Sometimes in Vita Nova, we question the system. We wonder, “Why 26 steps of service?” “Why this spiel in this exact script?” and we are not always granted a clear answer other than because it’s the way it is done. When it comes down to it though, by living through experiences that inform our own opinions about management, we, as students, learn more about becoming better managers ourselves. The author Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer” (Letters to a Young Poet). We are required to go through this learning experience for a number of reasons, perhaps the greatest of which is to live through those questions we do have that exist outside of our comfort zones so that we can get closer to the answers that are in integrity with our own management styles.
In Vita Nova, we are completing the ultimate group project without all of the common invalidators of a normal class project. Our schedule is set, so we don’t have to try to coordinate 10 people to meet at once, and we are working together in real time for real results, so chances are, if you don’t pull your weight, everyone suffers for it and it motivates us all to help each other out. We all do every position (more or less) so there is a great level of empathy and understanding amongst the team to help explain and support, since we’ve all been there before and know how frustrating it is. This means that we get genuine teamwork experience as well as experience explaining, coaching and supporting- all vital management skills.
A common theory utilized in most manager training is to have future managers work, at least for some time, in each department that they will oversee so that they can fully understand what the labor entails, experience the social dynamics, and be able to help out in a sticky situation. Whether going on to manage a restaurant or not, it is a humbling experience to be a dishwasher for the night. Here, as we move through the rotation of Vita Nova roles, we can see the pros and cons as well as standards with which we agree and disagree in each area. From having an independent person to serve bread, to having a captain and front server partnership for waiting tables, and even limiting each server to only delivering one plate each. We are called to embrace a new script each day, a new perspective in the restaurant each time we begin a shift, and a new appreciation (or frustration) for whatever lies in store.
This brings me to my final piece of management that we get from Vita Nova, whether everyone recognizes it or not. Each day, especially when entering a hospitality job where we are dealing with people and working to create an enjoyable experience for others, we have a choice of what attitude to adopt. Even if the day prior was hard, we can choose to start anew when we enter the wooden doors or we can choose to let this job add burden onto our shoulders. As students, we have a lot on our plates, and yes, Vita Nova is a huge time commitment. However, chances are we will continue our busy lifestyles and long hours into our careers. Even though we are not explicitly taught that perspective entering the job can affect everyone we encounter, through this experience if we take the time to observe, it becomes quite evident. Even if Vita Nova is a “controlled” restaurant environment, the abstract ideas are still as relevant as ever. I appreciate the opportunity to learn in a different way the kind of person I really want to be with a team of colleagues- now on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday for 6 to 8 hours, and then 5 days a week for at least 10 hours in my future career.
Written By: Jenna Pekofsky
The students of the Hospitality in Business program at the University of Delaware share their experiences at Vita Nova