With the explosion of new restaurants hitting Denver over the last several years, heads are spinning as diners try to figure out which eateries are worth the time and money. And restaurateurs are scrambling to figure out what diners wan.: Food quality isn't the only concern; customers are looking for a complete, seamless experience when they're dropping big bucks for increasingly expensive dinners out. Customer service, ambience, facilities, lighting and music are critical measures of good dining — things that restaurant owners and managers alike need to specifically address to control the overall experience of guests. That's why EatDenver has teamed up with Metropolitan State University of Denver to launch the Hospitality Leadership Incubator program, which will help entry-level managers learn from the experiences of top industry professionals.
The program was developed after EatDenver's executive director, Adam Schlegel, a founder of breakfast success Snooze, asked himself, "How are we creating ready-to-go leaders in this city?" The answer, he decided, was to "start building a service ethos."
The Hospitality Leadership Incubator program is a series of classes intended for service-industry professionals moving into leadership roles: a line cook's first promotion to management, an AGM moving up to GM, a GM taking ownership in a restaurant or bar, for example. Each class, sold as a package, focuses on a different area of management and is taught by experienced chefs, managers and other hospitality leaders.
The first course is an introduction to understanding service, guests and a manager's leadership role, taught by Josh Wolkon, head of the Secret Sauce restaurant group, which operates Vesta Dipping Grill, Steuben's and Ace Eat Serve, and Beth Gruitch of Crafted Concepts, which includes Rioja, Euclid Hall, Bistro Vendome and Stoic & Genuine.
Participants will also learn about the employee life cycle from human resources pro Iva Townsend of the Big Red F restaurant group. Schlegel notes that many small businesses and new managers can get into trouble if they don't know the basics of interviewing, hiring and maintaining employees. Other classes will include the basics of restaurant finances and how to handle repairs and maintenance. The series will wrap up with a discussion on leadership theories with Delores Tronco, co-owner of Work & Class.
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"We don't want to teach style," Schlegel explains. "But there are fundamentals that if you can come in and notice right away, you're an immediate asset."
Schlegel's background and education was in finance when he co-founded Snooze; he knows from experience that fluctuating food prices, the cost of labor, property rental and other expenses can be difficult to navigate for first-timers. "People can be set up to fail," he says of those who show leadership potential but don't have the experience. "This is the course I needed. I could have used this ten years ago."
Beginning on July 12, classes will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. each Tuesday for five weeks at MSU Denver’s Hospitality Learning Center. The entire package costs $500 per student, and registration — which can be completed on MSU's website — will be capped at twenty students for the inaugural run. Schlegel says that more than half of the seats have already been sold, and that the plan is to continue the program on a quarterly basis.
EatDenver was founded in 2007 as a nonprofit association of independent, local restaurants committed to improving Denver's hospitality industry. Schlegel has been the executive director for the past year.