Each of the aforementioned operational methods will be assessed separately as each provides varying learning outcomes, which are dependent on the course structure and resource allocation provided by the department/college. Both internal and external university requirements will be assessed. This will highlight the quality standards reflected in each of the operational methods and possible reasons for their choice or not so.
Lastly, this chapter will investigate the long-term implications of each strategy and what can potentially cause each strategy to thrive or perish. The order in which these cases appear is the least amount of support to the greatest amount of support from the university, college, and/or department. The title of each operation is separated as a “lab” or a “restaurant”, which helps to give better context to the decisions around one or the other.
Background on F&B Training Teaching
The courses that are embedded in the training facility and how those courses are delivered are vital to the understanding of the reasons for universities to develop these courses to begin with. All universities the authors examined have multiple required operational courses and, in some cases, capstone courses in the food service portion of the curriculum. As such, they build on most of the material students have studied throughout their academic careers. For example, students will use their knowledge of sanitation, safe food production, accounting and financial management, personnel management, production scheduling, kitchen and dining room operations, and management as well as effective planning and leadership at various times during their practical program.
Achieving a balance between vocational training and academic requirements means that a lot of higher education F&B training facilities face the challenge of meeting educational and guest expectations. Although the training of future hospitality employees and managers continues to emphasize skill-based operational activities over theory and textbook scenarios, the overarching aim of higher educational institute’s F&B laboratories is to prepare students through F&B hands-on training and academic theory that underpins managerial practice.
F&B has traditionally been viewed as a career path to senior-level management within the broader hospitality industry (Ladkin 2000). As a result, training restaurants have become better in preparing future industry leaders. Students with little to no experience learn the value of teamwork, communication, guest interaction, learning “on the job”, while those students with experience learn to train others, offer guidance and support, and learn supervisory skills.
Operation 1. Graduate Student Teaching Fellows Operation “Lab”
Universities that offer graduate programs have a pool of qualified individuals to assist in university/college/department support. Most universities that do offer graduate education offer student assistantships, teaching assistantships, and/or teaching fellow scholarships. Although finding students with F&B experience, especially the kitchen, might be difficult in some parts of the US, it has been a utilized way to operate a training facility.
In this model, a university takes on two or three graduate students to operate the “lab” while two courses are conducted in a lecture/lab set up. A faculty member oversees the courses and conducts lectures, while the graduate students ensure that the lab is up and running when needed. The first course is a required course wherein the lab students learn about the operation in both the dining room, front of house (FOH), and kitchen, back of house (BOH). The goal of the lab is to teach basic training skills and teamwork through live simulation. The lecture part of the course is used to teach the aspects of managing a restaurant like an operation similar to the lab. The second course is a guided elective intended for final year students that aims to focus on F&B. The course is about management and leadership in the lab and the lecture. The lab section of the mandatory course runs concurrently with the lab section of the elective course, where the F&B focused students supervise the required class students with the aid of the graduate students. In the lecture of the guided elective course, students learn leadership skills and theory. The same faculty member oversees both courses that operate the training lab for consistency.
A major benefit of this type of operation is the low overall operation cost as two labs are operating concurrently, and being overseen by the same graduate students. The required class learns the basics of F&B management and operations and the guided elective class learns supervisory and leadership skills. There are only two lecturers in this setting regardless of the number of labs needed, which keeps faculty resources low for this operation. Additionally, since graduate students are overseeing the operation and are on scholarship, there is a sense of responsibility and commitment from these students. These students also are with the program for two to four years and therefore, re-training would be needed when turnover occurs. Also, the F&B focused students in the guided elective, already had taken the restaurant operation course and are familiar with the operation to assist the other class with simple questions.
The drawbacks of this operation are that you need to ensure you have qualified graduate students, training needs to be carried out for these graduate students (although if there is a returning graduate student paired with a new graduate student, it makes it easier), and there is no one responsible to follow up on maintenance and equipment upkeep. Graduate students are not invested long term in the operation and equipment upkeep will become a problem as the years pass. In addition, F&B equipment is expensive and this type of operation typically does not make enough money to pay for the upkeep as it is only in use when labs are scheduled. Therefore, additional funding will be required as it is not a self-sustaining operation.
