April 7, 2006

Students Run Statler Hotel Over Weekend

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This weekend, a dedicated group of Hotelies will run Statler Hotel – these people have been preparing for nearly a year to entertain, educate and pamper 180 guests at the 81st annual Hotel Ezra Cornell from Thursday to Sunday.

“With HEC, you put academics into practice and operate like you really are in the hospitality industry,” said Jennifer Vollmert ’07, public relations director of HEC. “We get to give what we learn a go.”

The HEC chefs have to prepare their own production plans and make food requisitions and recipes, according to Tekla Israelson ’07, food and beverage director.

“HEC mimics a real restaurant – guests can expect the same or better service,” said Israelson.

Students cover, as either volunteers or board members, every facet of operating the Statler during the weekend, from designing the HEC plate to hiring the music acts.

The board members receive 3 credits for their participation in planning HEC.

The previous year’s HEC board will appoint new executives in May, eleven months prior to the next HEC.

“This is only a three-day conference, but we have to access so many resources, network and connect with so many people that it just explodes into a giant project,” Vollmert said.

The weekend both allows students to practice what they’ve learned in a real world situation and, at the same time, affect the real world.

According to Boniface Law, marketing director, the HEC weekend “provides guests with a brief snapshot of the latest studies – as presentations from Center for Hospitality Research – which undoubtedly will impact the industry.”

Doug Leuthold ’06, managing director of HEC, said that he was in a “unique position because usually the managing director of HEC has to be on board the previous year,” while he was not.

“I just jumped in and fed off of everyone’s energy,” Leuthold said.

He describes his position as “painstakingly valuable because over the course of the year, you wonder what you’re getting out of all your work.”

Leuthold will be in a managerial position after graduating and said he has learned a lot about management, which he says is “especially hard when it’s peers.”

This year is the first that HEC has a public relations director. The position was added in order to increase the event’s media coverage. Given this blank slate, Vollmert could experiment with new ideas in exposing HEC to diverse media outlets. She worked to have HEC featured in hospitality trade journals and published a newspaper that HEC guests will receive every morning. She also created an HEC blog.

“Blogging is not standard hospitality procedure, but it’s big in the business world,” said Vollmert. “It’s a way for HEC to evolve, adapt and keep current. It’s fun to try new things.”

According to Vollmert, the HEC blog has had over 2,500 hits this year.

“In the past there’s only been a select group of people who knew what was going on with HEC. Anyone can access the blog; this is a way to be more inclusive,” she added.

“Although it may not be as noticeable from a guest standpoint, the 81st HEC has taken great strides in breaking the traditional ways of doing things,” Law said.

The HEC board aimed to innovate not only its communication and PR methods but its culinary endeavors, too. For the Saturday night pairing dinner, beer – not wine – will be served, according to Israelson.

“Beer isn’t just for the Super-bowl. It has lost its blue-collar association and goes well with a lot of different foods,” Israelson said.

According to Israelson, the meals’ preparation for HEC will be interactive: in standard fashion, cooking will be done in the kitchen, while garnishes and sauces will be put on the food in front of the guests.

“This hands-on type of cooking demonstration, with food prepared in the dining room, is a new idea,” Israelson said.

The Hotel School’s recently formalized alliance with the Culinary Institute of America will also distinguish this year’s HEC from those of the past. The head chef for HEC is a graduate of the CIA and a junior in the Hotel School; 10 CIA chefs will help prepare the meals for HEC.

The HEC plate, a traditional HEC souvenir that, according to Vollmert “commemorates and celebrates the weekend,” showcases the SHA-CIA alliance.

The plates were donated by Oneida and are from the same line the CIA uses, according to Leuthold. Christina Tasho ’06 designed them.

In addition to Oneida, Fiji Water, Jurlique and Travel + Leisure magazine donated either funding or their products to HEC. Since many hospitality industry leaders will attend HEC, possible business prospects attract companies to donate to HEC, according to Leuthold.

“This is a win-win situation. We look good by having premium brands, and the companies get amazing product placement,” Leuthold said.

Archived article by Jessica DiNapoli
Sun Staff Writer