Fifty Minute Classroom

Aug 17, 2022, 19:20
Thinking Beyond the Next Meal and Service

Thinking Beyond the Next Meal and Service

06 June 2022

Long-term success in the workforce depends on simultaneous planning for now and in the future.

By Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE
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Your students are entering the working world and they are anxious to cut their hospitality teeth with real jobs in the real world.

They are probably starting as dishwashers, hosts, prep cooks or servers. Some may even be line cooks in quick service dining like small delis or fast food establishments. (See the 50 Minute Classroom article, “Teaching Culinary Job Titles.”) The problem is this: your recent graduate will focus on very short-term performance in each of these positions. They will focus on dealing with getting one more meal served or at best getting through the current meal service. For instance:

  • Dishwashers keep washing until everything is done for the day or it’s the end of the shift. They usually are not concerned if a plate or cup goes out dirty to the next guest, but they should be.
  • Hosts seat people. They look at the computer for the next reservation and look at the clock to know when it is done. They should be, but probably aren’t, working on getting a mentor to help them develop their skills.
  • Entry-level prep cooks prepare food to be used that day, or possibly the next. Are they thinking about how to increase the sales for their establishment?
  • Servers worry about taking care of their tables. When the table turns, they start the process all over again. They are not formulating how to become assistant general managers, but they should be.
  • Line cooks perhaps have the most tunnel vision of everyone in a food establishment. They listen to the order given by the customer, look at the slip put up by the server, or glance at the POS printer or computer display. Even at the best establishments, line cooks tend to concentrate on one or maybe even a few orders at one time. During the service, they don’t think about how to advance their career to become a sous chef, but they should be.

Generally, line cooks, servers, prep cooks, hosts and dishwashers concentrate only on the next meal or service. Unless you teach them otherwise, or they learn it the hard way themselves, they are dooming themselves to being slowly promoted, stalling their pay increases, and forgoing being recognized as the great culinarians for which you trained them.

For the sake of their employer, they need to think beyond the next meal or service. They need to learn how to work fast, efficiently and not cut corners in food or kitchen safety. At the same time, they are learning how to make every dish with the expected quality and quantity. I have seen cooks in a hurry send out under-cooked chicken hoping that carry-over heat will make it safe when it got to the table. I have seen people take inappropriate risks for themselves and their co-workers in the middle of a service because they were frantically trying to get the next plate out. I have heard servers be very inappropriate with each other as they jostled to get their customers served.

For your students’ long-term success, they need to also start thinking beyond the next meal or service. If they are a prep cook in a small local bistro but want to become an executive chef in a nationwide establishment, they must keep their eyes not only on the next service but also on how to move up the hospitality ladder. Are they getting mentors in their establishment and the hospitality field? Are they trying to learn not only the how of where they are working, but the why as well? Are they trying to understand the behind-the-scenes operation such as the reservation system, inventory and ordering procedures, and cost accounting?

The culinary teachers I talk with acknowledge the need to teach thinking beyond the next meal or service. They say the disconnect is that they don’t know how to teach these skills. To be candid, I find this bemusing.

Teachers are far better than almost anyone in the corporate world at thinking simultaneously about many different time frames. Teachers don’t create a curriculum for one class session at a time. The curriculum’s skillsets and master knowledge is prepared with short-, mid-, and long-term goals. Individual classes are designed to become a foundation for other sessions that might not be happening for weeks or months in the future. Before their class even starts, teachers are not only thinking about the first day, but the first week, month, semester – about the entire school year. Teachers, like you, are thinking about what needs to be covered on day one so students will be at the correct place by the end of the week, month, semester, and end of the year. It is even more complicated for multi-year programs.

The skills of thinking immediate-term, short-term, mid-term, and long-term need to be taught to your students. Just like you do for your job in classroom planning. Here are a few suggestions for how to teach these skills. All of these can easily be done in the waning days of your school year or at the beginning of next year.

  • Talk to your class. Normally, I am an avid opponent of lecturing, but this might be the right time and place for it. Explain to your students after they become comfortable with their new job’s duties they need to think about the future. They need to be successful at the next meal or service where they are working, but they also need to think about future jobs. Emphasize the reasons behind this, as discussed above. Talk about what you do as a teacher to work in multiple time frames at the same time.

  • Role play. Have your students divide up with half playing a manager who is trying to mentor a neophyte employee on why they should consider the big picture. The manager can talk about maintaining safety, consistently keeping the quality standard, and making sure the food quantity is steady. They can also talk about how the employee needs to make sure they are producing the expected number of plates, seating the right number of people, washing as many pots, or serving the correct number of guests. Have the manager discuss how they want to promote the employee and what skills are to be mastered before promotion.

    Of course, for role playing to work you need to switch roles. I recommend your students change their role-playing partners too so they just don’t parrot each other.

  • Guest speakers. Ask a graduate who has successfully moved up the hospitality ladder to come and speak on the subject. If no graduates are available, then find someone from the industry, either BOH or FOH, who will do this.

I am sure you have more ideas. The important thing is you don’t leave it to chance. Set your students up for success. Teaching beyond the next meal and service is a key part of that. If your school year has ended, then here is a chance to personally practice working on multi-time frames at one time. Incorporate this into your lesson plan now, for teaching next school year

Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 17 years.