USF Sarasota-Manatee gearing up to get ‘Uncorked’

More than 2,000 showed up last year at Clearwater Beach Uncorked to sample wine, craft beers and local cuisine.

More than 2,000 showed up last year at Clearwater Beach Uncorked to sample wine, craft beers and local cuisine.

SARASOTA, Fla. (Oct.14, 2015) – The Clearwater Beach Uncorked Food & Wine Festival offers patrons a chance to nosh with their toes in the sand, but it’s a different matter backstage as workers including from USF Sarasota-Manatee scramble to help pull off the two-day festival.

“It’s a lot of hard work but definitely a lot of fun for the students, and a learning experience,” Joe Askren, an instructor at the College of Hospitality and Tourism Leadership, said.

Now is the time of year when Askren plans how his spring semester students will help at the annual food and drink fest. USF Sarasota-Manatee students play an increasingly important role helping vendors and organizers keep the glasses full and the crowd happy and relaxed.

This year’s festival, the fifth annual, looks to be no exception with organizers forecasting more than 3,500 patrons at the Feb. 6-7 gala to make it the largest Uncorked yet.

Tammy Gail, owner of Floridata Market Research, the event’s organizer, said that in response she anticipates a larger tent this year – 30,000 square feet versus 22,000 – to house the throngs plus 65 or so vendors expected to set up behind the Hyatt Regency Clearwater Beach Resort & Spa.

Already, she says, the festival is sparking interest with brisk ticket sales. Tickets went on sale two weeks ago. Visit

Meanwhile Askren, who teaches an event management class at USFSM, said he’ll soon organize a sign-up sheet for student volunteers. He plans to divide the 60 to 75 students into groups. Within weeks, he’ll receive a list of vendors and table locations to help figure out where to send each one.

Assignments can vary from working as servers behind a food or beverage table to helping register ticket holders as they stroll from the parking lot toward the beach. There’s also a spot for guests to drop off their shoes to go barefoot on the sugary sand.

Afterward, the students will write about their experiences to receive a grade. The event is likely to figure heavily into discussions in the college’s event management classes as well.

“Hands-on experience is an important part of the education we provide for our students at USFSM,” Dr. James Curran, interim Dean at the College of Hospitality and Tourism Leadership, said. “Participating in events like Clearwater Beach Uncorked exposes the students to the real issues involved with staging a significant event. It would be very hard to provide a comparable learning experience in a classroom.”

Alum Brittany Figlow, who volunteered handing out beverage samples at last year’s event, agreed: “It’s like nothing out of a textbook. It’s really hands on and a good learning experience.”

Askren likens the experience to a training lab. Events that draw thousands are bound to see some kind of glitch: Long lines. Too few supplies. People trying to sneak in. Weather can be hit or miss too. Having flexibility – an executable “Plan B” – can make all the difference, he says.

“This forces the students to use their creative-thinking skills. It’s all about attention to detail,” said Askren. “The event business involves coping with unique anxieties. You have one shot to get it right, so you have to plan for all these different situations and have contingencies for each one.”

USFSM participated in the past two Uncorked events and so far Gail likes what she sees from the students: “They’re very enthusiastic and they’re eager to work and learn.”

It’s not all work, though. The students are permitted a breather to check out the tent as patrons – provided they avoid beer and wine.

“It was a real good hands-on experience and definitely a lot of fun,” alum Domonique Davis said, recalling her experience two years ago handing out ice cream. “I really enjoyed that whole class.”

USFSM’s College of Hospitality and Tourism Leadership is recognized as a main charity partner and has received a donation each year the college has participated in the event. To learn more about the event, visit

For more about the College of Hospitality and Tourism Leadership, visit