Campus fine-dining served by students
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At SF State’s almost-hidden eatery, the Vista Room, four student managers make sure their guests are served gourmet meals in a fine dining establishment quirky enough to warrant its own reality TV show.

The restaurant nestled on the fourth floor of Burk Hall doubles as a hands-on lab for students interested in hospitality management and dietetics, and a lunchtime getaway for anyone on campus--as long as they make reservations.

With the help of a professional chef, students Pauline Ha, Chloe Yu, Janine Pascual, and Lin Lac produce an upscale feast and supervise a staff of 41 other students—most of whom have no previous restaurant experience at all.

“Some students have never washed a dish before,” said Dining Room Manager, Ha.

Ha, a senior hospitality management major who also works at Lori’s Diner, recounted the time a student in charge of desserts left plates of ice cream out before delivering them to customers, resulting in the ice cream melting.

Ha said the girl complained no one told her the ice cream would melt.

Ha added that the biggest challenge comes during the restaurant’s busiest days.

“It’s chaos in the back,” she said. “But you have to pretend to the customers that it’s running smoothly.”

According to the management team, students rotate through different positions each time they come into the restaurant—waiting tables one day, prepping food on the next. Each manager has to know how everything in the restaurant works, from the kitchen oven to the washing machine, and relay that information. A student-staff doesn’t always catch on so quickly.

“Sometimes you have to be a little bitchy,” Ha said.

Not everyone in the kitchen enjoys their duties. Disgruntled dishwashers, who said they had nothing good to say about their jobs on this particular day, declined to comment.

Jessica Hong, a senior dietetic major who was on the kitchen prep shift, doesn’t particularly like working in the restaurant for credit and no pay. As someone planning on becoming a clinical nutritionist, she said she understands why people in her program need to know food and how to prepare it.

“One good thing is you get to try all the food,” Hong said.

Kitchen Manager Chloe Yu, also a senior dietetics major, said managing the back of the house comes with heavy-handed responsibilities. On a daily basis, she deals with accidents, no-shows and communications with the chef and the program’s instructors.

“You have to guide [the students] through and make sure everything runs properly,” Yu said. “They have different abilities and you have to balance them.”

As the manager with the longest tenure, Janine Pascual, a senior child and adolescent development major, runs through the list of do’s and don’ts during the staff meeting before they get ready to open for the day.

“Make sure you don’t lean against the wall,” she said. “And don’t hang out and chit-chat.”

There are six different utensils strategically placed on tables with their own specific purpose: one knife just for butter, another used as-needed, a salad fork, a dinner fork, one spoon for soup and another for dessert.

The complete three-dish course meal runs $14 and gives diners a variety of menu options, including vegetarian meals.

Pauline Tran, a server, tucks her hand behind her back when she serves a main entrée consisting of a roasted pork loin and a mushroom stuffed quail wrapped in pancetta.

Tran, a senior dietetics major has six years previous experience in Boudin’s Sourdough Bakery and Cafe, but says serving tables is a whole different ballgame.

“We have to memorize things and I’m afraid I’ll forget,” said Tran. “On my first day I served two students and was so nervous.”

For floor manager Lin Lac, a senior, the Vista Room has been a completely different restaurant experience than her years working at Roundtable Pizza. Even though the Vista Room is only open for lunch, she said the job is extremely demanding and is concerned about keeping up its legacy.

“We have different groups of students coming in to work everyday,” she said. “We have to keep up the restaurants reputation while we help them through the learning process.”

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