Institut Lyfe students create their own ephemeral restaurants

10 min reading time

Published on 21/03/24 - Updated on 22/03/24

There's nothing like exploration-based teaching to anchor knowledge and support students as far as possible in their learning. This approach is illustrated by the Concept Design & Development (CDD) project, which enables students in Institut Lyfe's MSc International Hospitality Management to explore and experience every facet of setting up a restaurant. These future leaders in the sector are thrown into a life-size exercise that enables them to grasp a vast number of facets of their future professions.

As soon as they enrol, the students know that they will start the year with a major project in order to deliver in December a restaurant concept that is innovative, viable and potentially profitable. The Institut Lyfe's teaching team is joined by that of emlyon business school to cover all aspects of the first practical case on which the students are working with passion and commitment.

Jeffrey Catrett, Academic Director, Institut Lyfe: «In order for the students to get the most out of this project, we have set up a coaching system. The students are supervised by industry professionals. In addition, we have a dedicated person working on the project at Institut Lyfe. It's only when we see that the students aren't really going in the right direction that we reframe their project. Otherwise, we give them the tools and allow them to make mistakes.»

Henri Kuokkanen, Associate Professor, Institut Lyfe: « This project is a real example of experiential learning. We immerse the students in the role of an entrepreneur-restaurateur.»

The founder of the Lyfe Institute, Gérard Pélisson, is no stranger to this teaching approach. When he co-founded and grew the Accor Group with Paul Dubrule, he surrounded himself with intrapreneurs who enabled the French group to grow and develop rapidly. Pioneers were sent into new markets with all the cards in hand (and the responsibilities that went with them) while others thought about brands, products and concepts.

More than 50 years later, the students who join the course are thrown straight into the deep end.

The genesis of the Design & Development Concept

Jeffrey Catrett, Academic Director, Institut Lyfe: «After several attempts, I found Institut Lyfe to be the ideal place to develop this project. Here in France, there's a sense of aesthetics that combines with a robust process for building business plans, and that gives rise to some very fine projects. Visual and taste aesthetics are very well taken into account. For me, this is an essential element for the industry at a time when many highly personalised concepts are emerging. To design lifestyle products, this whole creative side is much more important than it used to be.»

The partnership was created in 2014 with Institut Lyfe on its side, with the aim of offering Bachelor International Hotel and Restaurant Management students the opportunity to go further in their studies. For emlyon business school, the aim was to offer its students the opportunity to enter the hotel industry. This project is also being run in conjunction with Institut Lyfe's Master's Degree in Culinary Leadership & Innovation. This offers the opportunity to enter a buoyant sector that adds significant value to the French economy. The intention is to capitalise on the full range of cross-disciplinary managerial skills available to the hotel industry.

The assessment panel for this CDD project is made up of four teachers or members of the teaching staff who each test the concepts. They make it a point of honour to test at the beginning and end of the period in order to measure the extent to which potential comments made to the students have been taken into account.

Jeffrey Catrett, Academic Director, Institut Lyfe: «There are several types of student profile involved in each project. In the kitchen, there is a Master's degree in Culinary Leadership & Innovation student paired with a second student who did not go to culinary arts school. Our aim is to create a positive synergy within this pairing. This is also the case in the dining room, where we team up students who have completed four years of hotel school with people who have not yet worked in the hotel and catering sector.

There is also a strong mix of nationalities, with this year's class including no fewer than 9 different nationalities. There are different ways of working in the kitchen and in the dining room, and we want the students to be able to discover this reality of their future working life.

The students generally go through the same phases of starting the project thinking it's insurmountable and finishing it thinking it's the best thing they've done so far. »

Several of the concepts developed during this exercise did indeed see the light of day. This is the case of l'Enveloppe, run by Enzo Polini and Adrien Deslandes, which after closing in Paris will reopen in Brittany.

As every year, a challenge that pushes students beyond their comfort zone

Jeffrey Catrett  «For me, there's one very important element that stands out in this project. It allows our students to get to grips with the notion of service. They discover that there is a noble side to pleasing others. That's what our industry is all about.»

Helen Spillane, Program Director of the MSc, has been working with students at Institut Lyfe for over a year. She has a 30-year career in teaching behind her.

«I'm the biggest fan of this programme. In this programme there is a real balance between expertise in the hotel business in the broadest sense, with a contemporary business approach.

I've noticed that our alumni really enjoy sharing a common past at the Institute when we meet them when they visit the hotels.»

