VOLUME 19 #3

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A taste of the restaurant business

Article by Kathryn Marrone Meier, AS04, BE06M
Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson and Evan Krape

Every day at Vita Nova is a vita nova—a new beginning, for those who don’t speak Latin. Designed as a learning laboratory for students in the Department of Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management (HRIM), the restaurant starts a new life each morning as students rotate through its 17 positions.

Though the restaurant offers a varied lunch buffet and upscale dinner menu (winter spiced Peking duck breast over butternut squash risotto, anyone?), it is not a culinary school. True, there is a restaurant complete with a kitchen full of students, but like the department’s appellation, Vita Nova prepares students to be managers of hospitality institutions.

“Students need to understand how the hospitality process functions,” says Francis Kwansa, interim chair and associate professor of HRIM. “This is why they train through all aspects of the business—cooking, plating, serving, managing.

“We have a saying that as a manager, you don’t want to be held hostage by your chef. If we train our students to know what goes on in the back of the house, they won’t be held back by the chef and can spend important time in the front of the house.”

Evidence of Kwansa’s claim comes from the praise Vita Nova has won over recent years, specifically for its front-of-the-house activities. Delaware Today magazine’s “Best of Delaware 2011” awarded Vita Nova best in service, marking the second year in a row the restaurant has been recognized in that category. As a critics’ choice this year, Vita Nova stood out for its professional service and knowledgeable staff.

More than a learning lab for students, Vita Nova also functions as a research lab for faculty.

According to Kwansa, Prof. Srikanth Beldona is taking advantage of the research opportunities.

“As part of a research project, we have four iPads that are handed out randomly to guests that dine at Vita Nova,” Kwansa says. “They are able to look at an interactive menu that includes recipes and photos of the food. We are testing to see if this provides better satisfaction to the customer versus the customer that uses a traditional text menu.”

The restaurant is also exploring the use of handheld devices—prefilled with menu items, programmed to send information directly to the kitchen and even functioning as portable pay stations—for students to take orders instead of using the traditional pen and notebook. One thing is certain: There is more to Vita Nova than meets the eye.

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