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Careers in the hospitality industry.

Hospitality comes about as close to being recession-proof as any industry you can possibly imagine. Unlike practically every other industry, the whole hospitality/tourism/travel arena has continued to grow and prosper through both good and bad times. For instance, $344 billion was generated by domestic travel and tourism during 1991, according the to U.S. Travel Data Center. Most of this was spent for food service, hotel accommodations, and airline transportation. This revenue supported 5.94 million jobs, $91.2 billion in wages and salaries, and $47.2 billion in federal, state, and local taxes. This doesn't even take into account another $15.6 billion spent by foreign travelers with air carriers, or the $64.4 billion these visitors pumped into local coffers after setting foot on U.S. soil. Nor does it reflect the fact that domestic travel and tourism are up for 1992.

This is not to say, however, that the industry is never affected by a downturn in the economy. It's just that when one hospitality segment is slumping and jobs are scarce, another sector seems to pick up the slack. And since professional skills are more or less transferrable between these various components of the industry, well-rounded hospitality professionals are seldom out of work.

Food Service

Of all the sectors in the hospitality industry, food service offers more work possibilities than any other. It's easy to understand why food service--which includes everything from restaurants and catering, to airline, hospital, and military food contractors--accounted for sales in excess of $248 billion in 1991, up from $238.8 billion the year before, but less than the projected $262 billion for 1992, according to statistics released by the National Restaurant Association.

"I would say career opportunities are extraordinary, particularly with the larger chain companies," says Ernest Boger, director of the Hospitality Management Program at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Florida. Boger pointed to organizations like Olive Garden, General Mills, Red Lobster, Chili's, KFC, Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Burger King as ideal places for graduates to market their skills.

Boger gets no argument from Patrick J. Semtner, who as manager of recruiting is responsible for screening and hiring all field management staff at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. "Career opportunities in the hospitality industry today are excellent," says Semtner. At a time when many companies are downsizing and eliminating personnel, Cracker Barrel continues to grow at the rate of 20 percent annually, he explains.

"This is the only industry that I know of that offers as many opportunities as we do," adds Larry Gray, director of employment for General Mills Restaurants. "We're growing at a rate of an additional 100 restaurants per year, and each restaurant has between three and five managers. So you can extend that out and just envision the opportunities," he argues.

What kind of training is necessary for a career in food service? Most industry experts agree that even a degree in restaurant management by itself is not enough, though it's a beginning. "I think you need to start from the ground up," says Parico Osby, acting coordinator for the hospitality management program at Tuskegee University. "Never run away from those practical experiences that give you an opportunity to work in a professional kitchen and learn what it means to understand safety and sanitation." In Osby's opinion, you can't adequately respond to a customer complaint about a problem in the kitchen or a problem in food service if you haven't ever been down in the trenches as a front-line staffer.

"Normally you would start off in one of several line positions," offers Shaukat Wadiwalla, food and beverage director of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. "You would be a waiter, you would be a bus person, you would work in the kitchen, you would work in stewarding. Then after you've finished all the line positions, you would move into management where you would go into restaurants, or beverage stewarding as manager, and then move into different areas before you become an assistant or director," explains Wadiwalla.

The drill is similar at Cracker Barrel, says Semtner, where all hirees are required to go through an 11-week training program at the firm's corporate office before earning their stripes as associate managers. After stints in all hourly slots, "the next position is to senior associate and then general manager," Semtner says. "Above the general manager level we have district managers and regional managers respectively."

More specialized training may be required for those leaning towards certain parts of the industry. For example, says Osby, if you're thinking about food contract services you'll need a better feel for large-quantity food preparation. If you're considering working for the convention industry, you'll also need strong selling skills. And if hospitals or dietetic food service is in your future, you may need a few nutrition and chemistry courses under your belt.

Osby also says she places major emphasis on reading comprehension and developing business expertise. "One of the things we are finding is that so many food service establishments fail because the people running them do not have a business background." Boger agrees, claiming most restaurant chains are seeking out college graduates to develop for multiple unit management. "Those that can handle more than one restaurant, that's where the heavy activity is right now," he says.

Rogercarole Rogers of McDonald's Corporation-Employment Group says, "Management of a quick service restaurant presents several unique opportunities for college graduates. The combination of entrepreneurial efforts and the technological discipline of managing a million dollar business makes this a career for the '90s. The industry is growing and it allows for the application of a multiple of disciplines--accounting, marketing, human resources, purchasing and operations. It teaches the individual basically 'how to run a business.'"

