The Owl Café: Serving Up Life Experience

By Brett Pawlowski

I saw an article recently on The Owl Café on Fairview, an on-campus restaurant at Eli Whitney Technical High School in Hamden, CT. The restaurant is run by juniors and seniors, who have the authority to set the menu, decide on the recipes, and could even change the name of the restaurant if they chose to. Freshmen and sophomores work in support roles, learning the basics while preparing for their turn in the upper grades. And, in addition to the on-site dining experience, students also run an associated catering operation for off-site events.

I love to see stories like this, not only because it demonstrates how students can develop their technical skills in a real-world environment, operating against real-world standards, but it also shows how schools can create an environment in which students can develop their interpersonal skills (or employability skills, or soft skills, etc.). Students have to do more than cook: They’re greeting and serving guests as well, and also creating the environment in which guests will experience their meals. It’s a complete real-world experience, and the value to students is clear when you consider that about 30 to 40 percent of those who graduate from the program pursue a culinary career, and that number is rising.