Speaking about the Design and Development Concept, she adds, «As part of the CDD project, the students are coached by an American entrepreneur with a long career in the sector, Phil Mott.

While the CDD project starts on paper, in particular with the business plan, putting it into practice makes it very concrete as the students experiment with a 'soft opening' with customer feedback on the whole concept.

One of the aims of this project is to teach students how to deal with the real challenges that every entrepreneur faces on a daily basis. One of the groups this year had to completely rethink their concept, and they succeeded. This experience brings the students as close to reality as possible.»

It's a project that has to be run in parallel with a full course timetable. However, the results are there, with projects that are complete, coherent and built thanks to the commitment of the students and the support of the teaching staff. There were three test sessions, with 5 concepts presented at each session.

Each brigade had 4 services to convince the jurors of the coherence and relevance of their concept. Each group was made up of 7 students, including 2 chefs, one more experienced than the other. On the kitchen side, the task is to draw up the menu, of course to deliver the dishes planned and to propose recipe cards that will enable the costs to be calculated. On the dining room side, the attitude and professionalism of the students is monitored by the judges, as is their ability to adapt appropriately to unforeseen circumstances.  

Eric Vogler, Director of the MSc International Hospitality & Management, emlyon business school: «From October onwards, the students have to organise the temporary restaurant and draw up a business plan. To do this, they will carry out market research using a questionnaire and focus groups to check that they are targeting the right people and to stabilise the rest of the business plan.»

Students are also required to deploy communication tools such as a website or work on social networks. These tools will remain active for as long as their restaurant 'opens', and will also enable them to tackle the communication aspects of a concept and a product.

Siméon Aubin and 6 other students have rolled out the Les Petits Boudins concept. He joined the programme as an 'accelerated' student, after a degree in Political Science, and shares his experience.

« The fact that this MSc is attached to a business school and to Institut Lyfe is very complementary. What's more, we know that it's going to include practical work, and that's another reason why I wanted to join. We've been working on the concept for 4 months and thinking about it for 8 months.

Before entering the Bac + 5 programme, I completed a degree in Political Science. I know that when I finish my course here, I'll have acquired knowledge that will help me in my future career. Entrepreneurship in the catering industry is one of my long-term goals.»

« We knew that the budget was a key factor for us, because we were going to have a lot of expenses on the kitchen side. So we looked for a number of partners. Our Indian-born chef was immediately enthusiastic about the concept of quenelles. Based on this idea, he came up with a very complete menu and we were able to select 4 of them during the two days devoted to testing the menus. 

It's very exciting to be able to share these moments with some of the industry's leading names.»

This year's class has lived up to its promise, with short-lived restaurants offering successful concepts, the development of which has enabled them to experience their future careers to the full. It's an approach that not only develops students' passion for the industry, but also turns them into professionals who are already up and running when they enter the workforce. For some of them, this experience will also have triggered a desire to become entrepreneurs.

See you in 2024 for the 10th anniversary of the experience.

About the Master's programme: Master of Science in International Hotel and Restaurant Management.

Institut Lyfe delivers the programme in partnership as a double degree with emlyon business school.

Students are recruited from a variety of academic backgrounds. Many of the students come from Institut Lyfe's undergraduate programmes, but many come from a wide range of other backgrounds: engineering, industrial design, business degrees, literature and culture, tourism, to name just a few of this year's cohort.

The Master's programme is spread over 4 semesters, i.e. 14 to 16 months (depending on the length of the internship chosen), each of which includes courses on the fundamentals, field visits to industry leaders and major projects. The core courses cover topics such as customer experience management, service design, luxury management and environmentalism. Semester 4 is devoted to work experience (4-6 months) and writing a dissertation or business plan.

Students carry out 3 major projects, one for each academic semester. In this order :

  • Semester 1: Concept design and development, development of a viable restaurant concept, business plan and phased opening.
  • Semester 2: Hotel brand design, identification of an empty space in the brand portfolio of a major hotel group, design and development of a distinct hotel brand to occupy this space.
  • Semester 3: Corporate consultancy, a junior mentored consultancy assignment designed to address the critical challenges faced by a hotel organisation.

Field visits are an important part of the learning experience. They provide a structured exploration of key hospitality destinations. Historically, study tours have included Lyon, London, Paris, Los Angeles and Shanghai as destinations.

The programme offers a comprehensive understanding of international hospitality management in diverse cultural and industrial contexts.

This comprehensive structure provides students with a blend of theoretical knowledge and practical applications, equipping them with the necessary skills to succeed in the dynamic hospitality sector.

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