Culinary arts students at Collin College are learning how to make dining a memorable experience for their guests.
Collin College Associate Professor Abby Christian reminds her culinary arts students about the contrast between “service” and “hospitality.” The difference between the two, she said, distinguishes a good dining experience from an exceptional one.
And while many restaurants focus on guests through service, eateries that truly embrace hospitality usually experience continued growth and provide lasting memories for visitors. The Red Room at Collin College is just such a place.
Thanks to The Red Room, a unique educational lab run by students in the college’s Institute of Hospitality and Culinary Education (IHCE) program, Collin College instructional designer Francis Choy and his wife of 36 years, Teresa, recently enjoyed a joint birthday lunch-anniversary celebration.
“Our birthdays are two months apart with our wedding anniversary in between, and we have always celebrated them separately,” Francis said. “I told my wife about The Red Room but never had an opportunity to take her to experience it, so I thought it would be the perfect occasion. We did not expect what we experienced.”
Greeted at the host stand by students, the Choys were led to a nicely dressed table for two in a quiet corner of the restaurant, located in the Preston Ridge Campus Alumni Hall in Frisco.
They were served a Cajun-inspired dish English – or family – style.
“We had Cajun crawfish salad and creole shrimp jambalaya – both are my wife’s favorites,” Francis said. “The food, which included champagne and lemon sorbet for dessert, was very nice and the service was outstanding.”
The students even surprised Teresa with a birthday cake.
“My wife was totally stunned,” Francis said. “I was very proud and appreciative of The Red Room staff and students who made this occasion so special and memorable. We sent photos and video to our children who live out of state.”
Singular experiences like this at The Red Room have contributed to the continued growth of the restaurant, according to IHCE program Chair Karen Musa.
“When Collin College opened its state-of- the-art culinary facility in fall 2009, the possibility of offering a restaurant management lab-type class became a reality,” Musa said. “The format has stayed the same from the beginning, offering up student-inspired menus through different service techniques.”
Students learn how to create sophisticated dining experiences.
Operated by 12 students from the dining room service and a la carte cooking classes, The Red Room – open for dinner in the spring from 6-8 p.m. on most Wednesday nights – teaches students the ins and outs of two critical areas in the restaurant business.
On an eight-week rotation, students in their final semester of completing a culinary arts degree learn how to manage the front-end of a restaurant, source ingredients and price menu items, as well as prepare, cook and expedite food in the “back of the house”. Equally important, students learn about different service styles – American, English, French, Russian, etc. They focus on the importance of communication between the dining room and kitchen, as well as how to market a restaurant.
“Many of the culinary students have not had the opportunity to work as a server prior to The Red Room,” Christian said. “They quickly realize the importance of both sides of the kitchen door – how one can affect the other – and how they must develop this relationship. This is such a rewarding class to be a part of, and I feel it’s just as fulfilling for the guests of The Red Room.”
This certainly was true for the Choys, who praised the well-prepared Collin College students for going out of their way to make the couple feel special.
“I think the IHCE program and Collin College faculty succeeded in preparing the students for operating a top-tier restaurant,” Teresa said. “It never crossed my mind that these were students. The whole dining experience was similar to a fine restaurant.”
A Memorable Experience
This is exactly how Musa wants visitors to feel after visiting the student-run restaurant.
“Danny Meyer, the esteemed New York City restaurateur, put it best, ‘Service is a monologue, hospitality is a dialogue,’ ” Musa said. “It appears the students who waited on the Choys understood the difference between service and hospitality. I am always very proud of the progress students make from day one through their last day in The Red Room.”
The program also has come a long way since its inception in 1999 to now, with accreditation as an American Culinary Federation school. The Red Room continues to evolve and offer diners and students a memorable experience.