Hospitality Hive

Updates, opinions, and news for anyone working in Orlando's Hospitality community

Hospitality Trends for 2017

Do you consider yourself trendy?  I can’t say that I generally fall into that category (pause while wondering exactly what I was thinking when I bought into the bellbottoms and hot pant fads way back when. . .), but – professionally speaking –  I do try to stay on top of what’s hot and what’s not as it pertains to the hospitality industry because I make my living planning meetings and events.  So it’s important when clients ask me, “Hey, what can we do that’s different this year?” that I don’t respond with “teambuilding!” [hint:  that’s so last year!] Or, “how about a corporate social responsibility project!”  [ditto] While there is nothing wrong with either of those activities, if you’re working the meeting circuit well, been there/done that.

So, now that we’ve crossed over into 2017 (do I hear a Halleluiah?  Yes I do!) for anyone in the meeting industry here in Orlando we are gearing up fast and furious for a busy convention season ahead.  Heck, even as I write this I’m juggling no less than seven large meeting projects that will all take place within the next six weeks.  And three of them are full week long programs making for a very tight and busy schedule for this planner.  Which is why I’m finding myself doing some research on food trends so that I can make some snappy banquet decisions with the (hopeful) end result of impressing my clients.

So, what am I choosing?

Well for starters, breakfast is in.  This may not be shocking to you since we have all witnessed McDonald’s big ‘breakfast all day’ roll out in 2016 right along with the expansive popularity of Dunkin’ Donuts grab and go breakfast selections.  But when I say it’s ‘in’ with our meeting business I mean as you’ll see breakfast-type meals served any time of day at any type of banquet event.  Yes, that’s how much we love our egg sammies (one of the new ‘it’ foods – look for all different types of eggs hatched from critters you may never have even heard of) and plenty of versions of savory flavored waffles served with anything but maple syrup.  This was really an easy prediction since chicken and waffles has been building in popularity for several years now, but I love that some hotels are even offering mini waffles, both savory and sweet with all types of interesting toppings, even on hors d’oeuvres menus.

Anyone for a savory waffle?

Anyone for a savory waffle?

And for all you kale fans this green is going to be taking a back seat to, drum roll, cauliflower.  Even though it’s white it’s ‘the new green’ as in a vegie packed with goodness.  New versions have it even being sliced like a steak and used as a healthy pizza base.  Not sure we heard a “yum-oh!” for that one yet but the experiments are still new.  Stay tuned for cauliflower, parts 1-2-3.

Cauliflower sliders, anyone?

Cauliflower sliders, anyone?

Cauliflower rice

Cauliflower rice

Or, how about cauliflower tots?

Or, how about cauliflower tots?

Other industry trends have been gaining popularity here in Orlando for several years but will now  be on larger stages as hotels do more to embrace them.  For instance, craft cocktails are very popular so look for the arrival of ‘boozy hotels’.  (I’ll  let you ponder that one for a while as I move on.) Open kitchens and cozy lobbies, aka kitchens and lobbies without borders, make hotel visits more interesting and interactive which is what this concept is all about.  It’s embracing the entertainment factor, right? Food halls are gaining momentum and Orlando is certainly on track with that.  Fast casual  is replacing fast food.

Our local Hard Rock Hotel could certainly be considered a 'boozy' hotel thanks to the famous Velvet Lounge seen here.

Our local Hard Rock Hotel could certainly be considered a ‘boozy’ hotel thanks to the famous Velvet Lounge seen here.

But, back to my menu planning.  Philippine cuisine, and really anything Asian, is topping the food trends of the year, as are the return or should we say the introduction of vegetables – especially those we’ve never seen or heard of before.  Hint:  maybe they’re all being imported from Asia? Both ice cream and popcorn will be seen in all sorts of flavor combinations, and step aside wine flights as beer flights are moving in to your territory!

Beer flights are really taking off!

Beer flights are really taking off!

Oh, and watch for the word ‘charcoal’ to pop up everywhere. In products from toothpaste to lemonade because apparently it’s good for us.  Who knew??

Is it chocolate or is it charcoal? This is the question you'll be asking during 2017!

Is it chocolate or is it charcoal? This is the question you’ll be asking during 2017!



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InSain for iBrand!

