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
Every semester, Vita Nova collaborates with the Arts and Sciences Department at UD to showcase beautiful pieces of artwork in the Bistro. This semester the work of Emad "Jano" Hemede, the College of Arts and Sciences’ current international artist in residence, is featured.
Jano was born and raised in Syria and came to the United States after the war began in 2011. He started his career as a painter and sculptor running a small gallery in Damascus, the capital of Syria. In his latest work he uses a water-based acrylic paint to symbolize the beauty of life as water is extremely limited in Syria and could be quite difficult to find. His artwork is a representation of his thoughts and wonders about the United States and his hopes for his home country in the future.
Jano's paintings are an excellent addition to the Vita Nova Bistro as their bright colors and immaculate details give life to the space while creating conversations about the stories behind each piece.
The trends are clear as you walk through major shopping centers, city streets, and entertainment complexes: more and more fast-casual, limited service, and casual dining concepts are on the rise. It seems that the future of the restaurant industry is moving away from traditional fine dining service. As Restaurant magazine reported from their coverage of the 2015 Estrella Damm Gastronomy Congress convention, “People want to be comfortable and enjoy their food in a relaxed environment, which means stuffy service just isn’t what people want any more” (The future of fine dining, 2015). But does fine dining necessarily have to mean stuffy? At Vita Nova, we make it work. We still learn all of the steps of fine dining service and high quality food production, yet we innovate to make our dining experience more modern and relevant at the same time. Here are some of the many reasons why it’s good that fine dining is not disappearing for the students and guests at Vita Nova:
1. When guests are expecting a leisurely meal, it allows student chefs and servers to learn and focus on perfecting the details without feeling like they have to rush and turn tables quickly. The food tastes better, the service is more detailed, and the guests get to relax because by marketing Vita Nova as fine dining, guests are expected to take their time. We don’t slow down very often in our lives, so it’s a gift to offer that to locals, students and their families, and professors.
2. Many upscale restaurants define themselves by the details of their wine service (Berenguer & Ruiz, 2009). Since we have such an amazingly stocked vinotec and a student sommelier position each night, we can learn more about beverages in the restaurant industry while also offering a wide variety of wines from around the world to our guests. We learn about food and wine pairings, pronunciations, and descriptions. Since it’s already a practicum for restaurant management, it also can act as a practicum for beverage management. It makes sense to elevate our level of overall experience to take full advantage of our wine education and delicious selection for guests.
3. When the students learn to execute a very high level of service, it prepares us to deliver quality service in our future careers. As Donna Laws, Business Administrator for the Hospitality Business Management department mentioned to prospective students touring Vita Nova, if you train at a high level, you are equipped to work anywhere in the industry up to that level. The students benefit from being held to very high standards, whether they seek to work for the Ritz Carlton upon graduation or open their own casual concept.
4. Even though it’s less popular than it once was, fine dining means a lot of attention given to the guest, every effort made to create a memorable and beautiful experience, and a lot of thought given to the menu and its execution. The spectacle of 10 servers working together to serve entrees to a large party in unison makes each guest feel like the most important person in the room. Who wouldn’t want that? It’s a treat to go there and that makes it even more special.
5. Could we really get away with our tableside liquid nitrogen churned ice cream on a warm skillet cookie? The whole meal really leaves a realistic impression of the level of service the students are able to achieve. We’re sort of famous at this point. By keeping Vita Nova as a fine dining restaurant the amazing managers/chef instructors can keep innovating and adding amazing details to delight and thrill our guests. Creative thinking, experiential dining, and attention to detail are important concepts no matter where our paths lead us next.
Written By: Jenna Pekofsky
The students of the Hospitality in Business program at the University of Delaware share their experiences at Vita Nova