The Café at Eckles gives students enrolled in the MU Food Service Operation Fundamentals course a chance to experience the food service industry firsthand. The café is designed to let students participate in all aspects of running a small restaurant, from acting as a manager to preparing food in the kitchen.
Lerin Dirks, a food and beverage instructor at MU, emphasized the benefits of the program for students.
“The undergraduate students in this class are doing everything,” Dirks said. “They’re cooking. They’re cleaning. They’re serving. They’re doing everything.”
Essentially, the students are in charge. They are under supervision, but it is the students’ responsibility to keep the café running smoothly. This responsibility will benefit them in the future because they will have personal experience in running a restaurant.
Sanitation and food quality are essential components of The Café at Eckles. Dirks highlighted the importance pressed upon students to keep the café’s environment safe and sanitary, which includes things such as hand-washing and wearing gloves while handling food. Students are required to fill out sanitation logs each day at the café, forcing them to take note of certain behaviors that could be hazardous in a food service setting if not used properly. They also learn how to judge food quality and maintain food temperatures so customers are always served fresh, satisfactory food.
The students also rotate through management roles throughout the semester. This is a new installment in the course, and Dirks is confident that the students are gaining valuable knowledge from the exposure to the different roles involved with running a restaurant.
“They’ll become a manager at one point… you have to [learn] to pull yourself out, and you can’t always be in the mix of it,” said Dirks. “You can’t always be clearing tables, and you can’t always be serving guests. You have to manage your people and let them take care of the guests.”
By working at the café, students are preparing for real-life situations. Kayla Hauck, a food science major at MU, is one of the students gaining this experience through the course.
“You get some stress in the rush and some calm time, and you’ve got to figure out what to do with that so that you’re ready for the people,” Hauck said. “I think it’s about the most efficient way that you can practice.”
All profits go back into the café to be used for menus, supplies, food and marketing. The daily goal is to at least break even, and the café is essentially self-sustaining. This teaches the students the importance of budgeting. Students learn how to save money, especially through combating waste. They learn to recognize when an item may be used in another situation rather than throwing it away, a useful skill for later in students’ careers.
Another way students can gain experience is by taking the capstone course Commercial Food Production Management. This course is only offered in the fall. Through this capstone course, the students set up a series of dinners every Tuesday night. The series focuses on a different theme each semester. This past fall, the series was Italian-themed. Students researched traditional food of Italy and were tasked with creating authentic dishes each week that made up a four-course dinner related to the semester’s theme.
The Café at Eckles is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Guests are able to make a reservation through the café’s homepage; however, a reservation is recommended only for a party of 10 or more.
For customers in a rush, the café also offers the menu with a carryout option. Simply call the café, place your order with a pickup time, and the café will have the meal ready at the designated time. This option allows customers to enjoy the same great food at their convenience.
The menu offers many different options, the most popular being the Wolf Burger. The Wolf Burger comes with two patties served on a house-made bun. Other menu options include chicken panini, pasta, pizza and salads.
The Café at Eckles is located in Eckles Hall on the east side of campus. For more information or to make a reservation, visit the Culinary Café website.