Hospitality and Tourism Professions
Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated December 2010
There are plenty of opportunities in the hospitality industries - come aboard!
Want to be the next Rachael Ray or Emeril Lagasse? It takes a lot of work to get that cool white hat. Chefs work long and sometimes unconventional hours, oftentimes between 4 p.m. and 2 a.m. - and almost always on weekends and holidays. Their social lives are significantly altered as a result. Pay is relatively low, though executive chefs and culinary wizards at large city restaurants earn tasty salaries. Becoming a chef takes about 10 years of study, beginning with culinary school.
Aspiring chefs usually work as unpaid apprentices while they’re still in school to decide on a specialty of their own. Some people labor for years as prep chefs or assistants, looking for any opportunity to demonstrate their prowess to the head chef. The years working toward chefdom aren’t spent poring through cookbooks, either. The physical strain is enormous, as chefs must stay on their feet constantly. Cooking involves kneading, chopping and stirring, as well as lift heavy pots. Besides the stress associated with preparing food for hungry, critical customers, chefs also order food, create menus, and manage large kitchen staffs.
In addition to the head (or executive) chef, the kitchen of a large restaurant is crowded with other chefs and cooks, including the sous-chef, pastry chef and short-order cooks. A garde manger focuses on preparing cold foods. The sous-chef, who is just underneath the executive chef, manages the logistics and staff of the kitchen. Some individuals, known as a chef de partie, or station chef, specialize in preparing certain types of foods or techiques - such as pastry or sauces. All positions in a kitchen are building blocks towards a career as a head chef. Aspiring chefs gravitate to large urban centers, where there is an abundance of restaurants and chefs who can serve as mentors and exchange ideas and food innovations.
Executive chefs often partner with financial restaurateurs to open their own restaurants. One chef who has done this successfully is David Bouley of the world-famous and exclusive Bouley in New York. Chef Kevin Rathbun also worked with financial partners to open his first restaurant in Atlanta in 2004, and he now runs several of the city’s best eateries. These top chefs spend more time associating with patrons and investors and away from the kitchen. Some well-known chefs also earn recognition and added income by writing cookbooks or becoming stars on the Food Network.
An aspiring chef must spend either two or four years at an accredited cooking school, followed by at least five years of working under head chefs at different restaurants as an apprentice. Most chefs start out as support staff in the kitchen, with a special task to perform, such as preparing vegetables. Young chefs aim to be sous-chefs under the top brass at the best restaurants, particularly in large cities. They often work at several restaurants, acquiring experience under different mentors before they decide on a specialty. People who are able to withstand the high stress and pressure of the job will probably find themselves at the helm of a kitchen as head chef within 10 years. A head chef will direct a kitchen staff, in addition to preparing meals, or strike out to start his or her own restaurant. The outlook for would-be chefs is good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects that job openings for cooks, chefs and other food preparation employees will be ample through 2016. But, as always, competition will be steep for the top jobs in the kitchens of fancier, trendier restaurants.
Chefs view themselves as "bringing quality to life," and treat the profession as seriously as any corporate job. Professional cooks love the creativity of their careers. One insider explains, “I like spending my time at the kitchen and experimenting with new recipes.” Being surrounded by the "beauty and the sensuality" of the food is "what every chef lives for" and why most of them would not dream of another profession. "For most of us, we have no other choice in life," explains one chef. "It is grueling and heartbreaking," but the rise up the ladder can be exhilarating, says another. Aspiring chefs train under mentors they have "patterned their whole careers after." The training process is "so grueling, you think you can do anything when you come out - even major surgery." The dinner rush, between 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., turns the kitchen into an "intensive care unit" - high stress, high precision. If everything is working, and even sometimes when it's not, this is the time all cooks feel a head rush. One chef describes the routine as "exploration," because "you can truly forge your own route." One source says that chefs are currently in great demand. The insider says that, as a result, there are lots of opportunities “all over the world” and in a variety of settings. The chef adds, “I can work on a cruise liner or in a five-star hotel.”
