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Come along to hotel school where coffee has its test.

It has been more years than I wish to count since I stood in a similar situation--waiting in a school corridor among a throng of impatient students to have a word with the professor in his office. For a moment I too feel guilty about my most recent paper, work too quickly done or not done at all. But no, times do change and now I am ushered in ahead of the goggle-eyed youngsters in the hall. I can pull rank because I have come to talk about coffee with the head of a department in one of Europe's better regarded hotel management schools.

This visit was illuminating for several reasons, details of which follow, but in general I was surprised to learn how seriously coffee is taken by such an institution; it was also a lesson to see that coffee must compete in the curriculum of such schools for time and attention just as it must compete with other beverages in the marketplace; it was an education to look back at coffee through the eyes of hotel/restaurant management. Coming away I felt that it would perhaps be good for coffee as an industry to play student at such schools, where the future of HORECA coffee service is being drawn.

In advance of my interview, the school, part of a larger educational institution, requested anonymity, which is here respected. Suffice it to report that the school is in northern Europe, in a nation of fairly high coffee standards. Its graduates are placed mainly with hotels in threestar, four-star and five-star categories, although some of its students may in fact have careers only in foodservice. Currently the school has 240 students attending a three year program of study. It is of a standing to have had work-study programs for its students at such hotels as the Savoy in London and the Intercontinental in Paris.

Firstly, coffee most definitely remains on this school's curriculum, even though other schools have dropped it. The department head I spoke with gave me the outline of their program, and too, of far greater importance, the philosophy behind the program. Unfortunately, given the importance of wine in restaurant management, and of the precious little time left to coffee, not as much emphasis is devoted to it as the department head would wish. Time and wine are indeed the great competitors to coffee's survival on hotel school curriculums.

Coffee is presented in the classroom in two sections: Production Technology and Restaurant Technology. The first relates to learning in brief of coffee growing, origins, roasting processes, types of coffee (regular, espresso, cappuccino, decaf) about shelf life of various coffee products and, most critically, of taste characteristics. In this, first year students are urged to learn to think like clients and evaluate coffee taste accordingly and not judge it by the coffee mother pours. The effort is to make the students aware of the world of coffee values and involve them with the importance of the drink in hotel business.

'Restaurant Technology' as can be assumed brings the students into contact with the business and management details of contracting for coffee supply, choosing the brewing equipment and serving coffee. This involves suggestions on processes for selecting a coffee supply and review of coffee-making technologies. The latter becomes quite analytical as to the attributes--advantages, disadvantages--of the main genres of coffee-making equipment. But interestingly enough, the section also relates to using coffee as a marketing tool for the hotel or restaurant, and this bears directly on ideals of cup quality, of standards and philosophy of service, and to trends in coffee blends and imagery.

In an effort to bring a little reality to the study, the school stresses coffee tastings and service presentations for the students, as time permits. Later, students are asked to make a hypothetical buying decision for coffee-making equipment for a specific kind of restaurant/hotel service; they must figure requirements, analyze machine specifications and costs, give rationales for and against purchases.

This is done without reference to any specific brand of machine. The school maintains strict neutrality. The aim is to train students in surveying generic possibilities in coffee products and machine, and in making analysis for selection; all this based on management concepts of profitability and marketing (attracting and pleasing the customer). To learn about labels, the school urges students to attend trade fairs, try the coffees and the machines, etc. The golden rule, above all else, is "try it yourself before buying it."

What are some of the rules passed along in the classroom? First, that there is more to coffee than making it--restaurants must weigh considerations of practical coffee management along with customer psychology. Coffee should have a budget in keeping with the style of the establishment, with its number of stars; its complexity will reflect the size and extent of service (in-room, self-service in large hotels, for example, demands cost effectiveness study).

More rules: Pay careful attention to contracting a coffee supply and in buying machines of value and repute, and to servicing reliabilityone weekend crisis in the breakdown of coffee supply or of a machine is one crisis too many. Guard the investment with at least a minimum of worker training, keep freshness and machine upkeep as topics, keep an eye on the water standard.

How to choose a contract? Coffee is a competitive point among restaurants, so it should be too among coffee suppliers. Quality and freshness are foremost, so taste blind from several bidders. Select the best; weigh choice with cost competitiveness, service capabilities. Sign for a one-year contract. Review contract with blind tests from several bidders at least once every three years.

Service Standards: Train the staff to keep a visual and taste control on coffee. Besides the basics, stress such details as warm cups for coffee. The ideal now is to completely differentiate coffee service in a dining atmosphere from that of fast food. This means that the school suggests hiding the equipment, letting coffee like the food have its mystery, and teaches that coffee is not just a drink (to be marketed separately as in a fast food outlet) but is an integral part of a whole culinary experience.

Why is coffee important? Profitability comes first--well managed coffee can offer a restaurant a 90% return even counting the sugar put alongside it. Point two: It is a rule of thumb that the first five seconds and the last five seconds of the client's table time are crucial in restaurant/hotel public relations and merchandising. The end of the meal belongs to coffee; it is the last taste the diner may carry away with him. For this reason alone, coffee has its own culture in restaurant life. For this reason, it earns a special atmosphere; its success relies on stressing cup quality, service standards, looks and warmth. It is the finishing flourish to the meal and one that can help the restaurant earn a return visit.

How can coffee be part of hotel/restaurant marketing? Along with the hallmarks of quality and service, the latest ideas are for using trendy coffee menus, coffee festivals, afternoon coffee tastings. Here the school proceeds cautiously. Such marketing questions are seen as needing study and time, perhaps a year's study for a hotel chain, and using a project at a pilot hotel. Historically, the dining experience has centered on wine as a beverage, so the bottom line question is, does coffee really warrant more elaboration? As for coffee menus, the cost and time needed for maintaining inventories of blends and single origins, and of providing alternative coffee-making equipment may be far too costly. In sum, the school advises would-be hotel managers to treat coffee with care, to manage it prudently, to think of its powerful marketing potential, but to be cautiously creative with coffee, and at best to involve suppliers of coffee products and machinery in helping sponsor special promotions.

Finally, what role can the coffee industry play in such a school? Foremost,the industry can work to encourage hotel/restaurant schools to continue with coffee and/or focus more attention on coffee. The industry can help by providing educational materials on coffee production, preparation, tasting and service, and on the different styles of coffee and their cultural significances. It is essential that such schools should be continually updated on coffee's consumer market trends and technical developments.

As my visit to this school taught me, with more attention from industry, perhaps every learning institution of this kind would have coffee on its curriculum. And that, I am certain, would be invaluable.

With these lessons in mind, school was out, and I was free to face the corridor of eager faces.
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Title Annotation:training given in all aspects of providing coffee service at hotels
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:Why is caffeine found where it is?
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