Since we’re all in the middle of various levels of holiday insanity at this point, I thought I’d share a little gift buying tip with you. And this one involves making a purchase for yourself instead of ‘person #17’ on that never ending list.  That’s right. As the final countdown begins to the busiest holiday dedicated to conspicuous consumption of the year I’m proposing you take a minute and remember who is most important in your life.  And, if you don’t answer ‘me/myself/I’ then perhaps you haven’t quite had enough of that spiked eggnog yet.

So, pour yourself a favorite adult beverage and settle into a big comfy chair as you read along with me about why you need to buy yourself a copy of the just released book, iBrand:  The Next Generation, by Pam & Olivia Sain, aka wife and daughter of Gary Sain, the [deceased] former President and CEO of Visit Orlando.

iBrand: The Next Generation.

iBrand: The Next Generation.

You see, Gary believed in you even before you did.  If you don’t already know about him suffice it to say that his entire professional career was spent marketing one thing or another in the hospitality industry which ultimately lead to his belief that you build your own brand along the journey.  In his own words, “Think of yourself as a brand and optimism is the key factor to making your personal brand a success.”

What better time of year to consider adopting optimism as your mantra than right now as we face a calendar full of big, scary unknowns in 2017? I mean, win or lose, most of us didn’t even like the candidates we actually voted for in that ugly presidential election, right?  But I digress with that sentiment. . .

Moving on, Gary was a respected and admired member of our hospitality community until his untimely passing in 2012.  Since then, his wife and daughters have pondered ways to keep his memory alive until one day they decided to write a book.  Not just any book, but one devoted to his core belief system which was, basically, believe in yourself and only good will follow.

“The richness of your personal brand is the destination you offer your targeted audience through personal insight.”

Mom [Pam] and daughter [Olivia] celebrate their book launch at another recent event. Come meet them both this weekend at the East End Market event and pick up a couple books - one for yourself and another for a gift.

Mom [Pam] and daughter [Olivia] celebrate their book launch at another recent event. Come meet them both this weekend at the East End Market event and pick up a couple books – one for yourself and another for a gift.

iBrand, the book, is full of insightful quotes and stories taken lovingly by Pam and Olivia after combing through volumes of Gary’s personal notes and speeches.  And as head of the marketing arm of the number one tourist destination in the world Gary had plenty of files and materials to work from.  So in their grief the idea was born for bringing it altogether  into a book now available i Brand: The Next Generation.   Further, mother and daughter will be on hand to sign copies on December 18 at the Locally Grown Words Bookfair, East End Market. This is being sponsored by Bookmarkit, one of our local treasures of an independent bookstore.

And while there are many reasons you should invest a little money in yourself right now you might want to also consider buying a few more copies to pass on to anyone you fancy yourself as being a mentor to because let’s face it, building a respectable personal brand is a skill worth developing.

Gary Sain, former CEO of Visit Florida and beloved hospitality industry leader.

Gary Sain, former President & CEO of Visit Florida and beloved hospitality industry leader.


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A Grateful Salute to a Local Hospitality Hero

It’s November, just a few days before Turkey Day, and now that we’ve all survived [I think?] that over-the-top nauseously nasty election, sigh, I wanted to make my Thanksgiving post about something meaningful, so yes, this WILL NOT have anything to do with politics.  

You’re welcome.

Under the category of ‘local do-gooders that go above and beyond in serving humanity’, we have a home town guy walking among us who continues to raise the bar on how one man can and does continue to change the world in significant and meaningful ways.  Even better, he does so quietly, with leadership, grace, and because ‘it’s the right thing to do.”

Harris Rosen, Hospitality Hero to many

Harris Rosen, Hospitality Hero to many

I’ve praised Harris Rosen before in this column because, well, it’s hard not to write about anything in our local hospitality industry without mentioning his name and singing his praises what with multiple hotels plus a world renown local college named after him.  But today, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share information about a project that this humble man has passionately spearheaded that most locals know nothing about.  You see, Harris Rosen has an eye on Haiti, and it’s not with intent to build slick new hotels there.  No sir, this man has made a long-term commitment to both relief and sustainability efforts that are commendable and legendary in one of the poorest countries on our planet.  From collecting soap and other personal hygiene items from his hotel guestrooms and re-purposing them into life saving gifts for Haitians who are desperately in need of such things as well as collecting food and other supplies that are personally delivered by company representatives, Rosen continues to provide a floating life raft of hope on an island where many see only despair and drowning.

