Best in Service

ATLANTA – On April 12, visitors to an otherwise peaceful Georgia World Congress Center could hear raucous cheering echoing through the halls. It was the sound of hundreds of hospitality professionals, normally a reserved and well-mannered lot, vying for the coveted title of National Hospitality Champions. GSU hospitality students, with a helping hand from Captain Service, planned every last detail of this annual event.

Previously known as the Battle for Atlanta and the Atlanta Hotelympics, the National Hospitality Championship, put on by the Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Administration within GSU’s Robinson College of Business, brings hospitality businesses together for team-building with a healthy dose of industry competition. It’s not just a field day for hotels and other hospitality companies, though; it’s also a hands-on learning experience for GSU students who work to plan the contest as a class project.

“It’s a difficult task, but it is amazing to watch my students pull off an event this large,” says School of Hospitality instructor Debi Robbe.
Almost 100 students – those enrolled in Robbe’s Meetings and Tradeshow Management and Expos, Fairs and Entertainment Management courses – masterminded the planning and execution of the event. They were divided into teams and then subcommittees to focus on areas like sponsorships, marketing, games, floorplan, social media engagement and recruiting.

“This is the first time I’ve planned something, then constructed it and seen it come to life,” said senior Sarah Cappuccitti, who was in charge of decoration and theme for the new Pineapple Bowl, which saw top businesses competing in categories like best turndown service and best pastry showpiece. “It’s fantastic!”

This year’s competition had a military theme, in a nod to the championship’s former moniker. The 15 teams that participated represented several hotels and local restaurants, the National Association of Catering Executives, the St. Ives Country Club and the Atlanta Police Department – integral to a top-notch hospitality experience – among others. Slogans like “Operation: Service” and “Fighting for Five Stars” were woven throughout the events and reflected in the custom T-shirts and jerseys each group sported as they contended for the 2012 title.

Throughout the day, teams racked up points in games such as Check-In Service Relay, Toilet-Paper Dodgeball, Serving Blind (navigating a maze while blindfolded and carrying a catering tray), hospitality-themed charades, cheerleading and speed bed-making. Hospitality superheroes Captain Service and Private Pineapple – played by students in homemade costumes – provided moral support for all.

Victoria Dudley (B.B.A. ’10), who as a student helped plan this event, returned as a participant this year with the St. Regis Atlanta, where she works as a front desk agent.

“We are pretty ferocious,” Dudley said. “[This day] lets us break out of our shells, because we’re in a five-diamond property.”

The St. Regis team, which arrived with camouflage-logo T-shirts, face paint, a banner, a flag and even a St. Regis foam finger or two, took the spirit award and placed third overall. Concentrics Restaurants Group, named Rookie of the Year, came in second place, and the first-place trophy and bragging rights went to the team from Jason’s Deli.

School of Hospitality Director Debby Cannon says the event has grown significantly from its first incarnation in Woodruff Park in 2002. Following a move to Centennial Olympic Park, the National Hospitality Championship now takes place each year in space donated by the Georgia World Congress Center Authority – last year’s winner. With the renaming of the event, the School of Hospitality is hoping to involve more segments of the hospitality industry and attract competitors from outside Atlanta.

“We are the only university that attempts such a unique event, and completes it successfully,” Robbe says. “This is such a wonderful event that helps bring Atlanta together. The competition between hospitality companies helps make Atlanta the best hospitality destination in the south. It’s the reason visitors and guests return to Atlanta – the friendly staff who serve up southern hospitality every single day.”

April 23, 2012