Friday, November 20, 2009

How to be an Intellectual Jacker in Three Easy Steps: A Non-Violent Approach!

The word “jacker” means to seize control of by use of force. Many times it is associated with the theft of vehicles called “car-jacking.” Most recently however, I heard the term being used by celebrity Chef Jeff Henderson in regards to being hungry for culinary information thus acquiring knowledge any way that he could!

The hospitality industry has long been thought-of as highly competitive. Therefore, owners and managers guard their information and consider it proprietary. No sharing allowed! This means that new hires or individuals trying to make their way only receive just enough information to do their job. To excel requires not only natural talent but intimate knowledge oftentimes not given freely. Don’t let that stop or discourage you from wanting to know all you can about your craft. I, personally, have not had an industry mentor in over 15 years and it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Instead, I, like Chef Henderson have turned into an intellectual jacker! Here’s how you can jack industry experts for their information in 3 easy non-violent steps:

Step 1: Be Quiet & Listen – If you are running your mouth, you cannot hear. If you cannot hear, you are not listening. It is when we listen, that we truly pay attention. As a little girl, I found that when I was silent, my elders didn’t realize I was still in the room or kitchen. This is when I got a chance to listen in on the family gossip and recipe secrets! Today, I still can’t look my Uncle June Bug in the eyes without laughing internally. If he only knew that I KNOW!

Many times chefs and hospitality professionals like to “show-off.” Be quiet, watch and listen as they tell stories about how things used to be or as they give details about what worked best for them. Let them ramble on. All the while you’re taking notes to add to your jacker notebook! By just being in an expert’s midst, many times you can pick up invaluable tips and information.

Step 2: Be Flexible – If you want to be an intellectual jacker you’ve got to know the best time to do your jacking. I once worked for a hotel reservations manager that did her best work at 5:30 in the morning! The company regarded her as the greatest forecaster in the world. If she said we’d sell 94 guest rooms, then guess what? We sold 94 rooms or came within plus or minus three rooms! I wanted to learn the magic gift she had. Learning meant I had to be flexible with my schedule by coming in at 5:30am when my shift, the night before, ended at midnight. Factor in the ½ hour commute and let me just say, I was tired!

Your learning may have to take place when business is slow. This may mean that you must make yourself available, after an already busy week, on Sunday afternoons or during closing hours.

Step 3: Show Interest – Make sure when the time comes, you are equipped with your intellectual jacker’s notebook. Being equipped lets the expert know you are here to do business. When the industry expert finally notices you hanging around at the end of the night, staring at him or her and asks “What are you still doing here?” Be prepared to show a sincere interest in what they know and do. Showing interest may include offering a compliment and stroking someone’s ego before stating that you too would like to know what it is they know. Now, at this point, you may think that you’re in! You’re listening, showing up whenever, wherever, and you’ve buttered up the boss and he or she is telling you what they know. If this knowledge is a Mercedes Benz (a creative cooking technique, key to advancement, etc.), you’ve popped the lock and are driving away! Be careful, don’t get the big head or stop following these steps before you’ve completely jacked this expert. The goal is to get him or her to give you the keys (to the Benz) so you don’t have to keep trying to take them. So, be patient, keep listening, being flexible, and showing interest. At first, the expert may be slow to share. But, if you stick with these steps, soon they may take you under his or her wing and willingly teach and train you.

Finally, make the expert feel most special by asking if they would be your mentor. They may say no or may not follow through on this commitment as did the last four experts I’ve asked. Keep in mind, there is usually a fear that the mentee may surpass the mentor. That’s fine, be grateful for the information you did gain and then seek out your next intellectual victim!

Jokima Hiller, MBA, Hospitality & Restaurant
Management Program Coordinator
Faculty Advisor, Travel & Tour Club

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When Everybody's Late!

Written By:
Jokima Hiller, HRM Program Coordinator at The Chef’s Academy
Jill Woods, GM & Advisory Board Member at The Chef’s Academy

Please note that names have been changed to protect the innocent!

It was approximately 1:00am in the morning as I sat in my office hovered over a garbage can with one eye on the camera that was focused on the hotel’s front desk. I was sick and it had been at least a decade since the last time I had vomited. Yet I, General Manager of a hotel with a full and capable staff was stuck working at a time when I felt my worse. Why? Let’s look at the events of the day . . .

Donny, who was the night auditor, was late. His shift started 2 hours ago and he insisted that he was “on his way!” But, the damage was already done – my bed, medicine, and easy background music would have to wait.

It was approximately 3:00pm in the afternoon as I single-handedly managed two lines at the desk checking guests in, answering the phone, making reservations, and being as helpful as I could to a lobby full of people in spite of my painful stomach ache. Tyrone was late and Tracy couldn’t stay not one minute over. She “had plans” and Tyrone was not answering his cell phone. The damage was already done as guests were forming their first impressions of our establishment.