Food deliveries?  Yes. Clothing, water filtration systems, tarps, tents and first aid supplies?  Of course.  All very basic needs, but it’s what those people need most and what Mr. Rosen can deliver. The humanitarian efforts started after the devastating 2010 earthquake and never stopped, even after the rest of the world had moved on to other crises in other countries.  Realizing that Haiti is the homeland of more than one-third of his company’s associates, Harris Rosen wisely vowed to continue to make a difference in an area not only close to home but with strong residential ties to our Central Florida community at large.  This past summer, the Harris Rosen Foundation in partnership with the non-profit Food for the Poor organization, built a new elementary school in the city of Les Cayes, Haiti.  The goal was to make a difference in the lives of the underprivelged and underserved children and families in that region but no one could have anticipated that it would also be a life saving shelter during the recent arrival of Hurricane Matthew.  Just days after the September 22 grand opening, the concrete block school provided a safe haven strong enough to withstand the devastation of Matthew.

Institution Mixte St. Jean de Jonc Labeille-Harris Rosen School, designed to host 300 students, was a hurricane-safe haven for hundreds of residents during Matthew.

Institution Mixte St. Jean de Jonc Labeille-Harris Rosen School, designed to host 300 students, was a hurricane-safe haven for hundreds of residents during Matthew.

“The timing was incredible,” said Rosen.  “Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of the hurricane.  We will continue our long-time support to the relief and sustainability efforts in Haiti and are doubly grateful that the school was completed in time to provide that much needed shelter during this tragedy.”

School ribbon cutting ceremony on September 22, 2016.

School ribbon cutting ceremony on September 22, 2016.

So, here in Orlando as we approach this Thanksgiving holiday whether from our comfortable hotel rooms [black Friday shopping lists in hand] or from that fantasy view of the world based on tourism and money, I thought you might be interested in one local man’s quest to do good with his own time and money on this earth.


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Things Were Just Great at the OK Corral!

OK Corral eventcenterbest_800x428

Welcome to the OK Corral Gun Club in Okeechobee, FL!

Sometimes you just gotta step out of your comfort zone, and that’s exactly what husband and I did last weekend when we took a road trip down to Okeechobee, FL for a visit to the OK Corral. More specifically, the OK Corral Gun Club.  Yep.  You read that correctly, but before I give you the details, let me just set this little road trip up for you by saying this was for a family reunion celebrating a special birthday.  And since the hosts of this event live in Okeechobee their venue choice made perfect sense.  But still, the ‘back-story’ is worth telling because, well, it went something like this:

I receive a IM message with the initial invite.  My response: “Ok, we’re in.  Where and when?”

Reply:  “Here, at the OK Corral,” which I, being an uniformed Orlando City Slicker, thought was just a cutesy name for their homestead in Okeechobee.

Me again:  “Can you give us an actual address, please?”

Reply:  “The OK Corral.”

All righty then!  Me, one more time:  “Is this your home, or what exactly are we looking for in our directions?”

Reply:  “It’s a gun club with a really cool restaurant.  The OK Corral Gun Club.  Okeechobee.  See you soon!”

OK Corral highnooncafe1

You don’t have to be a cowboy to love this food!

And just like that, after weathering last weekend’s near miss of a hurricane, husband and I were in the car on Sunday headed for the OK Corral Gun Club (and restaurant).  I’m still smiling as I write this because, well gee whiz, doesn’t that name just put an inquisitive grin on your face while envisioning what delightful stories lie ahead if you find yourself on a journey to a gun club in Okeechobee called the OK Corral?  Well let me tell you, it was indeed more than ‘just a gun club.’ It was it’s own brand of adventure park complete with all types of range sports for both pistol and rifle, as well as a “cowboy action range” (huh?) and a competition park where, according to the brochure, “qualified shooters and instructors with reservations can participate in the action by drawing from holster and moving while shooting.”  To that there was also the sporting clay courses for trap and skeet including both a “covered 5-stand and a wobble deck.” (And no, I don’t know what any of this is which is why I have to keep using quotation marks around the descriptions as I pull them directly from the brochure.  Hey, I’m honest,  and I like that about me!)  Lodging?  Check.  Event center? Check-check.  This list continues.

OK Corral liverystable4%20(800x533)

Note the presence of golf carts at the livery stable? Only in Florida, right?

