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Increased competition and rising expectations of service have resulted in a more professional and career-focused approach to waiting.

IN many parts of Europe waiters are considered professionals, with the position requiring years of training in food and wine service. In many parts of Australia, being a waiter is considered a job for university students, with ‘experience preferred but not essential’.

But things are changing. As the role and value of tourism increases to a broad cross-section of businesses, the value placed on those servicing tourists is growing.

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures from 1998, tourism directly employed 513,000 people in Australia, representing 6 per cent of total employment. It’s not surprising, then, that there has been a rapid emergence of institutions offering private hospitality training within Western Australia in the past decade. In addition, several of the State’s universities now offer a variety of hospitality-based courses.

Curtin, Murdoch and Notre Dame universities all offer a Bachelor of Commerce in tourism management (by various titles), while Edith Cowan University has nine units in hospitality management.

Uniquely, ECU also offers four different units in wine appreciation, one of the few grass-roots level hospitality courses available at a WA university.

ECU’s Wine Studies courses cover everything from the basics, such as styles of wines, to the fundamental, but vital, skills of sensory perception and wine faults. The final unit covers the processes of growing grapes and making wine.

Considering many in the industry accept that between five and 10 per cent of all wines have some fault, basic wine education such as that offered by ECU seems invaluable for anyone involved in the food and wine service industry.

The first hotel school to open in Australia, the Australian School of Tourism and Hotel Management (ASTHM), began in earnest in Perth just 12 years ago, offering six-week courses in cocktail making.

Courses at the WA-based ASTHM now span years instead of weeks and even the most basic introductory course runs for 20 weeks (split into two 10-week units).

ASTHM admissions manager Sabrina Capsis said the standards expected from hospitality workers had changed dramatically in the past decade.

“It’s not just ‘tray carrying’ as people used to call it, it’s a fine art,” she said.

“Ten years ago a lot of people did not feel they needed the training. Back then we simply catered for what the market wanted. We offered the six-week short bar courses, cocktail service and very basic hospitality training.

“Ten years ago it used to be if you were in the right place at the right time you got the job. But the selection criteria have definitely improved, so formal training counts for a lot.

“That’s what the HR managers are looking for and we give them those trained skilled graduates.”

Ms Capsis said there always would be an industry requirement for highly trained professionals, with the growth of four and five-star hotels helping to push the demand for professionals to new heights in WA.

But the growth of the overseas tourism industry is not the sole reason for increased service levels. An increasingly savvy domestic market also has a role to play.

“I think people expect better service,” Ms Capsis said. “There are numerous shows on television about food and wine. A lot more people are educating themselves with food and beverage.

“People want value for money … they want a whole dining experience.

“You can see the style of cafes changing. Even your basic cafe now has fine dining.

“Lets face it, if you go out for a meal these days you want the full service with it.”

Considering that 78 per cent of Australia’s tourism product in 1998 was consumed by domestic holiday makers, the need to please local customers is clear.

Perhaps for this reason the expectations and dedications of Australians working in the hospitality industry also have changed.

Although the quintessential university student industry worker is still an ever-present part of the hospitality workforce, Australians increasingly are opting to study hospitality, rather than study while they work in hospitality.

“These days people are career oriented and they want to go the full distance,” Ms Capsis said.

Those trained to the highest standard are encouraged to enter international and national competitions, with ASTHM graduate Byron Wright coming fifth in the world in the restaurant service category at the recent World Skills competition in South Korea.

Ms Capsis said Mr Wright was shocked at the regard in which professional waiters at the competition were held.

“It shocked him to realise that worldwide it’s not just carrying a tray, it’s a fine art,” she said.

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