Operation 2. Tenure/Tenure-Track (T/TT) oversight “Lab”
Another “lab” operation method for a training facility is to hire a T/TT faculty member to operate and manage the lab. Few universities have T/TT positions that are meant for administration, special events, teaching, with little to no research requirement. Most universities hold strict requirements for all T/TT faculty regardless of subjects or methods taught to adhere to regarding research and administration. The value of teaching, research, and administration duties may be different at universities, but typically all T/TT faculty in departments and/or colleges are held to the same standards. For a T/TT person to oversee a training operation, there has to be a buy-in from the university to change the requirements for this person. Primarily, this person should be back-of-house based, but that is not required. The reason is because preparation, equipment management, ordering, stock take, is easier if the T/TT’s “hands” are somewhere in there.
This model is not a method that the authors have personally experienced, but know that other universities operate this way. The authors have seen universities that try to operate a T/TT faculty member with the same requirements as all other T/TT faculty and it creates a number of challenges. Simply stated, there are more teaching and administration duties required for a faculty member who teaches in a training operation lab than in a regular teaching format. The result is the person has little or no time to devote to research and more generic administrative duties, at the possible cost of career advancement. Some of these duties can be off-set by interns or part-time student workers, but the time involved in training interns and part-time student workers can be similar to teaching an actual class. Training of these students is still above and beyond the normal functions of other T/TT positions within a department/school/university. As a result, it is rare to see T/TT faculty teaching in a training lab because of this.
This type of operation functions in a lecture/lab format. The T/TT faculty oversees the lecture and the lab. There is typically an additional support person such as staff or lecturer to help run the operation in FOH or BOH. The T/TT faculty designs the menu and service formats during the semester, sometimes in conjunction with a lecturer in FOH and/or BOH. The semester generally commences with basic cooking techniques and menu items and gradually becomes more complex each week. Foodservice also has a similar training method, commencing with basic table service and working towards final student supervision of the restaurant. The students in the lab work in teams and are introduced to BOH and FOH protocols, the importance of communication, deflagration of the task, time management skills, problem-solving and professional competence. The lecture part of the course is used for restaurant management topics. Due to the issue of T/TT time constraints, the lecture may be conducted online to reduce face-to-face time with the students.
If there is buy-in from the university, there are many positives to this method. The department/college will have the T/TT faculty member responsible for the lab and maintaining it. The learning outcomes will be consistent year in and year out. There is a go-to person for all F&B lab-related matters. The drawbacks of this method are the university having different tenure criteria for this person and finding the right candidate that will be solely dedicated to this position. Also, education is constantly evolving (online degrees, MOOCs, certificates, etc.) and the need for lab may not exist in years to come. Lastly, like Operation 1, the operation is not self-sustaining and additional outside funding to maintain equipment will be required.
Operation 3. School/department staff oversight with lecturer operating “restaurant”
Another example of university educational F&B student training has been with lecturer oversight in BOH and FOH that is supported by a department/college F&B staff department. This scenario enables students to be taught by experienced professionals in both FOH and BOH while department academic staff oversee the academic structure and integrity. Academic staff are required to teach related lectures, coordinate assessments, structure the weekly teaching schedule to meet the course and program outcomes, and submit final grades.
The restaurant is open to the public during weekdays for lunch and dinner service and closes during public holidays and weekends. During 10-12 weeks of the academic year, different levels of F&B classes are scheduled to run the restaurant with lecturer oversight and professional support from the full-time staff, including an executive chef, kitchen support staff, a dining room manager, and/or restaurant support staff. Two courses are offered typically in the third and final year of study to formulate new ideas that focus on management training.
The executive chef designs a five/six-week rotating menu. The lecturer in FOH designs the appropriate service techniques. The menu and service are similar to operation 2, in that food preparation and service techniques are easier at the beginning of the semester and gradually build each week.
During semester breaks, students are also employed to assist in the continued restaurant operation. This additional opportunity provides a valuable experience for students and comfortably prepares them for their next step into the industry once they graduate. Academic courses are designed to be revenue self-generating. The income generated from the restaurant during the academic year is fed back into student learning through the upkeep and maintenance of the restaurant and to support scholarships. Additional income generated outside of the academic year supports the wage bill of the employed students and extra equipment needs in both FOH and BOH. Wages for staff are not factored into the sustainability of the training restaurant.
The advantage of this operation method is consistency. The executive chef, dining room manager, and all support staff ensure consistency for the guests that come into the dining room during a class or outside the semester time. Also, the restaurant operates year-round, which helps to serve the university with a sit-down restaurant on campus. Students are watched over by the F&B staff and ensure a high level of education with the lecturer to oversee the class operations.
The disadvantage of this system is cost. With the support staff, lecturer, food cost, and general maintenance, this type of operation will always operate at a loss. There may be a way if the university offers large banquets outside of normal operating hours, but the moving of staff outside or in addition to the normal operation may not be feasible in a university setting.