OK Corral cowboy parkFeb20120001

Part of the Cowboy competition park







OK Corral wobbledeck2

Oh, so THIS is what a wobble deck looks like?

I’m sure it’s obvious by now that you’ve correctly surmised I’m woefully uneducated in matters of guns, but even I had to admit this place was cowboy cool, for sure!

Oh, and that restaurant?  It was the perfect combination of great food,  wonderful ‘spunky’ atmosphere, and just enough of that old west gun-slinging ambience to make you appreciate the sport involved with a gun club.  But the best part was that it wasn’t over the top, and by that I mean if you up-routed that OK Corral and put it here in Orlando well, I think we all know where this is going.  It would just be another theme park in an area where fantasy worlds trump reality.  But out there in Okeechobee it was the real deal.  Genuine.  And definitely worth the trip for any city slicker.  Even this one.

And while there was no time for me to even get close to a gun (which is a really good thing. . .), our group did have a wonderful celebration including some whiskey throw-backs.  Thanks, Florida Georgia Line for that yummy new blend of peaches & pecans you concocted for all of us.  Cheers to Old Camp Whiskey AND the OK Corral!

Florida Georgia Line showcase their new whiskey, Old Camp. This cowgirl-for-a-day loved it, too!

Florida Georgia Line showcase their new whiskey, Old Camp. This cowgirl-for-a-day loved it, too!


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9/11/01 – The Power of Numbers


Time that the burning towers stood

09/11/01 – 8:46AM.

09/11/01 – 9:02AM.

Everyone of age remembers where they were and what they were doing “when the world stopped turning on THAT September day.”  (cue Alan Jackson and Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning).  And today, as we mark the 15th anniversary of 09/11/01, it’s important to focus on some of the numbers that came out of that tragedy.  Some numbers you might be familiar with:

343 dead firefighters. . . 23 dead NYPD. . . 37 NY Port Authority employees. . .2350 first responders and other precious souls from all walks of life

Tower race Sept 2016

But other numbers, might be surprising:

those fires continued to burn for 99 days (imagine living with that daily smell and memory. . .)

number of 9/11 related funerals attended by [then] NYC Mayor Guiliani – 200 (do you think you will reach that number in your lifetime?)

estimated number of children that lost a parent= 3,051

estimated number of New Yorkers suffering from PTSD as a result of 9/11= over 420,000

There are, of course, so many more stats from that day – that one single historical event –  that are jaw dropping and mind numbing.  And to be honest, I don’t personally tend to think much about numbers except maybe when I’m at the grocery store (“they want how much for this loaf of bread?”), or booking vacation travel (should ‘fun’ really cost this much?), or when it’s time to file the annual income tax (no words, just no words at all. . .).  All trivial numbers by comparison to the focus of this blog post.

But today as we all pause in our own personal ways to remember ‘THAT’ day and how it changed our lives, I thought I’d just share some of those other numbers.  Especially after I read the article by Alison Bowen on page three of today’s Sentinel, 9/11 attacks still taking deadly toll” , because it was such a sad reminder about the impact of numbers even years after an event.  Here’s one from that article that really stuck with me:

-about 65,000 people, mostly first responders that came from all over the country, are currently in the WTC Health Program set up by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as a result of the attacks suffered on 9/11/01-

Tower race wheelchair Sept 2016

And as we reflect on any of the above numbers connected with this tragedy, let’s also not forget this one:

19 hijackers (that weren’t man enough to fight one on one) did all this, and more.

Peace to all those who read this and remember.

** photos courtesy of Millennium Westshore**

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Are You Overbooked?

I know I am, and I’m guessing you are, too.

But let’s suppose for a minute that we’re a hotel or restaurant that is filled to capacity.  Then the term ‘overbooked’ is a good thing, right?

Well, maybe not always.  At least that’s one chain of thought as presented in a book I’ve just finished reading titled, appropriately, “Overbooked – the Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism.”  Written by Elizabeth Becker, a former NY Times correspondent as well as a Senior Foreign Editor at NPR, the book puts forth a different vision of the industry that many – approximately one of every ten people around the world,  myself included – call home in terms of the job market.


And since here in Orlando we live in the epicenter of mammoth queue lines for everything and  therefore are pretty familiar with the look of overcrowded tourism, some of the stats from this book didn’t surprise me.  But this one did:

The lone state of Hawaii generates around $1 billion a month in tourism dollars.  And that’s without any traditional theme parks!

