Service With Flair

by Grace Ma
21 Aug 2023

We go behind the scenes in Lausanne to find out how EHL Hospitality Business School nurtures trailblazers in luxury retail and tourism sectors all over the world.

A grilled Arctic char came drizzled in double cream and Valais bacon. The roast chicken was cooked to tender and juicy perfection. The presentation was elegant; the ingredients and accompanying wines, eloquently explained. At fine-dining establishments, this level of service is par for the course. At one Michelin-starred Le Berceau des Sens, it is exceptional given that it is an educational restaurant where the staff are students on a two-week rotation basis.

This was just one glimpse of the art of service that is being honed at EHL Hospitality Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland. Founded in 1893 as the world’s first hospitality management school École hôtelière de Lausanne, EHL changed its name in 2022 to reflect its broad curriculum that goes beyond traditional hospitality training to include management, sustainability, and technological innovation.

The institution, which is ranked by QS World University Rankings as the world’s number one hospitality management university from 2019 to 2023, has two other campuses EHL Campus Passugg and EHL Campus (Singapore), which was opened at Lady Hill Road in 2021. Programs offered range from bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality management to executive learning courses.

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The Lausanne campus went through a five-year, CHF250 million renovation that tripled the existing space to 80,000 square meters. New features include solar panels, electric vehicle charging points, AI-powered bins in the food hall to analyze food waste, and a garden for students to study permaculture and seasonal produce. 

The sleek and modern campus was a hive of activity when I visited. Smartly dressed students in business wear were huddled in conversation at sun-dappled corners and in smart meeting rooms equipped with the latest presentation technologies. In a mock-up of a hotel room, a group of students were learning the basics of housekeeping and set-ups for different guest profiles. Sitting in a post-lunch marketing tutorial brought back memories of being an undergraduate fighting off food coma to focus. Fortunately, this class had lively interactions and interesting real-life examples that got me thinking about the nuances of marketing campaigns.

In the well-equipped training kitchens, freshmen dressed in chef whites were experimenting with recipes. Under an on-going partnership between EHL’s Institute of Nutrition Research and Development and Swiss food and beverage conglomerate Nestle, the students also get to test new, yet-to-launch inventions from Nestle and make recommendations on the final products.

Before our lunch at Le Berceau des Sens, nervous-looking students went through the paces of how to plate dishes, introduce the menu, wines and cheeses, and take orders. Their teachers, Le Berceau’s head chef Cédric Bourassin and sommelier Thomas Fefin are among the best in their fields. Bourassin has helmed award-winning restaurants in Japan and Switzerland, while Fefin is among the school’s six Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, a French accolade given to individuals who have achieved the highest standards in their craft such as service, cuisine, and pastry-making. By the time the doors officially open and paying customers stream in, Bourassin and Fefin’s firm and patient coaching have imbued the students with enough confidence – and relaxed smiles – for a polished performance.

EHL Group’s chief executive officer Markus Venzin shared that the institution is “a general management school focusing on hospitality as an industry. We help students develop hospitality competencies that can be used in many different industries.” While half of the students would choose career paths in hotels and restaurants, the rest are likely to be in customer-facing roles such as those in private banking and luxury retail.

Venzin added that one of the school’s strengths is the ability to respond quickly to market needs. For example, new specialization modules in human-centric digitalization, sustainability and innovation were recently added to the curriculum of the international hospitality management bachelor’s degree. He said: “Most universities have a complex governance structure, but we can roll things out quickly. In three months, we got (these subjects) approved by the accreditation body here in Switzerland and the first students will go to Singapore this September to take them.” EHL also works with governments in countries like Singapore, Japan, and Saudi Arabia to create upskilling and re-skilling programs and hospitality schools to train people for their tourism sectors. 

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Undergraduate students like Meera Kumar, who was born in India but has spent most of her life in Singapore, and Swiss-Belgian Maud de Kock, have spent semesters on both the Lausanne and Singapore campuses. They cited EHL’s multi-cultural environment and the opportunity to interact with companies from diverse industries, such as real estate and finance, besides the traditional hospitality players as the main draws of their bachelor’s program.  

On the other hand, they acknowledged that the general nature of their subjects could limit internship applications if the companies they want to work in were seeking candidates with specific skills. Kock added: “You have to be super dedicated and go all out to take extra courses if you really want to work in a particular company.”