Vernon duo start restaurant staff training initiative

Inaugural Science of Serving workshop series planned at UBC Okanagan.

Two long-time restaurant professionals want to share their expertise with the next generation of industry workers.

Nicole Huckabay and Marta Skulimowska share more than 40 years working in the restaurant industry, in which both started out with their first jobs at age 14.

Huckabay, who moved to the North Okanagan 12 years ago and has worked in the industry both in Vernon and Salmon Arm during that time, has long harboured this business platform idea, but made the commitment to develop a business plan and do the industry research in her area after Skulimowska moved to the region from Calgary. The two first met while working together at the Hyatt Hotel restaurant in Calgary.

The pair focused their initial research on the Vernon-area restaurant industry and through the Vernon Chamber of Commerce heard a positive response from restaurant managers and owners who feel time-challenged to train and retain new employees, leading to their business creation Science Of Service.

That training will be provided through a workshop series, the first which will be offered at the UBC Okanagan campus in Kelowna beginning in January 2018, four three-hour weekly sessions, teaching everything from customer service steps to taking a reservation or take-out order on the phone.

The registration fee is $299 with room for a maximum of 20 participants. The target age range for the program is 17 to 35.

Nicole Huckabay

RELATED: Central Okanagan now a $1.5 billion industry

“Employee retention is one of the major issues facing the Okanagan hospitality industry in the surveys that we did, so our hope is that we can give people the training to step into a restaurant job and understand what they need to do, the only things to learn would be a particular menu and specific operational procedures for staff,” said Huckabay, whose first job in the industry was washing dishes at a Mr. Mike’s restaurant.

She said technology is making job retention a bigger challenge for restaurant operators, as is the changing attitude of the millennial workforce.

Huckabay said young people who have grown up in the digital age are lacking skills in the art of conversation, which has largely been replaced by access to faceless texting or other digital communication formats.

“Beyond the inability to often carry out a basic conversation, that plays a role in understanding the body language of people, to be able to serve a table and give people what they want in terms of service,” she said.

As well, Huckabay said millennials are looking more for a balance between life and work, not interested in working just for the sake of work or to build a career.

“When I started out, jobs were few and far between in the restaurant industry. I can remember one new restaurant where I grew up on Vancouver Island having 350 applicants for 50 positions. When you got a job, you held on to it,” she said.

“Today, they say millennials could hold up to a dozen different jobs or more during the course of their work life. There is a different dynamic at play now. Millennials are not as engaged in stability or seeing the value of staying in one job or one industry for a long time.”

Marta Skulimowska

Skulimowska said for restaurant operators already facing tight profit margins, an inability to retain staff can be financially crippling.

“It can be disastrous for that business if a server who is not properly trained is responsible for someone having a bad dining experience. They say on person will repeat a bad dining experience to from nine to 16 people, so the impact of that it can become quite costly,” she said.

She recalls two experiences of her own that reflect a lack of training, where she asked a server for a screwdriver alcohol drink and the person didn’t know what that was, and asking questions about an item relating to her Celiac condition that left her having to ultimately flag down the chef to get the answers.

As the two launch their new business venture, their focus is on the Okanagan and Nicola region, but they hope to eventually expand their program provincewide and develop a reputable placement service for their workshop graduates.

“We have been given some positive feedback about the idea of providing trained people to work in the industry with our program certification, as often people’s resumes don’t often reflect what skills they have to offer,” Huckabay said.

“That is a huge area of concern going forward with tourism such a big part of the Okanagan and an industry that is only going to grow.”

For more information or to register for the Science of Service workshop, check out the website www.scienceofservice.ca for more information or call 778-442-5221.



barry.gerding@blackpress.ca

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