It's fair to say that there is still a degree of misconception among the UK public towards the role of front of house in the hospitality industry. However, beyond its seemingly dated image lies a wealth of professionalism, charisma and theatre. You only need look at the success of the Olympic Games to understand the true meaning of the word hospitality.
Since the 1980s, the Academy of Culinary Arts - now the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts (RACA) - the professional association of head chefs, pastry chefs, restaurant managers and suppliers has focused on education and training as its main objectives.
In 1990 it launched Adopt a School, a charity that sends professional chefs and restaurant managers to teach food education across thousands of (mainly) primary schools throughout the UK.
The message from the academy is quite clear: through introducing children of all ages to our industry, they are not only being given the opportunity to understand where food comes from, how it grows, preparation and cooking skills, but they are able to witness first-hand what potential career prospects the industry can offer.
The success of Adopt a School and the work it has carried out over the past 22 years has recently been given a further elevation: an invitation to join the team of Government advisers in placing cookery back on the national curriculum. This is something very dear to the academy's heart.
Volunteers from all over the country support the work of Adopt a School, and one long-standing and important partnership has recently seen Rick and Jill Stein's the Seafood Restaurant show its support for front of house lessons by visiting a local primary school.
With not a plastic plate in sight, the team from the Seafood Restaurant, led by operations manager Ian Fitzgerald, transformed the hall at Padstow Primary School into its very own pop-up restaurant. Using carefully designed placemats which show where to put the cutlery, side plate and glassware, the children were able to set their own tables, all neatly laid with white tablecloths and menus.
Useful life skills
During the 90-minute lesson the year five children (nine to 10 years old) learnt some useful life skills, from the importance of personal appearance and understanding facial expressions to being able to meet, greet and seat their peers.
They were taught the history of cutlery, what to use when and how, and how to pour water and serve bread. The delighted children were totally absorbed with the hands-on activities.
From the comments of teachers it appears that a high percentage of children in the UK rarely sit around a dining table to eat, so these visits go much further than introducing them to important life skills. They encourage children to communicate and, interestingly, even at such a young age, allow those with leadership qualities and people skills to shine.
The Seafood Restaurant has pledged to support more local schools, and its staff will undertake further front of house lessons from the autumn. Such events are not just an opportunity to give children a chance to experience and understand a true dining experience, but they also allow companies to engage with their local community. Judging by recent successes, these visits may even see some of the very same children working within the industry in the future.
"When our operations director, David Sharland, first mooted an involvement in a front of house initiative for Adopt a School there was no need for any three-line whip among our team of restaurant managers," explains Fitzgerald. "All of us talked fondly of eating around our kitchen tables daily with family while recognising that this may no longer be the norm.
"Food, drink and the act of 'breaking bread' are our passion. We all wanted to share this passion with local children and were intrigued to see if sociable eating was something that could prise them away from their computers and TVs.
"The first visit to Padstow Primary School was a great success. The kids loved it. Adding a dining element to the work we do on nutrition and food provenance seems common sense."
The school intends to adopt what has been learnt from the autumn term and will host a weekly "top table" where the children will enjoy a fine-dining experience, replacing standard school plastic plates with china. Children who have attended the workshops will pass on the skills to other children.
It is hoped that more industry professionals will take the lead from RACA and the Seafood Restaurant and realise the importance of forming positive relationships with local schools and colleges.
The work of Adopt a School not only brings much-needed food education into schools but takes demonstrative action when it comes to underpinning what hospitality really is all about.
â- The Royal Academy of Culinary Arts is hosting a training session for members and selected guests to learn more about front of house lessons for schools at the Ritz hotel, London, on Tuesday 24 September. For further information contact Sarah Howard at firstname.lastname@example.org.