So, what type of monthly tourism revenue does Florida realize?  Currently just north of $6 billion a month, give or take a few bucks depending on the stats you’re reading.   Think that’s a lot of moolah?  I do, which is why I found the premise of this book so fascinating. Ms. Becker is actually pointing in the direction of too much of a good thing – tourism –  is, well, too much.  She provides plenty of examples from the decline of Venice, Italy from both the rising waters of too many mega cruise ships and the increasing investment of foreign money (many of the traditional Carnivale souvenir masks are now mass produced in China instead of the once-sacred Italian glass factories) to the shock and awe of a new tourist industry devoted to, well, shock and awe such as the commercializing of the Killing Fields in Cambodia.

But wait.  I’m not proposing we throw away the pixie dust and turn this into yet another negative read.  It is, after all, an election year so you’ve already got plenty of that sort of gloom and doom to read about elsewhere.

My point with this post has to do with a different observation made in this book.  When comparing the numbers of people that visit national parks and nature reserves to the much larger visitor numbers posted by theme parks, the author made this point:  “Theme parks are an extension of everyday life requiring no more than standing in line, going on rides, eating and repeating the process.   At [nature/wilderness] parks, visitors are removed from their comfort zones.”

Life is one long queue, right?

Life is one long queue, right?

Huh.  Food for thought, especially while waiting in line for your next, um, mocha latte. . .grocery check out. . .gas tank fill up. . .school pick up, etc.

Are we all overbooked, or just comfortable and accepting of our long queue lines as they are?


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Orlando Tourism Continues to Move On

Strong Orlando June 2016

Well ‘it’ finally happened.  Orlando, formerly known as both The City Beautiful and The Happiest Place on Earth was finally tested, and when I say tested I mean that in the worst possible scenario.  While there’s no point or need to rehash what happened to OTown over the course of one crazy-sad mind blowing weekend full of shocking gun violence and a singular gator stunner, here in the Hospitality Hive we think what’s most important moving forward is exactly that.

Moving forward.

It’s a sad truth that even while victims are still being buried and memorialized the city must continue to keep it’s heartbeat going, and in my opinion it’s being done in a most thoughtful and respectful way.  One only has to look at the daily newspaper to see what public activities are scheduled that provide comfort to the grieving and a voice for those who want to help and be heard. No matter at what level these tragedies touched you – and we were, indeed, all affected in some way – we’ve already learned (too many times. . .) from other cities who have dealt with this type of disaster that it’s vital to keep our pulse going.

And in the case of Orlando, our lifeline is tourism.

That’s not to say there aren’t tons of other vital industries that contribute to all that makes Orlando what it is, but we all know that tourism is the mo-jo from which most other juices flow here, so to stop doing what we do best and most of around here would not be an option.  Just as New York City didn’t stop ‘being NYC’ in the aftermath of 9/11,  nor did Paris. . .or Columbine. . .or Virginia Tech. . .or heck, no need to name them all.  You get the sad picture here. We can’t just stop being the number 1 tourist destination in the world because of recent tragic events.

But we can be smarter, which is exactly what will happen; in many cases it already is.  Our convention and visitors bureau has not only been both respectful and proactive in their omnificent worldwide presence but it has publically updated many safety issues for inbound travelers that can be viewed on their website.  You can check it out here at  And our friends at Walt Disney World have already made huge changes to their internal and public policies regarding that unbelievably tragic accident, most of which we only know about because of the watchful public eye now turned on their every move and not because they are trying to draw attention to their actions.

And depending on when you’re reading this post, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has joined forces with Visit Orlando to raise money for  the #OneOrlandoFund  via the June 30th Dine Out Orlando program.  Hundreds of participating restaurants have signed up to participate and donate generous percentages of their daily sales – some including breakfast, lunch, and dinner – to the fund specifically set up to benefit victims and families affected by the Pulse nightclub tragedy, aka our community.


And as our entire community continues to mourn and grieve,  heal and react, express our anger and sadness at having lost those precious lives while simultaneously gaining an ugly new statistic attached to our city, one thing will  remain certain in Orlando:  there’s a new layer to the meaning of the word hospitality and it involves safety first on many different levels.

