Students gain culinary and restaurant management experience

Soft jazz faintly hit diners’ ears as the restaurant staff gently placed cutlery on napkins around the Vista Room on SF State’s campus on early Monday afternoon. Conversations between the head chef and cooks accompanied the sound of sizzling vegetables and server’s quick footsteps between the front and back of the room. 

The Vista Room is a fully functional restaurant on the fourth floor of Burk Hall with weekly changes in the menu. It is a teaching and learning laboratory where students gain hands-on experience in food service alongside culinary and restaurant management skills. Students majoring in Hospitality, Tourism Management take on multiple roles, whether they are placed in the front or the back of the house, hosting, serving customers, preparing the food or washing the dishes.      

“The space allows students to make mistakes and learn from them. A lot of our students have never dealt with customers in a real hospitality setting,” said Ryan Smith, assistant professor of Hospitality, Tourism and Management Department. Smith is also the manager of the Vista Room, where he lectures. “This allows the students to get comfortable in a foreign environment in front of people that they do not know. This is a feeling that [students] can take and go anywhere in the future.”                                                             

Students Pris Emestica, Daphne Workman, and intern Soo Yun Kim dress a salad for a lunch order at the Vista Room on the fourth floor of Burk Hall on Monday, October 21. (Photo by William Wendelman / Golden Gate Xpress)

Having already been through culinary school at Santa Barbara City College, SF State senior Andrew Gaytan is able to focus on the simple and foundational skills of cooking and help other students who have never prepared food before in a restaurant kitchen environment. 

Students majoring in Hospitality and Tourism Management are required to take a core course in restaurant operations, which is an elective for minors. The course, HTM 457: Restaurant Operations, includes aspects of kitchen organization, service styles, and inventory management, according to the Hospitality and Tourism Management course bulletin. 

“The lab rotates between people being in the front and back, the menu changes and we get a chance to learn different styles of food and cooking,” Gaytan said. “For many students this is their first time cooking and not many college students know how to cook on their own, so it’s a good way for students to learn these skills.”                               

The Vista Room is a simulated restaurant where students are able to serve and interact with faculty, administrators, fellow students and community members. According to Smith, the class combines theory and practice, something few other majors experience (besides an internship course) before graduating with their degree.       

“I get a better perspective on the restaurant experience, being someone that’s usually on the side of eating, it gives me more of an appreciation for those working in food and management services,” said Norissa Stewart, third year server in the Vista Room.   

Students split the semester in shifts between preparing food, cooking, washing dishes, taking and serving customers orders and hosting. They become part of a fast paced work, customer and food service environment and use that experience for future jobs.  

“I have never worked in a restaurant before so for me this was my first experience,” said Zachary Mick, a third year at SF State serving in the Vista Room.”I started two weeks in the kitchen, learning how to prep the food then combining them into one and then for four weeks, I’m in the front of the house.”