Mayo's Clinics

May 25, 2022, 15:11

Mayo’s Clinic: Shadowing Professionals

29 April 2015

The third installment in a series on effective professional-development activities performed by students outside of the classroom.

By Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT

Last month, we discussed how to assign observations conducted outside of the classroom and how to make them helpful in expanding our students’ education. This month, we will discuss shadowing individuals, another way to enhance the professional development of our students through encouraging learning outside of the classroom.

Obtaining Permission
If you want students to shadow a professional, it is important to consider whom you want them to shadow and what you want them to observe. You might have in mind the work of a chef in a certain type of restaurant, a maître d’hôtel or hostess in a fine-dining restaurant, or a purchasing agent for a hotel with several food and beverage outlets. If you know these individuals and want to set up the shadowing experience, it will be a lot easier on your students.

If you ask your students to make the arrangements, however, they learn a great deal more about making appointments and conducting themselves well with professionals. Even if you want your students to make the appointments, you might want to develop a list of local chefs and other culinary professionals who are willing to be shadowed and then share that list with your students. It can work well any way you choose; just consider what structure and level of assistance make the most effective learning opportunity for your students.

Once the person has been selected, students need to obtain permission from the professional and arrange for the details of the shadowing—the purpose, location, time (to start and end), role (observer, observer with questions, participant-observer, interviewer or observer who assists) the student will play, uniform the student should wear, and how many questions the student can or should be prepared to ask. Ahead of time, students also need to arrange the kind of photography and videotaping—if any—that will be allowed. The issue of confidentiality needs to be clarified, as well.

Note Taking and Recording
When shadowing, students should take detailed notes recording the observation and the answers to questions so they can prepare a reflection paper or other appropriate assignment.

Once your students have arranged to shadow an individual (or a team in a kitchen or dining room), then the challenge is focusing on what to observe. If you have built this assignment into a series of activities with goals, then your students will know what to look for. But most often, we expect students to shadow a professional and pick up anything that happens. After all, it is difficult to plan exactly what can happen in the daily work life of a cook or chef. Some things are routine, but mostly, things keep changing based on menu changes, ingredient availability, difficulties with purveyors, group reservations and special requests.

One way to structure the shadowing is to ask students to notice what is routine and what seems particular to that day’s activities. Another is to ask students to compare what they thought they would notice with what actually happened. A third option is to ask students to describe the pace and rhythm of the day’s activities.

After your students have shadowed a professional and taken notes, they need to describe and think about the experience. In most situations, that task involves writing a paper, but chef-instructors are increasingly allowing video reflections with a short written explanation. The process of editing the pictures or the video, selecting the music, and then preparing an introduction and conclusion can trigger a significant level of reflection.

If you want your students to write a paper, there are many ways to encourage the process of reflection. One involves providing a structure for the paper, a second is posing a series of questions for them to answer, and a third involves leaving the assignment open ended.

Some of the ways to structure the paper include: comparing what was routine and what seemed idiosyncratic to that day’s activities, evaluating what they learned in class or read about in light of what actually happened, or analyzing the structure of the day’s activities. The challenge with leaving the assignment open is that students might write anything that strikes them, and it might not be what you intended or wanted to happen.

I encourage asking them to include a copy of the thank-you notes that they send to the person they shadow; unfortunately, some of our students still need to learn the value of carefully composed, hand-written thank-you notes.

Don’t forget to inform them ahead of time about how the assignment will be graded. Will you look for thoughtfulness, logical structure, appropriate use of examples, depth of reflection, comparison with what was discussed in the reading or in class, breadth of insights, or lack of grammatical and spelling errors?

Thank you for reading this column discussing shadowing. Since the beginning of the year, we have talked about using a range of out-of-the-class learning experiences such as interviewing, structured observations and shadowing. Next month, we will move to a new focus on what happens in the classroom by discussing how to help students recognize and practice several types of mise en place.

If you have suggestions for other topics or teaching practices you want to share, send them to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and I will include them in future “Mayo’s Clinics.”

Dr. Fred Mayo, CHE, CHT, was most recently a clinical professor at New York University. Principal of Mayo Consulting Services, he continues to teach around the globe, and is a frequent presenter at CAFÉ events nationwide.