For two years now, Karen and Andrej have been teaching people from the local area how to prepare and serve western food and drinks to customers at the Bamboo Lounge. The aim has been to provide Lao staff with an opportunity to develop skills that they can use to work in the ever-expanding tourism industry, now and in the future. This is in addition to providing a well-paid job for the present that they can use to support themselves, their family and even their whole village.
Now Karen and Andrej have more western staff on hand to help realize their hopes and plans for the business, we’re currently developing the more formal teaching side of the Bamboo Lounge Training Restaurant. Part of this involves compiling all the skills the Lao staff learn here and producing a standardized curriculum that can be followed by any new Lao staff coming to work at the Bamboo Lounge.
The curriculum is in the early stages and it has been interesting to think about and compile. What is there for the Lao staff to learn when they come here? It turns out, a lot; an overwhelming amount and hard to comprehend looking at it all as a whole.
Let’s start with the basics, split into five categories.
Cleaning – How we keep the café clean enough to meet the high expectations of western customers. Anything and everything needs cleaning, so new staff start with the basics – sweeping and mopping the floors, for instance.
Food preparation – What do Falang eat and how on earth do you make it? Local people don’t know much about western food and usually don’t like it when they try it. So it’s hard to get the Lao staff to understand what a certain dish should turn out like. I guess it’s like if I went to work in a restaurant in China; I have a rough idea of what Chinese people eat, but would be completely out of my depth when it came to specifics. So obviously the Lao staff start out learning simple dishes, like fruit salad.
Customer service – This is a huge area of learning which has to include learning to speak some English. New staff can still do the basics, for instance taking food to the right people and clearing their plates, but much more requires being able to speak English to customers or at least understand what they’re saying. When I first came to work here, I thought the best thing I could do would be to only ever speak English to the Lao staff…I soon learned that explaining things using the little Lao I have managed to pick up made life a million times easier! Lao people who come to work here will usually have little to no English to start with, and even when they can eventually understand quite a lot, they often seem to lack the confidence to speak English themselves. Another difficult aspect of learning about customer service is gaining an understanding of what a western person will want and expect in terms of service when they go out to eat.
Drinks preparation – There is so much more choice of what to drink in the west, from a Macchiato to a White Russian, we teach our staff how to make all the wonderful concoctions, starting with the simple things like pots of tea, and sprite or coke with ice and a straw.
Stocking up – We need to plan ahead to make sure everything is ready for when a customer orders from the menu. Eventually, the Lao staff need to be able to keep track of and think ahead about what needs prepping without being told. When new staff start, we’ll get them to do simple things like chop up cheese for pizzas and keep the fridge fully stocked with beers.
When you think about everything there is for Lao staff to learn at the restaurant, it isn’t just a list of different jobs to tick off; holistically, the training school teaches, in essence, the ‘Way of the Westerner’ visiting this beautiful country; what they like and dislike, how they like things done, how they communicate with one another. The Bamboo Lounge Training School provides an opportunity for Lao people to become educated in the hospitality industry, who want to try something different to the norm, who want to be a part of the booming tourism industry, and who are interested in learning about a culture very different to their own.