Externships, internships, apprenticeships, co-ops – we’ve developed many ways to talk about “experiential learning” across industries. Learning this way is becoming quite popular and has been table stakes when it comes to culinary school students for many years. The restaurant industry at large has been known to be welcoming of these students, particularly in kitchens. However welcoming, there is still a great deal to be discussed about externships, especially during a time when restaurants are widely short staffed. How can restaurants maximize the opportunity to use these short term experiences to get closer to making much needed full time hires and lifelong industry workers?
I chose to work in the restaurant industry largely in response to a co-op experience I had while attending Northeastern (co-op’s are a mandated part of the curriculum for the business school). My second co-op experience completely turned me off from a type of job that I thought I was going to love. In the latter, the expectations were poorly defined and the job lacked depth in engagement with anyone in the company. I’m sure I’m not alone as a person who chose a job or an entire industry based on an early experience.
As the people who are now working in restaurants and creating opportunities for experiential learning within them, it is our responsibility to design good jobs for externs. You can give them such a great experience that not only do they want to continue their careers to this industry, you use it as an opportunity to show them that they want to work directly with you long after the externship is over.
How do we do that? One of the best things you can do is plan ahead and structure a program with intention.
Here are 10 tips for outlining a successful experiential learning program:
- Onboarding / Orientation: Answer ‘Why do I want to work here?’ very early on.
- Define the restaurant’s goals: Hire for what the restaurant needs!
- Learn about the extern: Know what they are learning so it can be reinforced in the restaurant.
- Write a job description / curriculum: Set expectations for your extern based on the restaurant and his/her goals.
- Regular Feedback and Positive Reinforcement: Use your job description as a guideline to revisit periodically throughout the externship.
- Appoint an extern manager / mentor: This can be you, a fellow manager, or a leader on the team.
- Encourage the rest of the team to get involved
- Vary the experience: This could be shadowing a fellow cook or staging in the FoH (or vice versa), or send them on a field trip to one of your purveyors.
- Offer them ways to continue their education outside of the restaurant: Send them relevant articles to read, cookbooks to check out, restaurants to eat at.
- Exit interview: You shouldn’t be hearing about anything from the extern for the first time in the exit interview because you were so good about giving and getting feedback throughout their experience!
Setting up great short term experiential working experiences for students is great – but what about everyone else? Consider opening up a similar experience for any type of employee candidate: career/industry changers, high school seniors or recent graduates, people looking to move from quick service into full service, current industry workers who want to make a jump in positions from FOH to BOH or from server to bartender… the list goes on. There are so many people who could benefit from hands on training within your restaurant with focus, clear goals, and a set time period.
Setting up enriched experiential learning and training programs is a thoughtful process that takes time, and you probably feel like time is a luxury that you don’t have much to spare. Don’t take on the burden of planning and executing an extern or apprentice program on your own. Create a team that can share in the responsibility and in its benefits. Be someone who inspires more people to work in restaurants – at your restaurant – for a long time to come.