The growth of restaurants and dining out may be on hold because of COVID-19, but the need for young people schooled in the etiquette of dining, particularly at high-end establishments, remains.
When restaurants reopen, some hospitality professionals believe a culinary etiquette program could become popular with newbies to the dining scene. It’s a tool, they say, that is helpful whether one is looking to build a career in the food service industry, or simply gain an edge in the business world where many important meetings take place over a meal.
The idea for a culinary student etiquette program came from a member of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, said Ben Fileccia, director of operations and strategy for the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the PRLA, a nonprofit based in Harrisburg.
He held onto that idea and decided to make a go of it, launching the association’s first etiquette program in Philadelphia. Now, he plans to bring it into the Lehigh Valley.
And they’ll learn over lunch, with help from restaurant owners, schools and the association.
“We realized that, yes, there’s a need when you realize a lot of professional interviews happen over lunch or a college prep meeting could take place at dinner,” Fileccia said. “Even though we are at a time when we want people to express themselves, there are some times where you are judged based on how you look and professional settings are those times.”
Fileccia applied for a grant that would allow him to expand a program that highlights the hospitality industry and possibly attracts young people to the field.
Philadelphia’s etiquette program is a pillar of the Kitchen Cabinet program, said Lindsey Miller, manager of grassroots advocacy for the National Restaurant Association. Kitchen Cabinet is made up of restaurant operators, employees and supporters committed to growing and preserving opportunity in the restaurant industry, she said.
“We work closely with nonprofit organizations and government officials to ensure that restaurants remain a strong cornerstone in our economy and continue to create opportunities for all Americans,” she said.
Once the PRLA received the grant, Fileccia contacted officials at the Philadelphia School District to gauge their interest and they jumped at the chance.
PRLA gave all the students business cards and engraved metal business card holders to create a sense of professionalism. Then, with the school district, he coordinated a lunch with the owner of Star Restaurants for the program’s first event at The Love, a restaurant in Philadelphia.
Fileccia said the cost is between $120 and $200 per student, per luncheon, with the PRLA picking up the tab, including travel expenses. The PRLA can achieve that through a grant from the National Restaurant Association, he added.
The cost fluctuates depending on the lunch location. The program teaches participants a variety of skills, from proper utensil placement and use, to what to do with linen napkins when getting up from the table.
The program also helps build skills on when to use direct eye contact and how to show respect for the servers, other diners, and the food itself, he added. The school district chooses the students, and they’ve sent a full class of culinary students each time.
The second program took place at the Four Seasons Hotel Philadelphia at Comcast Center.
At 60 stories, the four-star luxury hotel is noteworthy for its glass elevator.
“It’s important for me to show the different areas where the industry can take you,” Fileccia said. “Hopefully, in the fall, the restaurants will be re-launched again and I can really kick it off in the Lehigh Valley.”
These culinary etiquette lunch programs could be done anywhere, Miller said.
“I think, once we know when people can go out to eat, we certainly would like to do more of them,” Miller said. “They are easy to replicate in other markets.”
One of the biggest benefits for students going into etiquette lunches is the experience of going out to eat, and learning how to be comfortable in diverse settings. Both build confidence, she said.
The program can also show students learning how to interact in a networking event, which can be helpful in securing a job, she said.