Saturday, July 30, 2011

Stacy Schwartz - A Job Searcher and Her Thoughts

Stacy Schwartz is a very neat person.She believes in herself, our industry, and in working very hard. Below you will find an article she wrote about her experiences in trying to get employment in the hospitality world. Why should you read it? Stacy's views below represent a real-world report on what thousands of unemployed professionals are experiencing. Everyone should be reminded on how lucky they are to have current employment or, if you are unemployed, to know that you are not alone in your search.

If you have a comment or a job offer please contact Stacy at 

by Stacy Schwartz
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines hospitality as, “The friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers,” or “The quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly generous way.” It was those words that made me realize my true calling in life.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve strived to make others happy, as something I gain joy in is seeing the satisfaction cross the face of another person.  I found myself caught up in the world of “Southern Hospitality” in 2002 when I left cold, boisterous New York for the warmth and comfort of South Carolina to begin my college career. I immediately found myself mesmerized by the change of pace and attitudes I soon encountered. The politeness of new friends, teachers, and even strangers was uncanny. It was even expressed in their state motto, “Beautiful Places, Smiling Faces!” I soon felt that maybe my current major of Business Administration was too broad and my creativity and passion would get lost in the shuffle of corporate America. After my first Hospitality class I was sold. I transferred to the College of Charleston, where Hospitality & Tourism Management was a new, up and coming major; this was right up my alley, an industry that was devoted to allowing individuals to express themselves and make others happy! It seemed almost impossible. And I came to realize creating memories truly is an art, whether it is event planning, serving, or simply providing guests with a great stay.

Upon completion of my degrees, I moved further down the coast to see just how far “Southern Hospitality” really stretched. Unfortunately, the charm of Charleston, SC did not quite reach Fort Lauderdale, FL’s hotel atmosphere. Here in Florida it was transplanted Northerners with that sense of urgency rather than the laid back, easy going lifestyle I had grown accustomed to. I also found that to many, their jobs were just that jobs; they lacked passion and drive. I soon found myself returning to NY to once again begin my career, when I learned a polite attitude and friendly smile would not pay the rent.

This is when my long-term love affair with the hospitality industry was rekindled; I fell back in love. I took on the position of Catering Manager, for a local company that I worked for in high school as an office assistant and banquet server. My personality shined and my creative ideas flowed like the wine we served at weddings! I finally felt as though I was helping make people’s dreams come true. After almost three years in my position, and the countless smiles that were put on people’s faces because of my hard work, I felt as though it was time to move on and expand my career and bring my energy elsewhere.

My former boss taught me so much about the industry and is the reason I knew that there was much more to strive to become. So with her support, and with the support of my friends, and family, I made the decision to leave my small town of Newburgh, NY to broaden my horizons and begin a new life in New York City, Philadelphia, or DC. This is when the passion began to drain, when ironically I tried so hard to keep it in. Although, the economy has taken an extreme hit, people are still getting married, still finding ways to go out to eat, and business professionals still have to travel, right? Wrong. This is when it occurred to me, that the industry seems as though it has lost sight of its own definition.

For the past 9 months, I have sent out hundreds and hundreds of resumes and e-mails, countless online applications and cold calls, and have had a few dozen in person or phone interviews. Upon making my decision to move and move forward, I knew times were tough, but also knew that I am a determined and hardworking individual, with over 10 years in the industry, 3 of them in a management position, and in my eyes, young and ambitious- would be an asset to any company.

Unfortunately, I soon found out this was far from true. Being extremely detail oriented, I kept track of every e-mail, application and phone call. The amount of responses from companies in these three major cities floored me. For every ten resumes or applications I sent, I received one response. Never the common courtesy (that I thought this industry once stood for) of a phone call back, not even an automated e-mail from nine out of ten places! Interviews have become second nature to me, almost as if I hit the play button; my answers and stories were always spot on and I was continuously told how impressed and interested each company was with my background and enthusiasm, yet I never received so much as a call to say they would not be selecting me. A handful of times I would receive a typed postcard from major hotels saying I had not been chosen for the position, how very hospitable of them to publicly pass along the message.

In today’s society almost all business professionals have access to their e-mail on their phones, but apparently don’t have the time to respond to a hungry young professional, a potential asset to their company, but have the time to catch a game of Angry Birds or update their Facebook status. I too was once in a management position and I learned early on that the key to a successful business is both follow through and the relationships you are able to build.

