Servers go beyond dishing up meals in LaGrange Park
Elijah West of La Grange sets out dishes for the guests before dinner service at Plymouth Place in LaGrange Park. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 24, 2012 4:39PM
LAGRANGE PARK — The food service staff at Plymouth Place serves much more than meals.
A half hour before the daily dinner service in the basement of the retirement facility, staff has a pre-service, “stand-up” meeting consisting of a uniform check, a description of each dish of the menu, notification of any birthdays and then one aspect of service to focus on that evening. Staff members take turns describing for each other any recent instances of server-to-server assistance or excellent customer service other servers have done.
This sensitivity training goes beyond daily meetings.
“Trainings are once each month. They include customer service situations, table service etiquette, a food safety and a physical safety topic, and a review of comments from the residents’ food committee. The food safety topic might be a review of food allergies,” Dining Services Operations Manager Nicolle Heydorn said.
“We might have servers open cereal boxes or jelly packets while wearing large gloves,” Dining Room Manager Edith Almazan said, as an example of one way to simulate the limited hand mobility or arthritis residents might have.
“We also do skits to try to role-play and resolve recurrent problems. We’ve created a video that shows how not to set a table and we have the servers tell us what the actor did wrong,” Almazan said.
The training is detailed to the point that servers learn to say “Have you finished?” or other similar phrases instead of the dreaded, “Are you done yet?”
Heydorn said Sodexo, a food and facilities management services provider, developed the sensitivity program, which Heydorn adapted to fit the needs of Plymouth Place.
“The training videos are from the 1980s, so it probably was developed around that time,” she said.
Plymouth Place dining management rewards staff with awards and college recommendation letters. Before dinner each Wednesday, they hold a recognition meeting that includes an awards ceremony. Awards include a “Sodexo Cares Award,” a “Well-Being Award” for excellent customer service, an “Employee of the Month” award, and a perfect attendance award. The majority of servers are high school or college students.
“It’s the first job of many of the servers and they learn to respect staff and managers. Plymouth Place teaches them a lot more than other companies would. It’s goal-oriented, which is really nice,” Heydorn said.
Server Elijah West, 20, lives in La Grange and goes to Chicago State University.
“It’s fun to come here,” said West, an employee for two years. “It’s become a hobby instead of just a job.”