Sadly, we have plenty of company in redefining hospitality because it’s also part of the new normal of worldwide tourism.   

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Stop ‘Wine-ing’ – Drink More Beer!

And I know just the place to start doing that. Harry’s Poolside Bar & Grill at the Rosen Centre Hotel is now hosting a series of beer-pairing dinners, Harry’s Brewmaster Series, that are both fun and incredibly educational, even after you’ve sipped and slurped and tasted your way through five complete meal courses and six exceptional beers.  That’s right, I used the words ‘fun’ and ‘educational’ in the same sentence; but did you also notice that I’m talking about drinking beer?  Kudos to the culinary braintrust at the Rosen Centre who concocted this unique event, which actually is an extension of their still very popular Vine and Dine at Rosen Centre which I’ve also written about here. Except that having attended one of each, I have to admit that the beer pairing seemed to hold the edge on the fun factor.  Why?  I don’t know, just trust me on this one.  Maybe it was the combination of the more casual but chic, poolside location of Harry’s Bar & Grill.  Maybe it was because when your first course is Steamed Pork Belly Buns and your last course is Beer Battered Granny Smith Apples (with a chocolate rum dipping sauce) it’s just more fun to talk about.  And eat.  Or, maybe, possibly it’s just because drinking beer itself tends to invite more colorful conversations (even without having a ball game blasting away in surround sound on ten different TV screens).  Whatever the reason, the night was lively, and at only $50 per person it’s a steal of a dining out deal.  Here’s the review in pictures and all photo credits go to professional photographer, Richard Pabis (what, like you thought I could be trusted with a camera while eating and drinking all this?):

Round 1 - Steamed Pork Belly Buns with pckled cucumbers & Cayman Aioli paired with a Tampa Style Lager

Round 1 – Steamed Pork Belly Buns with pckled cucumbers & Cayman Aioli paired with a Tampa Style Lager



2nd course - Bacon & Balsamic Crusted Scallops paired with FL Cracker Belgian-Style White Ale

2nd course – Bacon & Balsamic Crusted Scallops paired with FL Cracker Belgian-Style White Ale









#3 - Coconut Tempura Shrimp served over tropical rice with cilantro sauce, and the beer pairing was Invasion Pale Ale

#3 – Coconut Tempura Shrimp served over tropical rice with cilantro sauce, and the beer pairing was Invasion Pale Ale



The intermezzo was a just for fun nod to the FL Strawberry Festival - strawberry shortcake lager sorbet

The intermezzo was a just for fun nod to the FL Strawberry Festival – strawberry shortcake lager sorbet









4th course - Braised Short Ribs served over Manchego Polenta & Butternut Squash Puree with a Scotch Ale Demi, all paired with a Big Sound Scotch Ale

4th course – Braised Short Ribs served over Manchego Polenta & Butternut Squash Puree with a Scotch Ale Demi, all paired with a Big Sound Scotch Ale





But wait - we're not done yet! Dessert=beer battered Granny Smith Apples served with chocolate rum dipping sauce and a Maduro Brown Ale on the side. Oh yeah, baby.

But wait – we’re not done yet! Dessert=beer battered Granny Smith Apples served with chocolate rum dipping sauce and a Maduro Brown Ale on the side. Oh yeah, baby.





And for this event, Cigar City Brewing was the featured supplier of all the ales, so that’s where the learning part snuck in, just like the subtle tropical fruit hop finish from our opening Jai Alai India Pale Ale.  (Yeah, I was still able to take readable notes on that first round. . . ).  As each new course was skillfully presented in front of the diners, Eric Loy, whose business card lists him as El Lector from Cigar City Brewing but we now know him as El Cicerone – more on that title in a minute, was overseeing another pouring of the selected beer into our (surprise!) very cool souvenir beer tasting glass.  Actually, it was one of two souvenir glasses we left Harry’s with that night, plus a Harry’s Bar & Grill tee shirt so yes, we got to eat, drink, and grab a goody bag on the way out.

Now, about El Cicerone, did you know there is actually a three part Certification Program that educates beer professionals in order to elevate the beer experience for consumers?  Well now you do, and Eric is already on level two of that process.  Which explains how terminology like ‘hoppy ale with tropical aromas and bitterness’ roll off his tongue when describing Invasion Pale Ale, and why I just called it, um, really good stuff?  In fairness, I use the same descriptions about the wines I enjoy – good, better, best – and leave the adjective laden commentary to the sommeliers.

