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Rural Missouri Magazine

Laboratory redefined
Students gain real-world experience working at Mizzou B&B

by Jason Jenkins
Meredith Morgan, a junior from Columbia studying hotel and restaurant management, puts the finishing touches on the king suite at The Gathering Place, a bed and breakfast the University of Missouri operates as a laboratory for students seeking careers in hospitality.

Like most college students, Cory Meier and Meredith Morgan spend time each week studying in a laboratory at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Only inside their lab, they’ve traded test tubes for napkin rings, microscopes for fine china and Bunsen burners for a gas grill.

Cory and Meredith are two students in the university’s Hotel and Restaurant Management Program. As part of their undergraduate experience, they’re gaining firsthand knowledge of the ins and outs of managing a hotel, serving customer needs and creating upscale ambiance while working at The Gathering Place Bed and Breakfast, just across the street from campus.

Operated by the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources since 2008, the bed and breakfast is a business laboratory. It provides an internship-style experience that goes far beyond what’s typically available to students interested in hospitality careers.

“Oftentimes, an intern may be relegated to working only at the front desk or may be assigned to more menial tasks,” says Gathering Place innkeeper Deb Strid, who oversees the B&B operation. “We provide students with the skills they’ll need to manage a property that offers a higher level of service to guests.”

Though the century-old, three-story building that houses The Gathering Place has served as a private residence, a fraternity house and an apartment building, it was converted into an upscale bed and breakfast in the mid-1990s. Because of its proximity to campus, it quickly became a favorite lodging option for university departments hosting faculty candidates or guest speakers.

When the previous owners chose to close the business, the MU College of Agriculture Foundation, a private corporation, recognized the potential value to students. The foundation purchased the building, most of the furnishings and the business name, and then leased the property to the university for the purpose of training students.

Cory Meier, left, a senior hotel and restaurant management student from Ellisville, helps innkeeper Deb Strid prepare waffles. Students working at The Gathering Place learn all aspects of the business, from guest relations to property management.

The Gathering Place Bed and Breakfast features three single queen suites, one double queen suite and one king suite, each with modern private baths. Most rooms are filled with antique walnut, cherry and tiger maple furniture. The exterior of the house is dominated with an oversized veranda.

Students are exposed to all aspects of running the business during their paid internships. They learn the basic tasks — such as taking reservations, checking in guests, cleaning rooms and preparing and serving meals — but they also learn how to manage a hotel. This would include dealing with property maintenance, maintaining fiscal records and even complying with local ordinances and health inspections.

“The students are here to learn the finer details,” Deb says. “Some of it is the little things, like making sure things are aesthetically pleasing, that the pillows are straight and the towels are even. But it’s also guest relations, learning who the guests are to provide that personal touch.”

Cory, who says he’d one day like to own and operate his own sports-themed bar and grill, agrees.

“That’s really what it’s all about,” he says. “It’s about making sure your guests are comfortable and that they have the best time possible at your establishment so that they want to come back. This experience has really opened my eyes to what’s required of someone who is going to be in the hospitality industry.”

A business laboratory like The Gathering Place is not a new concept within the College of Agriculture. Other student opportunities include Tiger Garden floral shop, Mizzou Meat Market butcher shop, Buck’s Ice Cream Place and the Culinary Café restaurant, which all provide hands-on experience.

Cory prepares a fruit plate for a guest at The Gathering Place Bed and Breakfast.

Jennifer LaFleur, an investigative reporter with the New York City-based non-profit newsroom ProPublica, stayed at The Gathering Place in early January while in town to teach a workshop at the university. She likened the students’ experience at the bed and breakfast to that of MU journalism students who work at the university’s commercial newspaper, radio station or TV station.

“I think it’s great. You can’t learn in the classroom what you learn in actually doing it,” she says. “In the classroom, you don’t have difficult people who are high maintenance or the other things you’d run into in real life. You might read about it, but it’s not the same thing.”

Meredith says that when she first came to work at The Gathering Place, she was unsure about her career path, but the experience has helped her solidify what she wants to do for the rest of her life.

“The customer relations has really helped me to understand who they are and what they want so I can provide it for them,” she says. “It’s helped me become more of a leader, too.”

That’s just one skill that Deb hopes students take away from their time at The Gathering Place.

“I want students to have a love of hospitality,” she says. “It’s got to be something you’re passionate about.”

The Gathering Place is located at 606 S. College Ave. in Columbia. For more details on room rates and other policies, visit www.gatheringplacebedandbreakfast.com. For reservations, call 573-443-4301.

To learn more about the MU Hotel and Restaurant Management Program, go online to hrm.missouri.edu.

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