Restaurant and hotel banquet managers, and caterers, are examples of event planners in this sector. An event planner needs to have a wide set of contacts; there's definitely a strong sales and customer service aspect to the job. He or she should be detail-oriented, and must be able to remain calm (and brainstorm a solution) when emergencies threaten to disrupt the client's event.
They are not all pneumatic babes, they're not called stewardesses any more and, no, they don't want to hear about your cockpit. Flight attendants are both male and female, they vary in appearance, age (age restrictions were recently abolished) and ethnicity, and they can make the difference between a comfortable flight and a nightmarish one. And while you may think that getting your bag of pretzels is of paramount importance, the primary responsibility of a flight attendant is the safety of the passengers.
Flight attendants are trained and tested professionals: they undergo weeks of (often unpaid) training; most large airline companies require them to pass a grueling exam that tests them on every nut and bolt of the aircraft on which they serve. In the wake of the September 11 hijackings, many flight attendants have also undergone training in self-defense. Flight attendant training lasts about four to six weeks, during which trainees learn emergency procedures, such as how to operate an oxygen system and give first aid. Trainees for international routes get additional instruction in passport and customs regulations and terrorism coping techniques. The training is rigorous and not all trainees pass their examinations. The lure of free travel to exotic locales attracts applicants, but the often unglamorous process of being cloistered with a hundred other trainees at a budget hotel in Houston or Cleveland weeds many would-be flight attendants out of the group.
The hours for flight attendants vary widely, and many flight attendants work at night, on weekends and on holidays. They spend about 75 to 80 hours a month on the ground preparing planes for flights, writing reports following completed flights, and waiting (just like passengers) for planes that arrive late. In-flight work can be strenuous because of demanding passengers and crowded flights. Attendants are on their feet during much of the flight and must remain helpful and friendly regardless of how they feel or how obnoxious their passengers are. As a result of scheduling variations and limitations on flying time, many flight attendants have 11 or more days off a month. Attendants can be away from their home base - often the hub city of the airline they work for - a great deal of the time, and are compensated by the airlines with hotel accommodations, meal allowances and, of course, discounted or free tickets for both themselves and their immediate families.
It takes a patient, extroverted personality to become a flight attendant. It also takes nerves and a sense of duty. In the event of an emergency, they must take into account the passengers' safety before their own. This can entail anything from simple reassurance to directing passengers during evacuation following an emergency landing. Though the chances of a plane crash are small, flight attendants must be undaunted by the prospect of disaster.
After they complete initial training, flight attendants are assigned to one of their airlines' bases. New attendants are placed on "reserve status" and are called on to staff extra flights or fill in for attendants who are sick or on vacation. Reserve attendants on duty must be available on a moment's notice. Flight attendants usually remain on reserve for at least a year; in some cities, it may take five years or longer to advance from reserve status. After time spent as a reserve, attendants graduate and bid for regular assignments. When bidding for assignments, attendants are staffed based on seniority. Because of this system, usually only the most experienced attendants get their choice of base and flights. Advancement as a flight attendant has become slower because attendants are staying in the profession longer. Because of the long career path, some attendants transfer within the company to become flight service instructors, customer service directors, recruiting representatives, or one of many other administrative positions.
Although flight attendants for national airlines get to fly around the world, they often only stay overnight "and hardly leave their hotels." Entry-level flight attendants "get all the red-eye assignments" and the "pogo stick assignments - short hop flights." As one contact puts it, "It is damned hard work." However, this all-travel, no-fun lifestyle is not always the case: attendants occasionally enjoy day trips and shopping excursions, on which "sometimes even the pilots come along." Of the pilots, insiders say that they are "generally terrific," but that "there are plenty of egos in the cockpit." There are also complaints of the occasional unruly clientele - the "Friday afternoon businessman crowd going home after a tough week." Explains one contact, "They all think they are exactly the kind of guy that a young woman like me really needs." Flight attendants are "constantly worried about economic hardships and layoffs." However, for those with senior status, job security is not so much a concern; those attendants with hard-earned tenure also have "first pick at the Bahamas trips."
