Maintaining a strong hospitality workforce in the United States has been a concern for many years, and we all know that one of the keys to a restaurant’s success is talented staff. To help reverse the workforce decline, The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation created its cornerstone program, ProStart. For two years now, Oracle Hospitality has been a dedicated partner to the NRAEF. We believe in the ProStart program and the value it brings to our industry: developing hospitality superstars of the future.
I recently had the privilege of interviewing two ProStart standouts: Christopher Mendez and Skylee Ennis.
This year, the NRAEF asked Oracle Hospitality to judge a Technology Competition that it organized for ProStart students and alumni. Students were encouraged to submit their ideas for the next big restaurant technology. You can read more about the competition and judging process here.
Christopher and Skylee, both alumni of Moody High School in Moody, Alabama, were the competition winners! They submitted an idea for a "tap-and-go" travel cup. Designed for consumers on the go and only interested in buying a drink, the idea creates a fast, easy, and convenient way for restaurants to keep lines moving while making quick money/generating greater revenue. The travel mug is double insulated to keep drinks hot or cold for several hours and features an embedded sensor. The sensor is tied back to the restaurant’s POS system. When the sensor in the cup touches the beverage system sensor, your beverage dispenses while charging your credit card. By allowing customers to purchase beverages without waiting or receiving assistance, employees gain time to tackle more important tasks. By making buying easier, the concept also encourages customers to spend more.
When asked how they came up with their technology competition idea, Christopher said: “We were in a restaurant after eating lunch and wanted to purchase another drink. The line at the cashier was very long, so we started thinking, ‘What if there was a tap-and-go system so we didn’t have to wait in line for one drink?’ And that’s when we started thinking about the technology behind it.”
Christopher and Skylee went home and began researching the technology that would bring their invention to life. They even did field research – going out in the community and polling consumers about their idea – determining that beverage sales would increase roughly 26% for restaurants that adopted their travel mug.
Christopher said the importance of technology lies in its ability to simplify and accelerate guest service. “Restaurants have to stay with the latest technology in order to stay current with the industry, or else they will lose out to their competition,” he said.
Added Skylee: “Technology keeps us moving forward. Restaurants need new ideas to keep growing and technology keeps them on the cutting edge.”
Christopher and Skylee are prime examples of the quality talent that the ProStart program is producing.
Christopher is currently a Foodservice Management major at Jefferson State Community College and works at a local fine dining restaurant. Ultimately, Christopher would like to open his own restaurant; he already has some details. “My restaurant would be a fusion-style restaurant that features multi-cultural food... food and flavors from different cultures all in one place.” He would also like to open a food truck or a bar later in life.
“My passion for food came from my mom,” Christopher said. “She always says that food is a language that needs no form of understanding or translation... You don’t need to understand what you’re eating, you just need to enjoy it! I love to cook and explore different flavors, and I want to inspire people with my food.”
Skylee wants to go into the pastry side of the business by opening her own bakery with a cake decorating shop attached. She is currently a cake decorator at her local grocery store and loves the creative and artistic aspects of cake decorating. “I love cooking,” Skylee said. “It’s something that will never go out of style.”
ProStart is the reason that Christopher is going to college. In his junior year of high school, he won the Alabama state competition in both Culinary and Management, sending him to the National Competition where he also placed and won a scholarship.
“ProStart has enhanced my passion for the industry,” Christopher said. “On the culinary side, I have been able to learn everything from basic cooking skills to how to plate, and even developing my pallet. On the management side, I have learned things like public speaking, leadership, and how to network and market myself.”
For Skylee, the biggest skill that she has learned from her involvement with ProStart is public speaking. “I was never someone who could get up in front of an audience and speak, but ProStart changed that,” she said. “It’s a skill that I will use the rest of my life!”
Christopher is still involved with the ProStart program at his former high school and loves mentoring the next wave of high school ProStart Program graduates. “The program really prepares you for a career in this industry,” he added. “You are exposed to so many things.”
The work that the NRAEF has done through its ProStart program is impressive. These students have been given an opportunity of a lifetime, and in some cases, the means to attend college. ProStart graduates truly are the hospitality industry’s next generation. They are dedicated, highly qualified, and innovative. Every restaurant operator should be watching them. They are destined to be your future employees – and quite possibly, your next competitors.