It’s a cold and blustery late fall day on the OCC campus, but inside the Gordon Student Center, the Bistro and the attached kitchen are heating up with activity. Every Thursday members of the campus community come here for lunch presented by students enrolled in Restaurant Operations within the Hospitality Management major. Everything that happens at the Bistro is the student’s responsibility under the watchful eye of their professors. “Students spend the first part of the semester learning how restaurants work then they take what they’ve learned and put it into action here in the Bistro,” said Chef Deb Schneider. “This is a great opportunity for them.”
One hour before the doors open, Chef Schneider is overseeing operations in the dining area, or the “front of the house” as it’s referred to. She’s going over details with student waiters, waitresses and Chris Pecone, who is today’s front of the house manager. This is the time to make sure everyone knows their roles and check that everything is in place. Waiters and waitresses look over the tables and make sure they are set uniformly. When the Bistro opens at 11:30 Pecone will be the first face every customer sees. He will greet everyone who comes in, escort them to their tables, return to the tables occasionally to make sure the service and the food are satisfactory, and take customers payments when they leave.
In the kitchen, or “back of the house,” today’s manager is student Sharmaine Lloyd-Monroe. Being back of the house manager is a big responsibility and she admits it’s been weighing on her mind. “I stayed up until four in the morning worried about how today would go!”
The two managers are in charge of deciding upon and ordering everything. They choose tablecloths, dishes, silverware, go over recipes, order food, and determine work schedules and who will be filling which roles.
Forty-five minutes before the Bistro opens for business Chef James Taylor is going over “plating.” He’s showing student staff in the kitchen the proper visual presentation of each menu item. As he places different ingredients on plates he shares very specific instructions. While putting together a cobb salad he says, “With every one of these you want to try to keep the colors a little bit separate.” As he prepares the pineapple chicken with chopped salad Chef Taylor remarks, “This is the presentation side so I want the grill mark on the chicken where you can see it.”
Thirty minutes before opening the waiters and waitresses come in the kitchen for what is referred to as the pre-meal. They get to see and sample all of the menu items. When customers ask “What’s in this” or “How does this taste” they will be able to answer. Chef Taylor takes them through each item and offers specific descriptions before they sample it. “Today’s tuna melt is regular, traditional tuna salad. We add to it olives and fennel. When you try all of those together it’s very good. We take rye bread, we grill it on the grill, and with cheddar cheese we make it golden brown. Everyone try it!”
The doors open at 11:30 and by noon the Bistro is filled. As waiters and waitresses take customers’ orders they enter them into a “point of sale” computer system in the dining area. Their orders appear on a screen in the kitchen and the processing begins. Within ten minutes food is delivered to tables.
By 1 p.m. the customers are gone. Students clean up the dining area and the kitchen and enjoy lunch for themselves. Another successful lunch at the Bistro is complete. Next Thursday they’ll do it all over again with everyone in different roles.