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Kohala High students explore hospitality careers, learn etiquette

Updated: 
April 19, 2014 - 12:05am

A group of Kohala High School students thought they knew how to set and behave at the table — until they met Raymond Kanehailua Thursday.

Kanehailua, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel banquet and beverage manager, stumped the teens and left them guessing when faced with several questions, such as where do you place your napkin when leaving the table for a moment or at the conclusion of a meal and how do you discard unwanted food from your mouth.

The students then discussed informal and formal table settings, the latter of which they created for their own lunch. They were also asked about serving different components of their meal, refreshing glasses of water and busing tables. This experience emphasized the art of good service and the students said they were wiser and even more appreciative of what wait staff does.

Besides a delicious meal, the students got a plate full of etiquette at lunch. It was a chance to practice their courtesy and niceties while talking with an “ambassador of excellence” and learning about the various careers in the hospitality industry. It showed how good table manners can bolster positive impressions on fellow diners, including prospective employers.

The exercise was part of the third annual Hawaii Tourism Authority-sponsored workforce development exposure event called Leadership, Exploration and Inspiration, or LEI, which gives students the opportunity to learn and experience the many rewarding jobs that exist in the state’s visitor industry. LEI also stresses the importance of graduating from high school and pursuing a post-secondary education. This is the first year LEI has taken place on the Big Island and Mauna Kea Beach Hotel was ecstatic to host nearly 40 students from Kohala High, its adopted school for the past 25 years, for the day, said Ivette Toro, the hotel’s human resources training manager.

Phyllis Branco, the hotel’s manager, hoped the experience not only exposed the students to the hospitality industry, which is the largest contributing factor to Hawaii’s economy, but also convinced some to choose it as a viable career option, particularly for those who do not want to leave the island. For Branco, the work in this sector is rewarding and gratifying in many ways, including being able to travel vicariously through the guests you meet and helping create incredible timeless memories.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel partnered in LEI because it was “an opportunity to invest in the future.” Branco wished LEI was around when she was in school, saying such an event would have jump started her career planning. She didn’t immediately know what career she wanted to pursue following high school. Branco became interested in the hospitality and travel industry while attending the University of Hawaii and through internships.

Prior to minding their p’s and q’s, the students toured the property, including its kitchen, newly renovated rooms, and restaurants. They learned about Laurance S. Rockefeller, his love of Asian and Oceania art, and his vision of creating an oasis that would blend in and harmonize with its surroundings.

Toro emphasized the history and values of this world-class luxury hotel, which is favored by many multigenerational families who’ve been coming for years as guests or have chosen employment here. The students were encouraged to ask questions and network with all the employees they encountered.

Damien Kaholo, a 16-year-old sophomore, dreams of becoming an architect or engineering technologist. Walking around the hotel property, he was inspired by clean, thoughtful design of the buildings and how everything seems to follow the topography or draw from nature. He was particularly amazed how a big ballroom was expertly disguised from onlookers while also meeting the needs of its many users.

Kaholo called LEI “a good experience” because it allowed students to meet people in different professions and find out how they got to where they are today. He also thought it was “pretty fun” doing formal place settings for a table of eight people in 15 minutes — an experience that proved “things are not always as simple as they seem.”

Kumulani Kaai, a 15-year-old sophomore, plans to go to a college on the mainland and wants to be a physical therapist. Still, she appreciated learning about the various jobs offered at the hotel and the networking, all of which could lead to seasonal or summer employment she could use to help pay for college. She admires those who work in this industry and spoke about how her dad is a musician who plays regularly at resorts.

In particular, Kaai liked meeting Kohala High alumni such as Kanehailua who encouraged the students to be proud of small-town roots and to prove anyone wrong who thinks they’re “just from the boonies.” She was inspired by his speech, which reminded the students that they can be anything they wish to be so they work and study hard, as well as embrace opportunities.