Gaming / spa / cruise / resort
Workers in these hyper-leisure industries frequently find their positions through connections, though great hospitality experience is a necessity. (Gaming dealers are required to pass a security and background screening.) Ensuring that the customer is free of concern while visiting an establishment is the key to success.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 62,000 establishments - including upscale hotels, RV parks, motels, resorts, casino hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, and boarding houses - provide overnight accommodation in America, with a staggering 4.4 million rooms on offer each night. Each of these establishments requires a managers or team of managers to make sure they accommodate each and every guest. Not always hospitable It isn't easy working in the hospitality industry - guests can be rude, the holiday rush is nightmarish and some employees work seven days a week.
Hotel managers must oversee and synchronize the activities of all the different departments of a hotel, such as housekeeping, dining, recreation, security and maintenance, and make sure both his guest and employees are happy. Hotel managers are also responsible for the behind-the-scenes operations, including accounting, personnel and publicity. They often assume a financial role, overseeing the business side of things, such as budgeting and revenue management. It takes a team Every member of a hotel staff, from housekeeping to the hotel manager, is responsible for the seamless operation of the establishment. At smaller hotels and motels, the responsibility for overseeing rooms, food and beverage service, registration, and overall management can fall on the shoulders of a single manager. Large hotels, such as The Plaza in New York, employ hundreds of workers, and have many different levels of managers.
The general manager may be aided by a staff of assistant managers, each with his or her own department to supervise. The hotel manager sets the establishment's standards of operation (within the owners' or executives' guidelines); it is the job of the assistant managers to see that these are executed adroitly. The general manager sets room rates, allocates funds to departments, approves expenditures, and establishes standards for service that employees in housekeeping, decor, food quality, and banquet operations must offer to guests. Many hotels have resident managers, who live in the hotel and are on hand 24 hours a day for guests and staff (though they usually work a standard eight-hour day).
Because hotel managers oversee so many different departments, even the most senior general manager must have an understanding of each one. Like orchestra conductors, they bring together a sea of different departments and employees to perform in harmony. The best way to learn about each part of the hotel team is through hands-on experience. Most hotel chains, such as Hilton Hotels, have leadership development programs for their managers. For example, in Hilton's Leadership-in-Training (LIT) program a trainee rotates through about a dozen different hotel departments in a six- to eight-month period. The central goal of a rotational training program like LIT is to provide trainees with an overview of an organization’s operations so that they can best coordinate them.
Although in the past, most hotel managers have been hired from food and beverage, front desk, housekeeping, and sales positions without formal education, employers now give hiring preference to individuals with degrees in hotel and restaurant management. Internships and part-time jobs also give a step up when it comes to getting hired for a management-track position. Graduates of hotel or restaurant management programs usually start as trainee assistant managers or at least advance to such positions quickly. Another in are leadership training programs, which hire recent graduates to participate. New hotels without formal on-the-job training programs often prefer experienced personnel for higher-level positions.
Most hotel managers agree that meeting "all kinds of people, from all over the world" and "the ability to make someone's day by fixing a problem" are some of the "best perks of this job." However, it's not all about mingling with the guests. Being a hotel manager means that the buck stops with you and you have to be "willing to do whatever needs to be done." Says one manager, "if someone doesn't show up for work, it is your responsibility to do the job yourself, even housekeeping or maintenance." If you don't enjoy people, "please do not even attempt a career in this field," insiders warn. Low- to mid-level and resident managers also have to be on-call all the time. "Be prepared to work and work whatever hours necessary to make it work," says one general manager. "The hotel never closes so you could always get a phone call at any time. Being woken up at 4 a.m. for the night auditor to tell you the pool pump pipe burst is never fun," adds as assistant general manager. For those individuals who are truly cut out for the hotel business, however, it "gets in your blood." The diversity of experience in hotel management "is greater than in any other profession and the gratification can be tremendous."
Simply put, the pilot drives the plane, whether for a few hundred miles or between continents. After flight school (licensing and educational requirements are based on which type of aircraft the pilot will fly), pilots earn seniority depending on how many hours of flight time and/or how many years with the airline they have. Those at the top of the list secure the choice routes.