Operation 4. Catering division staff oversight with lecturer operation
There have been several attempts to expose university level F&B students to training within a realistic working environment. One such example has been to develop a separate F&B catering department that can meet student expectations while also generating funding that gives back to the educational environment. This department is operated entirely by staff with college oversight. In so doing there are many advantages to both the student and the educational provider.
FOH and BOH skilled catering professionals are employed by the department/college to generate income through coordinated internal and external catering events. To support varied requested events such as banquets, sit-down formal/informal luncheon and dinners, cocktail receptions and gatherings, students also assist, through volunteered hours and paid employment. Students are often required to complete a paid internship of varying length, and this option gives them the opportunity to complete some or all of it. As students volunteer to support catering events, this gives the full-time employed staff opportunity to evaluate their soft skills as well and practical ability. Students work in both FOH and BOH, which enables a valuable rounded experience.
Students attached to this form of learning opportunity tend to be highly motivated, primarily by the anticipated vocational outcomes and payment to support their studies and course fees. Also, those employed in senior catering positions overseeing the total operation, supervise student training, and manage student’s related interpersonal skills associated with critical thinking, problem-solving, effective communication, ethical leadership as well as valuable vocational outcomes that meet both curriculum and industry expectations. Interestingly, the industry’s views suggest that attitudinal attributes are more valuable over skills, thus training while working is seen as a valuable way in assisting employees to gain the skills needed for their future roles (Harkison, Poulston, & Kim, 2011).
Evidence has shown that additional vocational training can accelerate career advancement and opportunities for management advancement can be achieved through gaining relevant industry experience (Harkison, et al 2011). During these valuable realistic work-related opportunities, students are instructed by employed professional catering staff. Through these experiences, students are gaining valuable industry experience while completing additional work-related activities.
In addition to the catering department, faculty-led courses use the facilities to operate courses that use the training facilities when needed. F&B classes are administered by two faculty members responsible for BOH and FOH. Some of the courses operate lunch service in a similar manner to Operation 2 labs, while other courses put on small dinner events. However, the courses that operate small dinner events do not have a lecture/lab set up, but rather conduct a lecture or event during the scheduled course time.
Issues do arise in this set up as the facilities are managed by the catering department. Often times the use of the facilities by faculty led classes may conflict with when the catering department’s needs to use these facilities for revenue-generating events. Although the catering department does try to operate around faculty led classes, sometimes specific class schedules may have to change based upon the needs and demands of the catering department. Often times faculty members see this as an opportunity to facilitate learning through real-life encounters with guests.
The catering department also undertakes charity events, supports student societies and clubs such as The Epicurean Society. This student-run society hosts guest speakers, present an at-home cooking series, and provides opportunities to meet with those interested in the experience of food, culinary events, and foodservice operations.
The advantage of this model has allowed assessment to be undertaken in a realistic working environment, initiate additional skills training, and enhance future employment opportunities. In addition, the catering department generates enough funds to be self-sustaining and maintain the equipment and facilities over time. The disadvantage to this model has been the conflict of interest with the catering department and course educational goals. In addition, large funds and university support were needed to set up an operation like this before becoming self-sustaining.
As originally stated, running a training facility is no easy task. There needs to be a clear direction that is set by the college and department with a good understanding of the support that can be offered through university resources. It is important for someone with an F&B background to help design the best operation and if major changes need to happen in the operation, F&B faculty should be consulted or an outside F&B education expert should assist. Practical training is not the same as theory. No one asks a hotel, human resource, housekeeping, or finance person to consult on a restaurant in the industry, so the same should be applied to a training facility.
It is important to decide if the facility should be a lab or a restaurant, as either will be a nightmare, but a nightmare that will provide more benefits to students than just industry experience. In the lab setting, the revolving issue is funding and equipment upkeep. In both lab settings discussed, the equipment in these facilities tends to not be kept very well as students are involved in the daily cleaning of the operation. In the restaurant and catering settings, both operations need a large budget to implement and coordinate. However, the benefits of restaurants and labs, offer students the necessary industry knowledge, practical skills, and essential soft skills such as, working in teams, problem-solving, motivation, and communication skills taught through well-structured practicum courses that further meet industry needs. These operations courses also contain many frontline skills such as, supervisory and delegation skills, which are a requirement for higher-level supervisor/management training.
Harkison, T. & Poulston, J. & Kim, J. H. (2011). Hospitality graduates and managers: The big divide. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 23, 377-392. 10.1108/09596111111122541.
Ladkin, A. (2000). Vocational education and food and beverage experience: Issues for career development. International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, 12 (4), 226–233.