Hospitality Class Combines Reality Show Format with Online and On-Site Teaching

Students access real-time video of Florida restaurant opening

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A. Sue Weisler

Sackler's class, 1/11/10

Using a combination of online learning and real-time video access, Rochester Institute of Technology professor Warren Sackler has developed a new twist on reality shows and teaching.

Sackler, associate professor in the School of Hospitality and Service Management in RIT’s College of Applied Science and Technology, recently purchased a restaurant franchise in Boca Raton, Fla., called Flamers Charbroiled Chicken and Burgers. He had workers install videocameras on site. While teaching his Franchising class this winter, he added this element to the coursework, allowing students a ‘birds eye view’ of the development process to get the restaurant up and running.

“I’ve been teaching the franchising class for several years now,” says Sackler, who has owned several restaurants. “Using the videocam, it feels like a reality show. You can watch it 24/7.”

There are five cameras positioned at different spots in the restaurant. Through live videos and several still photographs that Sackler has of the site, students see the counter set up, preparation areas and cooking facilities. They also can observe Flamers’ operator, a former student and alumnus Jeff Zadoff, in action, working with customers and counter staff.

Sackler’s venture is one of a growing number of strong competitors in the burger marketplace that includes heavyweights Burger King and McDonald’s, and Five Guys and Flamers. The restaurant is part of a larger food court in the local mall with competitors on either side of Flamers—from ethnic choices to vegetarian options. Many of the food-court eateries serve prepared foods. Flamers grills all its burgers onsite—meaning a longer wait for customers, he explains, but food that customers have said is tastier and fresher.

Besides the one-way video feed, Sackler has also added an online component using the RIT course management system to feature lecture material on PowerPoint, links to a variety of franchising Web sites and restaurant-industry professionals from Bruegger’s, Five Guys and Burger King to interact with students on a blog site within the online course area.

Students are able to get a real-time experience in the course and informal mentoring by industry professionals who Sackler lined up as guest presenters. The students are expected to take away from the experience an understanding of the responsibilities of owning a business and the possible pitfalls that may occur when a franchise facility is purchased.

“It’s been good to learn about franchising this way,” says Jen Wolcott, a second-year hospitality and service management student in the class. “This is a lot of great information Professor Sackler is giving us.”