BEFORE Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) students serve in world-class hotels and fancy restaurants, their work of “mixing and stirring” starts in this innocuous corner at the Central Library – the Reader’s Café.

Gerlie Magpili has been single-handedly managing the café for four years now with the aid of senior students as her apprentices. Together, they prepare delectable desserts and beverages for bookworms and foodies at the library’s ground floor.

“This coffee shop serves not only the library visitors but [helps] the students accomplish their on-the-job trainings,” Magpili says.

Every two weeks, a new batch of students go under her tutelage, all of them eager to learn the secrets of managing a café. Magpili orients them on a number of things, ranging from manning the cash register, to cleaning tables and dishes. Five students usually help her out in the morning and afternoon, until they complete 100 hours of preliminary training. Then they move on to internship off campus.

Magpili starts off the day by making a daily inventory of the things she needs for the shop. The process is the same come closing time.

Ironically, while Magpili teaches students about the tricks of the trade, she herself never had formal education in restaurant management. Financial constraints prevented her from studying.

In 1993, she had to leave her hometown of Batangas in order to work for a garments company in Manila. One day while delivering merchandise in Divisoria, she came across UST and suddenly felt a desire to work there. Luckily for her, a relative who was working in UST helped her get a job.

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Despite having minimal experience when it came to mixing and creating drinks, Magpili nonetheless became the manager of the Reader’s Cafe.

The hard part came after.

The first few weeks were forgivable owing to her lack of managerial skills.

“No one taught me any managerial tasks so I had to study in order to do my job properly,” Magpili says.

Whatever knowledge she has acquired from managing the café, she passes it on to her trainees. She doesn’t want her education to end there.

Given a chance, she wants to take courses related to HRM offered by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.

Considering the students in the café would be doing the job for the first time, how would Magpili evaluate these neophytes?

“Sometimes it’s hard to always assist them, especially when some trainees tend to slack off. But as long as our customers are happy, I can say that these interns are doing a good job,” Magpili says.

In Magpili’s four years of service, she has seen not only interns come and go but also witnessed the Reader’s Café undergo a major facelift two years ago.

From a cramped cafeteria barely the size of a classroom, the present coffee shop is now bigger to accommodate more students. Several additions like dim lights and mellow music add to the homely feel of the café.

Apart from the change in the coffee shop, several of Magpili’s former trainees have also become professionals. Once in a while, they take time to visit their old training grounds and check up on their former mentor and co-worker.

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“It’s flattering to know that they still remember to visit me once in a while. I feel like I am part of their lives,” she says.

When the time comes for her trainees to leave, Magpili makes sure to maintain a professional relationship with them even after graduation.

“My relationship with the interns is very casual, but professionalism is still there. I think the secret in good working relationships is ‘tamang pakikisama’ with your co-workers,” she says.

Like fine coffee, Magpili and her interns definitely made a good blend working together, if only for a short while.

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