Restaurant / food services management
This job requires major organizational skills, as the incumbent must coordinate the acquisition of ingredients, food preparation, facility upkeep, and equipment maintenance. All the while, he or she is managing and training personnel (both in the kitchen and front-of-house) and ensuring that the customer is always happy. Experienced managers are either grown from the ground up, or acquired from other food-related companies.
Sports and recreation
The world of sports and recreation supports a variety of jobs outside the players or performers that are the main draw. The functions that require the most human capital at a stadium or venue (food and merchandise sales, gate and security, facility maintenance) are usually contracted out to specialty agencies like Aramark or Sodexo.
A travel agent is a harried traveler's best friend. Amateurs who have attempted to arrange their own airfare, hotel accommodations or vacation schedule know that can be frustrating and fruitless without the insider savvy of a travel agent. But travel agents don't just book reservations. They give advice, weather forecasts and restaurant suggestions, too. The training required to become a travel agent is highly specialized; many agents have certifications from long courses. Even with their training and indispensability to their clients, travel agents aren't very well paid. Airlines have "capped" the commissions which they used to pay travel agents to a flat rate for fares over $500; previously an agent received 10 percent of the total fare, regardless of the price. It's not as if travel agents have a light work schedule, either. They often stay at their desks until at least 7 p.m., or later if a client should call with a missed flight or a lost passport. Travel agents generally choose their career path out of a love of travel and customer satisfaction, rather than expectations of fame and wealth.
With the popularity of travel web sites like Orbitz, Expedia and Priceline soaring, some may think the job outlook of travel agents would be dim. But no! According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, travel agent employments are expected to increase slightly in upcoming years. Travelers don't want to have to worry when they're vacationing, and having a travel agent watching their back provides a lot of comfort, especially as travelers visit more and more exotic locations. However, while here is a wealth of job opportunities for travel agents right now, it is something that is never stable for agents entering the job market, since the travel industry is easily upset by economic fluctuations and international political crises.
While some colleges might offer degrees in travel and tourism, or industry-related courses, other degrees may help as well. Employers sometimes look for potential agents who have graduated with degrees in communication, geography, foreign language or even computer science. Courses in accounting and business management are also a wise investment, as many agents consider starting their own agencies (in fact, according to the BLS, 13 percent are self-employed). Six- to 12-week programs offered at community colleges and continuing education programs are comprehensive and are usually sufficient training for beginning travel agents. Travel agents work in a variety of environments. Most work for traditional travel agencies, while others work for tour operators, visitor's bureaus, cruise lines and other reservation offices. Some agents start as reservation clerks or receptionists in agencies, advance to office manager or other managerial positions, and eventually move on to become full-fledged agents.
Agents in larger firms often specialize by type of travel (leisure vs. business), or by destination (The Galapagos Islands vs. Iceland). Travel agents who wish to advance quickly can take advanced courses from the Institute of Certified Travel Agents. Upon completion of the courses, an agent becomes a Certified Travel Counselor. The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) offers a correspondence course, as well. These certifications can be helpful for those wishing to start their own businesses, as is gaining formal supplier or corporation approval (airlines, ship lines and rail lines), since approval is necessary before travel agents are authorized to receive commissions. Certain states also require some form of registration or certification of retail sellers of travel services.
Although many travel agents receive "a rude awakening" when they find their hopes of "glamour and jet-setting" have exceeded the reality of the job, others do not seem to mind the "evenings behind the desk," because they feel a "genuine obligation" to their clients. As one respondent explains, "It is an ego boost to know that someone halfway around the world needs you." There are also perks in the job, like "discounted or free travel," although an agent's demanding schedule leaves "hardly any time to use all the free tickets." It is easy for travel agents to become frustrated and "overburdened," especially because some clients consider them to be responsible for every aspect of their vacations. As one agent puts it, "They expect me to control the weather." The commission caps "have devastated the morale" of many agents, though many continue to work in the industry because they "love working with people and the travel is some consolation for the stress."
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