Remember when the show “LA Law” was hot--okay, I’m dating myself--and law schools were suddenly inundated by applications? Thanks to the escapades of Harry Hamlin et al. in and out of the courtroom, law became sexy, and being a lawyer suddenly became a highly desirable career path for young people.
Fast forward to today. Cocktails, wine and beer are in the spotlight as celebrity bar chefs, sommeliers and beer pros are making regular appearances on television shows ranging from “Martha” to “Iron Chef.” Drinks are sexy—of course, we’ve known that all along—and beverage is now seen as a viable career choice for young hospitality-minded individuals.
This was evident during a recent visit to the Johnson & Wales University campus in Providence R.I., where Cheers publisher Charlie Forman and I presented a scholarship check to benefit three students in the Restaurant Food & Beverage Management program. Each student has a concentration in beverage management, and their enthusiasm was, well, palpable: Megan Dunn plans to use her wine and spirits knowledge to create great food and beverage pairings; Disa Saugstad looks forward to developing an outstanding wine list for her future restaurant; and William Taylor plans to become a Certified Wine Educator and hopes to open a wine bar. Each is headed for a semester abroad to further their beverage education.
Of the 850 students in the food and beverage program, 100 now have a beverage concentration, according to Ed Korry, department chair of beverage and dining service. That figure is expected to rise 20 percent annually because some beverage courses from the Restaurant Food & Beverage core curriculum are now also available to students in the colleges of Business, Hospitality and Culinary Arts. Classes range from beverage operations to beverage appreciation; a mixology certificate is available. Beverage education, Korry says, is in demand by incoming students.
Nicholas J. Hadgis, Ph.D., dean of the School of Hospitality Management at Widener University in Chester, Pa., observes a similar trend. And thanks to a gift from Banfi Vintners Foundation, Widener students and a faculty member will go on a wine and food study tour of Tuscany this summer. The beverage programs at the Culinary Institute of America campuses on both coasts are thriving, and professional courses including the BAR program report waiting lists of eager students.
This certainly bodes well for the future of beverage management and service. The challenge is to ensure our own organizations--whether large chains or single, independently operated venues--treat beverage as a priority and welcome these newly minted experts as the beverage professionals they long to be.