Jun 29, 2022, 3:30

Foodservice Management: a Capstone Course and Program Assessment

30 April 2012

food1_may12At The Culinary Institute of America, a final-semester project to plan and execute an event marketed to the public is one of the most rewarding parts of students’ educations.

By Dr. Pat Bottiglieri

Foodservice Management is taught in the final semester of the senior year in the Bachelor of Professional Studies Program at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Prior to taking this course, students will have successfully completed most of the required management and liberal-arts courses and all of their culinary, baking and pastry courses. Foodservice Management provides students with managerial concepts and theories for a senior level of management practice.

In addition, the course includes a capstone project. The project requires students to plan and execute an event that is marketed to the general public. The events must generate a profit. And, as the CIA is a not-for-profit college, any surplus is “reinvested”—divided between an external charity that students select and an internal scholarship fund. This part of the course is worth 25% of each student’s grade.

Each section of the course elects a student to fulfill the role of general manager. The remaining students volunteer to serve on one of the following teams: Foodservice, Service, Marketing and Finance. Each of these teams then elects a team leader. There may be sub-groups within a team. For example, the Service Team might include a sub-group to manage beverages and another to manage decorations. The Marketing Team is responsible for leading the class discussion with regard to an overall theme for its event. The Marketing Team works with the Media Relations Department to generate a press release, flyers and Internet marketing strategies. The Finance Team generates budgets, maintains a general ledger, manages the reservations, manages fund-raising activities and reconciles all revenues with the Accounting Department of the college. The Foodservice team prepares and “costs” the menu, tests recipes, manages the purchasing requirements, develops a production schedule and coordinates the execution plan with the Service Team. The Service Team develops a service plan and beverage program, designs the tabletop and comment cards, plans the decorations and works with the Foodservice Team to plan the overall execution.

The general manager works closely with the teams and the instructor. He or she is provided with a checklist to assist in the overall progression through the semester. Students are provided with a grading-criteria packet that is used to assess their team and a rubric used to assess their individual performance. Individual performance grades are based upon contributions both in the planning and execution phases. Students are expected to be excellent team members, respectful of their peers and professional in their demeanor and demonstrate a high level of hospitality skills to the guests. Students also submit a reflective essay that summarizes their experiences and perceptions for this part of the course.

The events are patronized by between 90 and 170 guests. Prices are usually $80 to $90 per person inclusive of tax and service. A typical event includes a one-hour reception with specialty cocktails, beer, wine and a selection of hors d’oeuvre. The cocktail hour usually includes a silent auction or raffle. The dinner may be four or five courses with some form of entertainment. Themes have included A Salute to Troops, Hudson Valley Valentine, Moulin Rouge, Roaring Twenties, Murder on the Hudson and Las Vegas. To date, there have been 30 events that have grossed more than $120,000 and generated a surplus exceeding $65,000 for charities and scholarships.

The class is also responsible to prepare a semester-end book that captures the essence of its event. Students’ reflective essays consistently praise the class project as one of the most rewarding parts of their education. They consistently mention how important the fundamentals are to the success and how important interpersonal communications have been.

As this part of the course has evolved and the college has embarked on the formalization of an assessment program, it became increasingly evident that this capstone experience should play a major role in that assessment. Within the college is a faculty committee titled Student Learning and Outcome Assessment (SLOAC) that is charged with the development and implementation of the college’s assessment program. Foodservice Management was one of the first courses piloted within this new assessment program.

There are five overall program objectives for the CIA’s bachelor’s degree. We decided to use two of those program objectives in the pilot study. The first is “to attain a higher level of proficiency in traditional and contemporary culinary techniques, baking and pastry skills, service and beverage management.” The second is “to practice the fundamental business and management concepts and principles of the foodservice industry.”

In addition, the course has two sets of learning objectives. One is for the course content such as management concepts and theories and the second is applicable for the event portion of the course. The objectives required for the event must support the event process and also complement the overall bachelor’s-degree-program objectives. Some of these objectives are to:

  • Design, implement and evaluate a marketing initiative for a planned even
  • Develop, test and execute a menu that supports the overall theme and is within the budget for an event
  • Develop and implement a service plan that supports the theme and provides outstanding service
  • Develop, implement and evaluate a financial budget with a budgeted profit for an event

The instructor recently completed a formal assessment of 23 events. Particular attention was given to areas such as sanitation practices, menu development, budget preparation, development of marketing plans, service design, professionalism and interpersonal communications. The execution stage was assessed on quality of food, quality of service, overall ambiance, price value to the customer and breakdown and reset.

The instructor is present to document preparation, performance and wrap-up. Students also distribute comment cards to gauge customer feedback. The results of the comment cards are remarkably consistent. The major areas assessed are food quality, service quality, ambiance and price value. A 1-to-5 Likert Scale is used, with “5” being excellent for each category. The general manager is responsible for tabulating results. Each category realizes positive results in a range of 4.2 to 4.7.

The formal assessment has revealed very interesting results. Naturally, there exist areas in the curriculum that need more attention. These areas will be addressed by the respective curriculum groups. The assessment also revealed those areas where students demonstrate a high degree of proficiency.  Some of these areas include teamwork, sanitation, planning production, work ethic, creativity and budget development.

Areas where additional strength is needed are planning purchasing quantities, basic service fundamentals, marketing plans, writing skills and interpersonal communication skills. In addition, students need to develop their marketing skills in the area of Internet marketing. Students are remarkably proficient using technology on a personal level. but have not been provided the opportunities to apply their creativity on a business level. This is one area in particular that will be addressed immediately. Formal assessments will take place on an annual basis.

Dr. Pat Bottiglieri is a professor of Business Management at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.