It was approximately 7:45am in the morning as I jogged down the halls of the hotel delivering USA Today newspapers with the hotels cordless phone strapped to my side, wiping sleep out of my eyes, wishing I had brought some medicine for my headache, and hoping no one was waiting at the unattended front desk. Tracy was late, no reason was given when she strolled in at 8:00am, one hour after her shift was to start. The damage was already done as proven by the electronic customer surveys that came in that afternoon with comments like “Sure missed getting a morning newspaper today.”

When everybody’s late, a business, especially one in the hospitality industry, tends to die a slow and painful death. We sell experiences in our hotels, restaurants, cafes, shops, clubs, casinos and when everybody’s late guest experiences become negatively impacted. What kind of experience did we sell that day when Donny, Tracy, and Tyrone were late? Keep in mind this was just ONE department! What if similar circumstances were happening in the housekeeping, maintenance, and sales areas?

A manager of a business walks a fine line each day, trying to be sensitive to an employees’ life outside of work while trying to keep the business profitable so the employee still has a job to go to. This is a challenge all businesses are facing especially in these economic times. What sounds like a nightmare day and evening for one manager is actually the sign of a much larger problem. What if that manager had appointments scheduled that day that could have greatly impacted the hotels success and job stability for all involved? What if other employees were stepping in to fill the gap accumulating costly overtime? What if this manager had the swine flu and risked infecting guests and employees?

Each employee makes a daily choice to positively or negatively affect others on their job. Review your attendance practices at school, events, at work and assess the damage. You are a necessary part of the business you work for . . . is your impact positive or negative? Just think of what might happen if everyone was on time! Let’s rewrite the story . . .

It was approximately 1:00am in the morning as I sat in my room hovered over a garbage can with one eye on the Soap Net channel. I was sick and it had been at least a decade since the last time I had vomited. I, General Manager of a hotel with a full and capable staff was stuck at home resting, taking my medicine, trying to get better. Why? Let’s look at the events of the day . . .

Donny, Tracy, and Tyrone were on time, early even, when they heard their manager would be out-of-the office. They knew how important they were to the overall operations of the hotel. When everyone’s on time, business can operate as usual! No damage is done.

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Are you Honing on a Regular Basis?

Greetings Readers!

Each student at The Chef’s Academy receives a chef’s knife. This knife will probably become the most important and essential tool used throughout the student’s academic career. This is also true for a Chef! Chefs spend a lot of time with their knives – cutting, dicing, fileting, chopping, chiffonading, juilenning, slicing, mincing, and threatening their staff. I didn’t say that, did I?!? Anyway, between its many uses and occasional sharpening, the knife may need to be honed. To “hone,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means to make more acute, intense, or effective. You see, a knife’s cutting edge becomes reshaped over time from sharpening. Tiny amounts of the blade are being ground away as explained by Chef Danilo Alfaro.

As I sat in my culinary class a few Saturday’s ago, I began to think about the last time I was “honed.” Like my chef’s knife, tiny amounts of my very being, intelligence if you will, has been chipped away by sharpening others. When you give of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally sometimes you lose YOUR sharpness, intensity, and/or effectiveness. Many times adults characterize this as “burn-out.” It happens to even the best of us!

As Chef Brandon Hamilton, an instructor at The Chef’s Academy, demonstrated how to hone our knives in class that day, I admit my mind wandered. As the distinct sound of the knife moving over the knife steel resonated, I continued to think about the many training classes I had led in my life and the classes that I am currently teaching. Then I said “what about me? What about my industry colleagues, fellow instructors, and college graduates now in the workforce?” I wondered if any of us had been honed lately or believed in honing on a regular basis. If you think about it, how can you continue to sharpen others when you, yourself have lost some of your sharpness?

Honing for you and I can happen in a variety of ways:

- Read a book that inspires you and strengthens your passion for what you do!
- Take a class or go back to school!
- Join a club or networking organization!
- Hear a powerful guest speaker!
- Go on a field trip and take a tour of some place that ignites a spark of enthusiasm!
- Watch an inspiring movie!
- Conduct your own research on the internet!
- Try cooking a new dish, clean a guestroom, or reconnect with whatever drew you to your profession in the first place!

The key is to learn and enhance or refresh your skill set! Do this on a regular basis. If you’re a Chef, join the ACF. If you’re a recent graduate, start building your library of industry magazines or books. If you are in a role designed to sharpen (teach, train, share your knowledge and who you are) others, then this one’s for you – “Honing on a regular basis, keeps the burn-out away!”

I am enjoying my Saturday culinary classes. Convert a recipe РI am being honed. Small dice zucchini РI am being honed. Grill eggplant РI am being honed. Saut̩ potatoes РI am being honed. Then, eat the potatoes. Sorry, not sure how that got in there. Although, I am tired at the end of the week, I feel my acuteness, intensity, and effectiveness growing. You can too.

Jokima Hiller, MBA, Hospitality & Restaurant
Management Program Coordinator
Faculty Advisor, Travel & Tour Club

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“We Change Lives, One Student at a Time!"