By Vanessa Vieites
If you're studying hospitality and tourism management, looking to try your hand at event organizing or simply want to meet interesting people from all over the world, come volunteer at the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One (SOBEWFF®). The five-day Festival features more than 100 drink-and food-related events where hundreds of wine and spirits producers as well as culinary personalities—from Guy Fieri to Rachael Ray—showcase their talents.
Started in 1997 as a small venture with students of FIU's Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, the Festival now sees more than 65,000 guests and to date has raised more than $30 million for the school. Every year, 1,200 volunteers help prepare for, manage and break down the Festival.
Here are five compelling reasons to volunteer at SOBEWFF:
1. Anyone can volunteer.
Whether you are an FIU student, a non-degree seeking student, faculty, or staff, you are eligible to volunteer at the Festival. What's more, student volunteers need not be in the Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management. In addition, most roles do not require any event managing, hospitality or culinary experience —only a genuine motivation and interest in learning about the wine, spirits and food industries.
2. Network with world-renowned talent.
Once on site, volunteers work hand-in-hand with event managers, chefs and people in the restaurant business, gaining career insights and opening the door to plenty of job opportunities down the road.
"Every year, students come back having secured jobs or internships with the various people they came in contact with during the Festival," says Mari Trelles Costa, SOBEWFF Volunteer Program Manager. "A few of our volunteers have gone on to work with buddy Valastro-The Cake Boss, Guy Fieri, and Rachael Ray."
Eddie Zheng '09, MS '15, a previous SOBEWFF volunteer who now works for one of the event managers of the Festival, says: "Meeting chefs is a great networking opportunity. You never know what future opportunities may come later."
3. Build your resume.
Impress prospective employers by helping to execute one of the nation's premiere food and beverage events.
"We have a lot of partners within the industry that work closely with us and tell us they interviewed someone who volunteered with the Festival, or they ask us to vouch for a previous volunteer," Costa says. "It's something that looks really good on your resume and it's not a long-time commitment. You could volunteer for a day and it packs a punch on your resume."
4. Earn scholarship money.
If you are a currently enrolled student who qualifies to receive scholarships from FIU, then you are eligible to earn money by volunteering at the Festival. The more shifts you work, the more you earn. The funds go straight to your student account and are released to you if you have no outstanding debt.
"The scholarship is an incentive, but we have volunteers who love it so much that they volunteer after they graduate. They do it for free and they love it," Costa says.
5. Get a free pass to experience SOBEWFF.
If you've always wanted to attend SOBEWFF, but couldn't spare money on tickets, then volunteer to see first-hand what goes on behind the scenes at the Festival.
"Being part of the Festival gives you an appreciation of the craft," says Zeng, who volunteered from 2013 to 2015 and then earned his graduate degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management in 2015.
Prospective volunteers meet one-on-one, either at MMC or BBC or via Skype, with recruitment coordinators for an interview. They are then assigned different roles depending on their interests and experience. Leadership roles are the only ones that require prior event experience. Leads are expected to make the biggest commitment to the Festival, managing other volunteers on site.
Culinary roles, on the other hand, only require basic culinary skills and knowledge. Culinary volunteers work hand-in-hand with chefs, helping them prepare for events or working directly with them during events. The other roles, which do not require previous experience, involve garnishing plates and serving food, registering guests, and setting up and breaking down events.
"It's that kind of hands-on, real-world experience that is great and teaches you more in two hours than a couple of classes in a classroom would because you're actually doing the work," Costa adds.
Activities start Wednesday, Feb. 19, and end Sunday, Feb.23. Most volunteers are expected to be on site to help with festival preparations starting on Monday, Feb. 17, but some volunteers may pick up shifts one to two weeks before the Festival.