The companies I had once longed to be a part of made me lose sight of my beliefs. The ability to smile, and be proud of a company, that once stood for something so wonderful, has now abused the term, “Hospitality”. For me at least, the young woman once so encompassed by a magical, smile making industry, the term hospitality has lost its meaning.

Although, I also possess a degree in Business Administration, I still am drawn to this business. I am drawn to the art of making people happy, and have faith that deep down others feel the same. Maybe they too, are ready to bring back a term with such meaning.  

NOTE: Stacy, thanks for sharing your thoughts - the best of luck in your search.

Friday, July 29, 2011

"New" - The Most Important Marketing Word

Catering as a business is like most businesses in that it follows a path from beginning to end. The business “life cycle” for caterers usually starts with a dream... which moves into the launch ... followed by growth ... reaching a plateau... which is often the beginning of the decline.

One of my observations is that many caterers seem to think about or plan their strategies over a very short term. They might plan on a day to day, weekend to weekend, week to week, or month to month basis. But, I believe I’m pretty safe in saying that very few caterers plan or think about their businesses in longer terms than a month. The simple truth is that catering is a business of putting out fires, which makes it difficult to find the time to plan for the future.
If you are one of those who does longer term planning that I congratulate you! If you fall into the category of “let’s get through this weekend” category then my views below may be of interest. However, first you need to make some attempt to decide where you fall in the catering “life cycle” path.
When you read the last sentence didn’t it become immediately clear to you that you really hadn’t thought about the launch, growth, or plateau phases of your business’s life cycle? Take a moment. Where are you - launch, dream, decline, plateau, or growth?
Here’s the good news. It really doesn’t matter much which of the phases a catering company is in. In catering, and in the minds of most of your clients, you’re only as good as your last production. In my view, this is why so many caterers continue on with their “growth” and “plateau” phases for many years. Clients simply fall in love with their caterers and stick with them.
I know what some of you are thinking. Why then do caterers suffer declines in their business and/or close their doors? The answer doesn’t lie in the caterer’s production or presentation. The enemy for any caterer is the perception of “old”. The path to decline is simply “the same old same old”. Or the way to keep your company growing is “fresh” and “new”.
One of the best ways to cheat the decline phase is to begin again! Create a new division, a new concept, a new company, a new logo, a new department, a new service motto or anything else that will bring you face to face with what your customer is seeking – to work with an “up-to-date” and an “in” caterer.
In catering “status quo” is out. Your clients are expecting a continuous offering of new themes, menus, foods, service ideas, pricing concepts, display equipment, and guarantees from your company. The caterer’s job is to learn about everything new in order to keep their business on the growth path. It really isn’t that difficult to offer new, once you realize that the answer lies in the simplicity of not worrying so much about putting out fires in your business as much as lighting one under you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Psychologist Can Help

How do you, the owner or highly placed manager of a catering organization, know if a candidate you’re interviewing will be a positive, neutral or negative addition to the company culture? How will this person, if hired, react to your management style? Will the new hire add to the growth of your business, or crash and burn because of pre-existing flaws, hidden agendas or incompatible personality.

I recommend that catering companies of any size actively seek the answers to the above questions by hiring trained psychologists during the process of selecting new key staff for their companies. I think most owners agree that the normal hiring interview process doesn’t always give you answers to many important compatibility questions.

While consulting, I’ve seen that often the people in charge of hiring key staff are themselves flawed. When I say that they are flawed, I don’t mean that they aren’t fine managers and owners, just that they don’t have the kind of training that will help them identify which candidates are most likely to succeed on the job. When it comes to hiring managers or chefs, those doing the hiring need to realize that the number one reason for the failure of these new hires will be simple incompatibility between the new hire and the existing culture or beliefs of the company, staff and management.
Caterers have often told me that a new hire didn’t work out because the person changed his or her attitudes once hired, or because the new employee just wouldn’t “fit in with the way I run my business.” I don’t believe these new employees changed; they had the same attitude all the time but the owner didn’t pick it up during the interview process. These kinds of attitudes lay hidden and need the skills of a trained psychologist to uncover.
Several of my consulting clients have increased their success in hiring winners by using a professional psychologist to do an interview with a key candidate before a final decision is made. The psychologist is able to probe deeper into the thinking and attitudes of the candidate, uncovering any incompatibilities that will adversely affect your business. Hiring a professional also takes a lot of pressure off the interviewer.
When it comes to hiring key catering leaders, getting the opinion of a psychologist helps pave the way for long-range success and growth. It just makes sense: Caterers should spend their time doing what they know best—not becoming their company’s Dr. Phil!