And speaking of really good stuff. . .

And speaking of really good stuff. . .

But there’s another man who knows it all when it comes to pairing this with that – Chef Emeterio “Tello” Luna, the mastermind behind those aforementioned pork bellys, the bacon & balsamic crusted scallops that followed along with all the rest of that goodness that kept coming out of the kitchen.  When he’s not working magic with beer pairings, Chef Tello is the Top Chef at 98Forty located in the hotel lobby where he regularly pairs rare and premium tequilas with incredible tapas.  And you don’t even have to wait for a special invitation to enjoy those because they’re available every night of the week.

So it’s affordable, delicious, and educational, and if a beer-pairing dinner sounds like your ‘mug of choice’ (sorry), make sure to reserve your spot at one of the two remaining events on the Rosen calendar.  The next one is May 13 with pairings from Crooked Can Brewing Company from Winter Garden, and who knows what Chef Tello will be conjuring up in the kitchen for that one?  Stay tuned!


Finally, to answer your question (I heard when you asked) yes, I was hosted for this event but opinions and perspectives are totally mine. Not one drop of Florida Cracker Belgian-Style White Ale (with moderate notes of orange peel) nor a sip of the Maduro Brown Ale (notes of caramel, toffee, chocolate & hints of espresso with a roasted peanut expression in finish) influenced me in the least.  Sayin’ 

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Human Trafficking in Orlando?

I know what most of you are thinking – not in my backyard, right?  Well think again, dear reader, because this topic keeps rearing its ugly head, even right here in our own beautiful city full of magic and make-believe.  In fact, as recently as January 22 of this very year the Orlando Sentinel featured an article on page one, “She wages fight against trafficking,” about a local photojournalist, Dianna Scimone, who has taken this cause to heart and is trying to do something about it. Further, if you simply Google Orlando Sentinel human trafficking you would be amazed at how many articles pop up over the past few years pointing out that, sadly, Florida has one of the highest rates of human trafficking in the nation.  21880395315_6d326b600f

And now you might also be wondering why this dark topic is being covered in the Hospitality Hive – generally a forum for information and, well, happiness about the industry “hive” that employs more people than any other in our Central Florida community.   Two reasons: 1] January was National Human Trafficking Awareness Month (I know, I know, I’m a little behind with this post, but. . .)  2] It’s a current hot topic in the meetings and events industry which brings us full circle back to that Hospitality stuff.

You see, beyond the human element, this type of trafficking involves two basic aspects of hospitality:  hotels and travel.  Hello, Orlando!  Now do you see where this is going?  And if you’re still shaking your head in denial, how about this news flash:  Tourism industry giants like Delta Airlines and Hilton Hotels have actively come out and become leaders in helping to identify and stop this kind of activity.  How?  Here are some simple signs that hotel and airline employees are now being trained to watch for:

  •  couples checking in with no luggage at airport
  • girls being watched, even in bathrooms, and appear to not know where they are headed in their travels
  • bar code tatoos on female travel companions
  • no cleaning allowed for multiple days in hotel rooms
  • lots of cell phone usage with numerous phones
  • oddly matched ‘couples’ – don’t look like they belong to each other, yet traveling together
  • paying cash for rooms, one day and a time, and/or travel tickets – bus/train/air
  • female never speaks; man does all the talking and handles all transactions



In fact, in case you think this type of degradation can only happen in dive joints think again because even four and five star properties have been the target of successful sting operations.  [Case in point, remember Subway spokesperson, Jared Fogle, was arrested in a five star hotel for child prostitution.]  Further, both Marriott and Hilton hotels have now removed pornographic movies from their pay-per-view channels saying that it had contributed to the demand for sex trafficking.

And here’s a doosey of a fact:  the Superbowl is widely considered one of the largest annual events for human trafficking.

I could go on and list other gruesome statistics, but I think it’s more important to point out what we – you and I – can do to right now to help combat this disturbing activity that by some estimates affects nearly 100,000 children each year and millions more adults around the globe.  First, we have to agree to push the conversation; accept discussing the facts instead of continuing to ignore things.  Next, we have to be willing to speak up and report suspected victims/abuses as we observe them in our surroundings, wherever and whenever.  Finally, look up and read about the Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct created in 1996 by ECPAT INTERNATIONAL, a global network of organizations dedicated to the protection of children from sexual exploitation.  This code of conduct allows for training employees on how to spot trafficking and promotes a zero-tolerance policy of sexual exploitation among those who sign as participants.  Small but meaningful steps in a global problem that plagues the hospitality industry like no other.

