Charcoal Room at The University of Southern Mississippi brings a
new dimension to the required lab-based classes most college students
have come to dread. Anyone who has attended high school or college
has suffered through the smell of dissection or the chemical concoctions
of science labs. For students majoring in tourism management and
nutrition and dietetics at Southern Miss, this academic laboratory
is full of wonderful smells, delightful entrees and the opportunity
to gain real-life experience, while managing and operating a full-service
This opportunity is an invaluable one for students
who are preparing for careers in the tourism or food service industries.
Students who run the restaurant are divided into two
groups. First-semester students work as "hourly employees,"
and advanced students work during their second semesters as managers.
The students are responsible for almost every aspect of operations,
including cooking, cleaning, advertising and waiting tables.
"It's really work. It's not a game," said
Amanda Dale-McNabb, a tourism management major from Hattiesburg.
"Working at the Charcoal Room is very comparable to real life;
the environment is just more controlled."
The two individuals who supervise the students are
tourism management instructors Tanya Ruetzler and Jim Taylor. Taylor
is responsible for transforming the Charcoal Room into a casual
dining restaurant from its original version of cafeteria-style dining.
He is in charge of organizing many of the kitchen operations including
designing the menu, making sure students follow recipes, maintaining
sanitation practices and managing the inventory. Ruetzler is responsible
for the activities taking place on the floor of the restaurant.
She interacts with customers, provides support to the students on
the wait staff and is primarily responsible for quality control.
The true advantage to this type of lab course is the
experience of working in a real-life, high-stress atmosphere, said
"The one thing we want the students to come away
with is a sense of urgency and the ability to make a decision,"
said Ruetzler. "The lab provides a hands-on experience that
coincides with the lecture."
Taylor agrees that the lab course offers many benefits.
"The most important things we want the students to learn are
how to follow directions, how to work as a team, and the importance
of meeting time parameters," said Taylor.
The Charcoal Room doesn't accept tips, but the experience
is worth a great deal. McNabb has already received a job offer from
the Olive Garden Italian restaurant. "This experience allows
the professors to see your work ethic firsthand, which provides
for great recommendations."
Most of the students have gained valuable insight
through working at the Charcoal Room. "I have enjoyed the experience
and, after completing this course, I am considering moving out of
nutrition and wellness and into other areas of dietetics,"
said Ronald Woods, a nutrition and dietetics major from Natchez.
"I don't want to go into the restaurant business,
but I definitely have a new appreciation after seeing the other
side," said Sara Chatham, a hospitality management major from
Operating under the direction of the College of Business,
the Charcoal Room is open to the public Tuesday through Thursday
from 11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. The menu changes weekly and always
features a pasta, pizza or wrap entrée and salad along with
dessert and beverages.