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Online course could help turn that restaurant gig into a career

Restaurant and hotel owners say they have a need for finding and keeping talented workers.
Left to Right: Hospitality panel members Viviana Leyva, Steve Westphal and Jeff Gigante talk about the needs of the hospitality industry in Tampa Bay region during a kickoff of the University of South Florida Hospitality Leadership Program last month. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Oct. 11

When asked recently about the greatest need in hospitality, a group of restaurant, hotel and industry leaders agreed finding and keeping talent was their top priority.

So some chefs and pioneers in the Tampa Bay area restaurant scene have joined forces to help meet their staffing and management needs in a mushrooming industry.

The University of South Florida St. Petersburg Hospitality Leadership Program, under the umbrella of the university’s Bishop Center for Ethical Leadership, will offer a 16-week, online professional training program beginning in January. Students need to be working in the industry. Tuition will run about $5,000, which the creators of the program hope employers will agree to pay.

While the course is being drafted by educators, industry professionals will provide lectures and other resources to help drive the curriculum.

“It’s about learning in your own workspace and figuring out how to apply all that to your own space,” said restaurant consultant Miguel Miranda, one of the creators of the program.

At a cocktail reception to launch the initiative, Miranda was joined by restaurateurs Steve Westphal, owner of five restaurants near the downtown waterfront, including Parkshore Grill and the Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge; Michael Harding from 3 Daughters Brewing; Jeff Gigante of Ciccio Restaurant Group; and Viviana Leyva, human resources director at the the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.

In a panel discussion, the professionals shared some of their personal experiences in the business and their vision for the future of the local restaurant industry.

Westphal began his career as a busboy when his parents told him he needed a part-time job in high school. He walked to the restaurant closest to his Indian Shores home and worked his way up to server and kitchen helper. He was eventually fired. But, two decades later, he bought the restaurant and owned it for 17 years.

“Everyone on the planet should have to work in hospitality at some point,” Gigante said. “With the growth of this industry in the area I want to create greater leaders.”

All of the panelists agreed they want to find good employees, retain them and pay living wages.

One of the goals of the program, said Otis Wilder, a University of South Florida St. Petersburg designer of online classes, is to develop employees who are not working in hospitality "just until something better comes along.” The course will steer student managers in charting their own paths for personal and professional growth.

The cornerstones of the leadership program will be employee retention, improving the quality of life for employees, guest loyalty and profitability.


Want to learn more?

For more information and registration visit:


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