Initiating a job search is pretty standard, since most of the major food service institutions make the rounds of college campuses to recruit on a regular basis. Just check with your placement center to see when interviews are scheduled. Students need to "be able to discuss specifically how they can help the company and why they should be hired," says Semtner. This requires that you know exactly what it is that you want to do, and then research and seek out those firms that offer you the best opportunities to pursue your specific goals and objectives, he insists.

Starting salaries, on the other hand, are anything but standard, though the general consensus is that most will fall somewhere between $18K and $24K. Much depends on the company, as well as the geographical location of the work site. Then, says Boger, there are also bonuses, extra monetary incentives tied to such things as food and labor cost control or sales volume. "I have a first-year person who earned $37.5K in 1990 fresh out of school," recalls Boger, "with a $26K salary and a bonus of $11.5K."

How fast one moves up the corporate ladder is entirely based on performance, promises Gray, who oversees employment for Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and China Coast restaurants out of General Mills' central office. All entry-level hirees begin as management trainees, he goes on, "and then how one progresses through the management positions within the restaurant is 100 percent determined by the individual's ability."


The lodgings industry, which experienced significant growth during the 1980s--some say too much--has slowed down considerably. While not as robust as it once was, according to Katherine Cochran of the American Hotel & Motel Association, the industry still generated a respectable $62.9 billion during 1991, and is expected to do even better in '92.

"Right now there is a tremendous amount of opportunity certainly for growth," insists Valerie Ferguson, general manager of the Hyatt Regency Atlanta. "Unfortunately, because business cycles have changed, because there's an economic recession, the opportunities are not as plentiful as they have been in the past," says Ferguson, who is one of only three African-American female hotel GMs in the nation (there are only 15 African-American general managers altogether).

What opportunities do exist, she explains, are concentrated on the operational side as opposed to the development of the business, since planning and construction of new properties have slowed to a snail's pace. "There are entry-level management training programs that are still alive and well," Ferguson goes on, "and these positions have become more plentiful in the last 12 months. But by comparison, it's just not what it was five years ago."

Ferguson advises that anyone who's thinking about a career in the lodgings industry had better get a job in a hotel as soon as possible. "If you want to move forward in the hotel business, if you want to make the investment by majoring in hospitality management, you should first see if that's what you really want to do by actually working in a hotel. A part-time job will certainly let you know if you're spending your |college tuition~ money in vain."

College students would do well to seek out a hotel intern program while they're still in school, either through their placement office, or by making direct contact with a hotel chain's corporate office. And though an internship is an important learning experience and a plus on any resume, the conventional wisdom is that as jobs become scarcer and the competition stiffer, preference will be given to those employment candidates who have more hands-on experience than a six-week summer internship will allow. "If you really want to make it in this business, if you really want to work in this business, you won't know that," emphasizes Ferguson, "unless your income is dependent upon that now. And it doesn't matter what kind of job you get, whether it's in a restaurant, whether it's in the kitchen, whether it's the front desk or in housekeeping. You should get a job and then make your decision."

Entry-level positions vary from property to property, depending mostly on the facility's size and the market it serves. For instance, at an airport property, most business is booked at the very last minute. So the front office manager at such a hotel will typically be in charge of PBX, concierge, reservations, and the front office. On the other hand, the mere size of a resort property, which deals with leisure travel and conventions, will dictate that a front office manager just be in charge of the front office, and nothing else. Given the number of services required at a resort, it simply takes more people to get the job done.

Entry-level salaries for managerial positions range anywhere from the high teens to the mid-thirties, depending on size of property, geographic location, and whether the facility is a luxury, standard or economy hotel.

Meetings & Conventions

This is not really a separate arena as much as a specialized segment of both the food service and lodgings industries. Most hotels employ sales managers and convention services managers who are specifically tasked with selling to and servicing convention groups. They work in concert with their counterparts at local convention and visitors bureaus, who sell the destination and attempt to connect associations and corporations planning conferences meetings with representatives of hotels, restaurants, and a host of vendors and suppliers that service these organizations when they bring their delegates into town.

Besides hotels, restaurants, theme parks, and other attractions, many communities also have convention centers as another option to hawk your wares. Like hotels, such facilities offer graduating students the full range of employment possibilities, from sales and marketing, to food service and operations.

