Catering to the Community
Last summer, a few months after he became the first graduate from the University of South Florida's School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, Josh Shear, 23, was working as assistant manager at the Old Salty Dog on City Island. While he was busy disassembling the dock at the waterfront restaurant in preparation for a potential hurricane, a waitress ran outside with the news that a customer at the bar had a nosebleed and was now in the men's room. Shear left the dock to check on the customer and discovered it was far more serious. "Blood was pouring from his nose," he remembers. He quickly called 911, when another waitress ran up to tell him that one of the workers had fallen through the dock and was hanging by his arms.
"It was one of those crazy 15 minutes of life," Shear says.
But Shear says his training at USF's hospitality school helped him remain calm and follow the appropriate steps to keep everyone safe. "The training gave me perspective, because I knew what to do," he says. The restaurant business is all about mini-challenges and time management. "A pipe breaks in the kitchen, a waitress calls to say she can't come in, then half an hour into lunch you run out of something. When I first started in the kitchen I'd panic over the smallest thing. Training helps you see the big picture."
Local restaurants and hotels are desperate for more trained hospitality managers like Shear. With almost 913,000 employees, the hospitality industry is the largest employer in the state of Florida-not surprising, since the state is the world's top travel destination. State officials place hospitality's economic impact at $57 billion, accounting for 20 percent of Florida's economy and generating a whopping $3.4 billion in state taxes. Virginia Haley, the executive director of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, says there are 783 lodging and food service businesses in Sarasota, with a total of 15,642 employees and 15,000 lodging units. In Manatee there are 527 businesses with 9,633 employees.
James McManemon Jr., general manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, says the dilemma in this region is not too few jobs, it's too few qualified applicants. "We would all hire more managers if there were more available to work," he says. "We have 650 employees [at the Ritz], and 50 to 75 are managers." It's expensive to recruit and relocate managers from other areas, and McManemon has the added pressure of training employees for other Ritz-Carltons. "We're a five-diamond hotel that trains other managers. We're a breeding ground."
In response to the growing challenge, a group of local hospitality pros including McManemon, consultant Judi Gallagher, The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort's Katie Klauber Moulton and consultant Linda Novey-White, who has since passed away, banded together a few years ago to create a university program to train hotel and restaurant managers. Their target was the hometown "U"-the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.
"The vision was to have a reputable school in Southwest Florida that would help keep well-educated professionals here," says Gallagher, who graduated from the Culinary Arts School at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., and is now on the school's advisory board. "That's been the toughest thing for this area. People move away."
After some discussion about incorporating it into the business school at USF in Tampa, the decision was made to create a separate school for hospitality management and base it at the Sarasota-Manatee campus. It is the first USF school to be developed away from the main Tampa campus and the first hospitality school on the west coast of Florida-students can graduate with a bachelor's of science degree in hospitality management or with a certificate in either restaurant or hotel management.
"This program was set up because the people in the industry in this area desired an educated work force," says Jay Schrock, the school's founding director. Schrock holds degrees from Oklahoma State University and Kansas State University and a Ph.D. from Texas Tech. He was a particularly appealing candidate because he was a former hotel manager and instrumental in the founding of the hospitality-management programs at Texas Tech and San Francisco State University.
In the two and a half years since the school opened at USF, only five students have graduated with a B.S. in hospitality management, and two have received certificates-hardly enough to satisfy local needs, which are conservatively estimated to be 30 to 40 B.S. grads a year. But the program has grown from its inaugural class of 12 students to its current enrollment of 100. "We're running to keep up," says Schrock. Administrators plan for the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management eventually to have its own building on USF's new Crosley campus, set to open this fall.
Schrock and other local hospitality experts say the market is about to explode with more dining establishments and, despite the recent conversion of hotels into condos, more hotels. In addition, private clubs, golf courses, spas, catering businesses, hospitals, food purveyors, convention and visitors bureaus, marketing and public relations firms, and the growing powerhouse IMG Academies in Bradenton, which caters to athletes and their families from all over the world, need professional hospitality workers.
"We're in such a growth area. Florida is open for business," says Schrock. "How many millionaires and multimillionaires have been created out of this industry? Look at Orlando or the Outback Steakhouse folks, or locally, the Klaubers [owners of The Colony, Pattigeorge's and Michael's On East] or someone like a Sean Murphy [owner of Beach Bistro on Anna Maria]. If you come here and you're a sharp businessman, with customer service you can make a very nice living. And that's where we come in-educating and training a work force."
The new school is not a culinary program, nor is it for students just graduating from high school. The program requires 60 transferable hours or an associate's degree from a Florida public community college. Much of the curriculum is business related; students must earn 12 credits in upper-level business courses such as principles of finance and marketing. They also take internships and hospitality courses like introductory food production management, cost control and human-resources management.
