Laurea Forerunner Magazine found out what it's like to study at BarLaurea learning environment.
BarLaurea is a learning environment for Hospitality Management students where they can uncover the secrets of the restaurant sector in an authentic environment. So, what happens at BarLaurea? We found out by spending a fast-paced day with the students in the kitchen, in the dining room and behind the counter.
- How are we doing this morning?, Teemu Sirainen, restaurant manager at BarLaurea, begins the conversation.
It is 8 o’clock on a Wednesday morning in October, and the morning meeting at BarLaurea, Laurea’s teaching restaurant, is about to start. The meeting is attended by some twenty students from both the Tourism and Service Business programme taught in Finnish and the Restaurant Entrepreneurship degree programme taught in English.
Once the current issues of the day and the lunch menu have been discussed, the students tackle their tasks. Some of them already came in around half past seven to start preparing a chicken hotpot for the lunch menu. The menu also tempts customers with a parmesan and lentil bake, potato and leek soup, and semolina and berry pudding.
Hundreds of customers every day
The lunch that the students cook from start to finish is only one part of the activities at BarLaurea, which is located on the Leppävaara campus. The learning environment also includes the á la carte restaurant Flow, a café, and a meeting and catering service that organizes different events and occasions on the campus.
This is also not a particularly small operation, as we can gather from the introduction given by restaurant manager Teemu Sirainen, who is responsible for guiding the students in the dining room:
- On the busiest days, we serve lunch to more than 700 customers, which is a really large number for a lunch restaurant. In addition, 20 to 30 customers choose the three-course lunch at our á la carte restaurant every day, the café serves up to 1,000 customers, and the meeting service may cater for 7 or 8 occasions. These customer numbers would keep even a seasoned professional busy, says Sirainen, who himself completed his degree in Hospitality Management at Laurea in 2015.
A learning period at BarLaurea is a compulsory part of the studies for both first- and second-year Hospitality Management students. Each student completes two to three shifts a week. In addition to Sirainen, who looks after BarLaurea as a whole, chef Ilari Paananen guides the students in the kitchen. They are assisted by three students who are on a work placement at BarLaurea as trainee supervisors.
This autumn, the kitchen is the domain of Elina Jussila, a Hospitality Management student completing her work placement. The call, ”Elina, Elina!” is heard in the kitchen quite frequently.
- The role of the trainee supervisor is vital, Jussila says.
- If necessary, I always guide and help the younger students. I have gone through the same BarLaurea study units myself, so I know how important guidance received from a more experienced colleague is – especially if you do not have any experience of working in the kitchen yourself yet.
Under Jussila’s supervision, the day’s lunch is finished in good time, and when the lunch restaurant opens its doors at 10.45, everything is ready. The peak hour of the restaurant tends to be at the latest around 11:30, at which time the dining room is full to the brim.
BarLaurea offers valuable experience
Even if the shift at BarLaurea is busy, the students work happily both in the dining room and in the kitchen. A positive atmosphere and a sense of community – doing things together – are indeed aspects that restaurant manager Teemu Sirainen wishes to promote at BarLaurea.
- While this is a busy and sometimes tough unit for the students, it is a valuable and memorable learning experience for them, he says.
First-year students start their Bar-Laurea units during the first weeks of their studies. Their objective during this study unit is to become familiar with customer service and the restaurant business and understand the way it works. Working at a restaurant is an essential part of the professional skill set a Bachelor of Hospitality Management needs – whether their future job is at a restaurant, in the tourism sector or in event production.
- The BarLaurea unit is also important because an increasing number of students have no work experience in the restaurant sector when they come to Laurea, Sirainen continues.
- The experience they gain here gives them good skills and the self-confidence needed to apply for jobs even after their first year, for example as waiters.
Laura Soinio, who started her Hospitality Management studies in August, also got her first taste of working at a restaurant at BarLaurea. Getting up to speed at the teaching restaurant in the second week of her studies did not faze her:
- I have learned so much through practical work, she says.
- We have a really great team here, and working is fun. This has been a brilliant way of getting to know your fellow students, and the BarLaurea period has also been important for group formation.
Theme weeks created by students from beginning till end
While first-year students familiarize themselves with daily life at a restaurant in BarLaurea, second-years focus on service development. Among other things, it is up to them to implement the theme weeks of the á la carte restaurant Flow from start to finish. The students plan menus for the week, order the ingredients and finally cook the dishes
This time, the international students of the degree programme in Restaurant Entrepreneurship were in charge of the theme week. The theme selected for the week was Mexican food inspired by the Día de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead: the main course of the day is quesadillas, and for dessert, a Spanish-style crème caramel dish is served.
Darya Novikava, who came to study in Espoo from Belarus, dishes out the main course with a sure hand.
- This is the first of three theme weeks planned by my group, she explains.
- Even if we practised cooking the menu twice last week, we got into a bit of a muddle on Monday, as we had more customers than expected. On Tuesday, we got our act together, and today things went really smoothly.
Darya finds that getting behind the scenes at a restaurant is extremely rewarding.
- It is always busy in the kitchen, but all in all, working here has been incredibly wonderful, she continues.
- Most of us have never worked in a restaurant kitchen before, but this gives us valuable experience.” Luckily, Ilari [the chef] and the other supervisors are always here to help us.
Minimising food losses
Once lunch is over and done with and the restaurant has been cleaned, the BarLaurea crew gets together for an afternoon meeting. They proceed to discuss the day’s performance: any customer feedback, what went well and what should be paid attention to the next day.
All in all, 520 lunch and 23 á ala carte customers were served today. Another important figure, which is monitored on a daily basis at BarLaurea, was 5.6 kilograms. This is the measured food losses of the lunch service.
- We pay a lot of attention to the daily losses, says Restaurant Manager Sirainen.
- We strive to be careful about the quantities of food we put out at a time to minimize the losses. 5.6 kilograms is a really good result.
BarLaurea continues its day by serving customers in the café and catering for meetings. Then everything goes quiet in the kitchen until the next day.
This article has originally been published in Laurea Forerunner Magazine issue 1/2018. Read the online version of the magazine here.