There is also a plethora of related support services that provide still more employment and entrepreneurial opportunities, including air and ground transportation, tours, travel planning, floral designs, show management, tuxedo rentals, audio/visual equipment rental, printing, still and video photography, entertainment and meeting planning, to name a few.

Travel and Tourism

"The fewest number of jobs is always in travel and tourism," says Boger, who belongs to several industry related groups, among them the Council on Hotel Restaurant Institute Education, a global organization of over 500 schools involved in hospitality education; the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners; and a consortium of 20 Historically Black Colleges and Universities with hospitality management programs.

"Travel/tourism-related jobs tend to be policy-level type positions," Boger adds, "working for municipalities or tourist boards, policy-making jobs at CVBs, that sort of thing." Additionally, many of the same support services listed in the section on meetings and conventions also apply here.

"Young people hoping to gain entry into the hospitality industry," notes Sandra Pierre-Kazi, owner/operator of Worldwide Concepts in Travel, a full-service travel agency, "should be aware that this business is not for the squeamish. There are some aggressive players in the game and newcomers are often targeted to test their toughness. Be aware of the office politics. Always watch your back."

Each of these four industry segments is similar to the other three, says Boger. "There's something we call management of perishability that exists within all of hospitality," he elaborates. "For example, take reservations. You know airline reservations, hotel reservations, restaurant reservations, even our entertainment, concerts, or anything like that, they're all perishable commodities. You know the concert is going to be on this date, the airline ticket is going to be good on this date, the hotel room is available on this date. And if they're not sold on that date, it can't be done," he says.

The point being, explains Boger, you want to be able to "zig-zig up the career ladder," rather than get stuck in any one of those sections. Wadiwalla agrees, and drives the message home by adding, "At the Hyatt hotels today we have at least 10 general managers that were once food and beverage directors."

The best advice she can offer to students who want to make it in hospitality is to "look, listen and learn," says Osby. "You must have 'people skills' and you must have the ability to listen to what people are saying. It's good to estimate and make assumptions as to where someone is going. That's part of it. But if you don't listen very carefully to what people are saying, you are going to miss out. And maybe you will not get to that management position as fast. So I always say to them to listen, look, but do not be afraid to ask questions. Because it's better to ask and correct the problem, than to try to appear as if you know something and you do not," she says.

Solomon Herbert is a full-time journalist/photographer whose work appears regularly in numerous regional, national, and international publications.

Levi Hirsch

General Manager Chili's Grill and Bar Germantown State, TN

Levi Hirsch has been general manager of a 2.8-million-dollar Chili's franchise for the past two years. He currently supervises 75 employees and four managers.

Hirsch attended Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan in 1983 where he earned a BA in secondary education and minored in business.

After graduating, Hirsch worked for Red Lobster as a restaurant manager for four years, and eventually worked his way up to general manager. After moving back to Detroit, Hirsch joined Chili's because of the restaurant's reputation for taking care of its people and the fun and casual atmosphere.

His recipe for success: Set goals. Have a plan and stick to it; keep your sight on what you want to do. Ask for advice if you fall off the track.

William M. Watson

General Manager Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. Douglasville, GA

As a general manager of Cracker Barrel, Watson is responsible for the day-to-day financial operation of the unit, which has a restaurant volume of 2.5 million.

The overall operation consists of profit and loss statements, food cost control, labor cost control, supply cost control and other expenses which generate bottom line operation income. He supervises four associate managers, one gift shop manager, and approximately 80 hourly employees.

Watson is a graduate of Tennessee State University, where he received a BA in business administration. He worked part-time during college for Opryland U.S.A., overseeing all food and drink carts in a section of the entertainment park. In 1984, he began his employment with Cracker Barrel in Newport, TN. He was an associate manager in the Nashville area for three years and in Atlanta for two years before being promoted to general manager of the Douglasville store. He has been a general manager since 1990.

Watson would like his financial performance to continually grow and hopes to become a district manager for Cracker Barrel within the next two years.

Advice to students on how to succeed: STUDY. He believes they should set career goals while still in school, keep their grades up, and always keep their eyes open for opportunities. He also suggests getting involved in career development and taking advantage of intern training.
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Title Annotation:Career Reports: Business; includes related articles
Author:Herbert, Solomon J.
Publication:The Black Collegian
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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