What is it about food that brings us together? For centuries, people have been making decision, closing deals, and celebrating around a table with food spread out for their enjoyment.
Last week, I was lucky enough to sit down with a woman who specializes in creating the perfect dining experience. Michelle Alonso, the owner of Moore’s Agency–a staffing and fine dining school of service, is changing the face of the service industry.
At an early age, I was attracted to the hospitality industry. I worked in many restaurants and bars throughout my 20s. The money I made in the industry enabled me to travel across the US and parts of Canada. Although I know a lot about working in bars, I have very little experience with catering. Michelle indulged my curiosity and sat down with me to talk about the nature of her business. The following questions were taken from that meeting.
How does catering service differ from service in a restaurant or bar?
Money is one of the biggest elements. In a bar or restaurant, the server is taught to concentrate on sales. Everything centers on up selling; oftentimes, it is at the expense of good quality service. In a catering setting–it is all about service. Everything is about making the guest happy.
What is the training program like when you work for a catering company?
Actually, there isn’t a training program, which is what motivated me to start my own school of service.
And, what does your school of service entail?
It’s a hands-on “Boot Camp” style of training, so the servers can learn what they need and go out and deliver high quality service and make lots of money doing it.
When Michelle said, “Boot Camp”, I had to laugh because Michelle is a petite woman and anything but threatening, so I followed up with: what do you mean by “Boot Camp”?
I run a highly interactive class. It is pretty much all hands-on with a few exceptions. My objective is to train quality servers. Who will in turn, will have no troubles finding work after the class is completed whether it be through my company or one of those I work closely with.
I instill in my students a sense of work ethic (they are the ambassadors). I also have my students navigate challenging obstacle courses (timed) and role-play tough catering scenarios. By the end of my class, students have gained the knowledge necessary to deal with the stress associated with pulling off a successful party, and I am confident that if a student does completes my class they will be successful in finding a job.
Sounds tough. I take it catering isn’t for everyone then. What sorts of people do you think are attracted to the catering business?
I think, mostly, people who need extra money, some college kids, and those who like the flexibility of not having to commit to a set schedule.
Would you say that when something stands out, at an event, then the event is a failure?
No, not really. The biggest way for an event to fail is for the front and back of the house to fail to work together. All you have is your team at any given party and when there is no cohesion then that can be a disaster!
I’m confused. Servers should blend into the background or be apart of the action?
Nowadays, people are throwing more theme-based parties where the servers are not just there to ensure the party runs smoothly, but they hide in plain sight and are apart of the theme–posed in a costume or handing out H’orderves.
I’ve had many different kinds of managers in the 16 years I have been working in bars and restaurants. The one thing they all had in common was that they were different, so I asked Michelle what she thought was the most effective leadership style when working an event and she summed it up with one word, which kind of surprised me because the word has somewhat of a negative connotation–micromanagement.
Wanting to be certain, I looked up micromanagement in the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Micromanagement is defined as, “a management style centering around excessive control or attention to details”.
Micromanaging is the only way to work a catering event. It is the nature of the game. A good team leader is so important in this business. For example, you never know what you are going to get at an event when you show up. Whether the bar will be in the garage or an unexpected thunderstorm that rolls in with no warning after you set up a party of 200 in the garden…so, the leader is very important. Think about it like this, you have 2 hours to put everything together before the party begins. Oftentimes, the client does not have time for a dress rehearsal. An effective leader is one that does not wait for disaster to strike, for they always have a plan B–just in case.
How do you think your staff like being micromanaged?
I tell them what to do, but in a respectful way. At the end of the day, we owe it to our guests to make it a successful party. All of us work as a team. Besides, I don’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. It’s like when I’m teaching, if I have to ask the same question 3 times until I get the answer I’m looking for, so be it. For me, it is all about learning. I continue to learn something new from every event I work.
One final question, what era or time stands out most in your mind for having had the biggest influence on table service?
For years, people used their hands to eat. Well actually, a spoon and a knife, some members of aristocracy used two knifes. In the 1700s, the fork was introduced. Not only did it make mealtimes more hygienic but it also made it easier to cut the meat, so I would have to say when the fork was introduced.
Charlie Chaplin may have said it, but Michelle Alonso lives it. ” A day without laughter is a day wasted!” This super charged mother of two is proving to be a powerful force within the catering community. With the creation of her service school, the first in South Florida, and the close ties she has with many of the bigger catering firms, don’t be surprised if Moore’s Agency sets the standard of service all others are judged by.
If you want to know more about Michelle Alonso and Moore’s Agency, you can find her contact information below.
6968 SW 4th Street
Miami, FL 33144
About the Author
Ian L. Campbell is a freelance writer living in Miami and pursing a degree in psychology.