Cooking Up a New Career

From time to time I like to write about different jobs in the hospitality industry because, well, there are tons of them.  So many, in fact, that I always tell people if you are unhappy with your current hospitality position you have no one to blame but yourself because all you need to do is look around and spread your wings – fly right,turn left, look up, then down. There is such a variety of jobs under this broad category that I could write about a different one every day of the week and you and I both would still be learning .  But, I’m not going to do that because, well, frankly that might get boring.  Plus, I’m not a headhunter (please don’t start sending me your resumes), so I’m going to spare you the details of Hospitality Jobs 101 and go straight to some of the more interesting ones.  Please consider this part of the advanced course.

My last post about an interesting hospitality career position was last August, and you can read about here Have You Ever Been First?. That was explaining how Jenna Borreggine, Assistant Director of Sales, got to be hired as employee #1 at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort at Walt Disney World Resort.

Now, judging by the title of today’s post you might think this story is about a waiter who decided to become a chef, but you would be incorrect. This is a story about a Chef who left the kitchen for the excitement of event operations at a major convention hotel, the Orlando World Center Marriott.  In fact, this facility is the largest convention hotel in the worldwide Marriott family, and Jon Espelage, Director of Event Operations, has no ordinary hospitality job.  Jon oversees a staff of over 500 (plus hundreds more that come and go on a temporary basis as needed to work larger events).  The permanent positions include those in catering and conventions services (the people who organize all the details of the meetings and events that clients bring), banquet staff (those that serve and supervise the coffee breaks and banquet meals), housemen (they do all the meeting room set ups including the heavy lifting of tables and chairs placed to the client’s specifications), the ‘famous’ Marriott Red Coats (if you manage meetings and events you know these people as being your ever-present assistants), and more.  You see, in case you haven’t been involved in this end of the industry before, it really does take a village to make a convention into a flawless and memorable event.


Aerial view of Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center


From the beginning stages with his newly minted degree from Johnson & Wales University, a hotbed for those training in culinary arts, Jon worked in the kitchen climbing up from Banquet Chef (where he once supervised a complete meal service to over 7,000 guests at one sitting and yeah, that’s impressive even in this industry) to Sous Chef (the second-in-command right under the head or executive chef) where you could spend an entire day plating twenty very special covers (meals), to Food and Beverage Director (usually responsible for all restaurant outlets within a hotel plus banquets) and now this position where no two days are alike.  “My daily routine is dictated by what’s going on in the hotel.  Are we turning banquet rooms and meeting space from one group to the next, are we in pre-planning meetings for the next customer, are we trying to accommodate some planners special set-up or menu requests, or are we winding down from the last big push?  All these efforts require appropriate staffing, massive paperwork, meetings with each department as well as plenty of vendors and clients to pull it all together.  My typical day is never the same, and I like that about this position.”  And while each of Jon’s past positions have been stepping stones in his career growth, by his own admission, he still had a learning curve when he settled in to this one which is a common denominator for many who are on an expanding career path in other professions as well as in hospitality.

Jon Espelage MOWC Jan 2016

Jon Espelage, Director of Event Operations, Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center


ME: Can you share any ‘secrets’ from your time in the kitchen?

JON:  “Buy the best quality ingredients and execute flawlessly.  At some point, everyone wants to attempt ‘scratch cooking’ (taking a recipe for something you loved in a restaurant and trying to replicate it back home),  but they might look at the ingredients and try to substitute or find a short cut, but there are no short cuts to doing in properly.”

ME:  Where do hotel executives go on vacation or what do you do in any spare time?

JON:  “Always learning, I seek out cool food places.  As far as vacations, cruises are the best way to totally disconnect.”

ME:  I know you’re a guest lecturer at UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management, what’s your best advice for industry newbies?

JON:  “Find what you want to do and become a master of it.  Take something off your boss’s plate if you want to be the boss.  Get your head out of the gadgets and focus on building relationships, because that’s what really matters in this industry.”

Good advice for anyone, don’t you agree?  

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