Paths for Career Success in Restaurant and Hospitality
According to the latest US occupational employment numbers (bls.gov, May 2011), there are over 11 million people employed in food preparation and serving related jobs. The food and beverage industry has been a driver of job growth in the United States, adding significant numbers of jobs over the last six months, and helping individuals move off of unemployment.
While employment numbers indicate tremendous opportunity, they also signify growing competition. As in any competitive arena, the key to success is differentiation. In the hospitality industry, education, training and certification are important ways employers distinguish one job candidate from another.
Professor John Avella, a distinguished member of the New Jersey Restaurant Association Education Committee and Director of the Hospitality Management Program at California State University – Monterey Bay, suggests everyone who is in the food service business, whether they are a waiter or cook, should have a ServSafe Food certification. He adds anyone who handles alcohol should also have ServSafe Alcohol certification. These certifications are useful for more than just distinguishing a job applicant; states set their own requirements around food certifications, and restaurant employers have a growing need to ensure at least some of their staff members are food safety certified.
Since 2010, the State of New Jersey, for example, has been requiring that at least one certified person be in charge, present, and working in a “Certified Food Protection Manager” capacity during operational hours at all full menu restaurants. New Jersey has added that by 2015 the law will require one certified person per shift.
While experience and certification are one path to career growth, there are many post-secondary institutions offering culinary and hospitality management degrees, often with built-in practical training within the school’s hospitality facilities, or at locally aligned establishments. In the university-based program Professor Avella directs, students are required to complete two internships before graduation. For his students, the school’s well-known destination location means internships are often at prestigious institutions including the Concours d'Elegance, Carmel Valley Ranch, Portola Hotel, Intercontinental Hotel, Monterey Plaza and The Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Beyond the classroom, Professor Avella says many major hospitality companies conduct their own management training programs. Generally, these involve taking college graduates or high potential in-house staff and putting them through an extensive management development program before promoting them to supervisor or department manager. These programs often consist of having the trainees work in every department, sometimes in multiple regions. Manager-trainees are evaluated in each role using measurable performance criteria before they move on to the next department.
Another learning opportunity that is beginning to be developed are high school hospitality classes that are replacing what used to be called “home economics” classes. James Conroy, of chefjamesonline.com, recently began such a class at Lakewood High School in New Jersey. This new program is offered over two school years and students who complete the program will earn their ServSafe certification.
According to Mr. Conroy, the students in his class are drawn to the curriculum to learn cooking basics. They might not have a long-term interest in the food business, but home dynamics no longer ensure that high school students have spent any significant time in the kitchen. The basics of handling a knife and making a meal are relevant life lessons regardless of someone’s career goals.
Professor Avella, who is certified in EQi 2.0 emotional intelligence testing, advises there are predictors of success within the hospitality industry. High school students as well as anyone interested in a hospitality career path should note that strong hospitality leaders exhibit emotional self-awareness, optimism, assertiveness, stress tolerance, good interpersonal relations and empathy. These traits help hospitality leaders go beyond one-to-one customer service and succeed at operational excellence.
Professor Avella adds that there are learned skills that are also critical to succeeding in the industry. The ability to read a profit and loss statement, understanding basic accounting and business forecasting and some amount of computer literacy are instrumental in advancing any career.
A less traditional but growing route into the restaurant and hospitality business is via franchising. According to Bruce Kim, Assistant Vice President of Franchising for the fast growing Sarku Japan quick service restaurant chain, roughly half of their franchisees invest without having prior restaurant experience. In addition to the personality traits outlined above, Mr. Kim says a successful franchisee will have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, excellent people skills, and resiliency.
Although Sarku’s system has been proven over twenty-five years, resiliency is critical since any new location, especially in the beginning, is going to have its challenges. Mr. Kim says a franchisee who has invested time and over $400,000 into the business “has to be able to weather the highs and lows” of ownership.
Sarku Japan is able to provide operational guidance, location scouting and general franchisee support, but having the right combination of attitude and aptitude is more likely to ensure long-term success.
Editors note: This article was prepared in alliance with Kandessa Media and will also appear in Quick Serve Leader.
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