An employee with a business background is essential, says Sean Murphy, whose Beach Bistro restaurant has won eight of Florida Trend's Golden Spoon awards. "Give me a chef who knows the 12 times tables," says Murphy. "You have to understand bookkeeping, food costs and the percentages we have to operate within. You can't survive without it."
"I look for writing skills," says Gallagher, who helps restaurants find staff. "Every day you have to address guest comments, proofread a menu, and be the ultimate communicator to diffuse tensions. You need to be a marketing manager. It's not just putting a steak on a plate."
A program in its infancy can bring surprises. The school was intended to train new professionals to fill the area's rapidly growing need, but 95 percent of the students so far were already employed-not adding any new faces to the work force. And then there's the possibility that students will get their degree and move to a larger market. "But even if we're a springboard, it's great," says Gallagher. "Not everyone is ready to start working for a cruise line as soon as they get their degree. Students can get a local education, so they can start here."
Schrock says he's working to recruit students who are new to the work force and can enter the industry through internships. "I'd like to have everyone who calls for an intern get one," he says. "This is our product and what we need to turn out."
A few miles south of USF on U.S. 41, at the Hyatt Sarasota, general manager Mohammad Gharavi has high praise for the program, even though it's short on students who are available for internships. The Hyatt has partnered with the school for the past few year and currently has three of its students working there. "This partnership has been very beneficial to the community and to us and to the students," says Gharavi. "It's the most valuable kind of schooling, being in real business, out of the theoretical and into the practice."
Gallagher says she expects the school will improve and expand. "Within the next decade, this program will be a contender with some of the programs on the east coast."
And, as always, the baby boomers figure into the equation. "A million a year are moving to Florida," says Murphy, who says the demand for managers will only increase. "How bad a market can it be?"
Managing the Old Salty Dog
Shear, 23, is the first student to receive a degree in hospitality management from USF's School of Hotel and Restaurant Management. After graduating from a Sarasota high school, he initially attended USF in Tampa to study business information systems. "I was more into computers then," he says. The pursuit wasn't satisfying. He eventually went to school at USF Sarasota-Manatee and worked at Chili's as a fry cook and then in the kitchen of Old Salty Dog on City Island to make ends meet.
"I liked the fast pace and crazy part of the job," he says. So when a USF administrator came into this classroom to notify students that USF would be opening a local school of hospitality, Shear enrolled.
As graduation neared, he received multiple job offers, but decided to stay with Old Salty Dog, this time out of the kitchen as assistant manager. His long-term goal is to open his own restaurant and catering company.
The downsides of the hospitality business are long hours and stress, Shear admits, but the variety in his day and the people, both customers and co-workers, make up for the demanding schedule.
"The people who go into this are fun-loving," he says. "When I took computer classes, all you could hear were the keyboards. I could be working in a room with no windows; instead, I'm looking at the ocean."
Helping visitors find their way.
As the second graduate of USF's School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, Lukens, 24, is now the assistant to the vice president of the Tampa Convention and Visitors Center.
She took a long detour before making this choice. After growing up in Sarasota, she went to Florida State University and majored in studio art. "I was there for three full years, and I got burned out as the starving artist," she says. She moved back to Sarasota and began taking classes at USF the day it launched the hospitality school. "I signed up for the first class," she says. As an art major, Lukens had to catch up in math and economics, but she liked that there were fewer than 10 people in her classes ("I had 1,500 kids in my bio class at FSU") and that the curriculum required students to tour different restaurants and hotels weekly and to study visitors bureaus.
She interned at The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, and although she enjoyed the experience, she decided she wanted to work in a tourism bureau outside her hometown for broader exposure in a bigger market. Tourism can be just as creative as the arts, in her opinion. "It's all about passion," she says.
Sarasota/Manatee BUSINESS staff contributed to this story.
Florida's Schools of Hospitality
B.S. in hospitality management
Florida Gulf Coast University
B.S. in resort and hospitality management
Florida International University
Bachelor's and master's degrees in hospitality management, travel and tourism management
Florida State University
The Dedman School of Hospitality
Bachelor's and master's degrees in hospitality administration
Johnson & Wales University
Bachelor's degrees in food service management, hospitality management, hotel management and sport/entertainment/event management
University of Central Florida
Rosen College of Hospitality Management
Bachelor's degrees in hospitality management, and restaurant and food service; master's degrees in hospitality management and tourism management; Ph.D. in hospitality education
University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee
School of Hotel and Restaurant Management
B.S. in hospitality management
University of West Florida
College of Professional Studies
B.S. in hospitality, recreation and resort management