No matter what career path within hospitality management you pursue, you will need to work your way up to a senior-level leadership role. A degree in hospitality management is a great asset for aspiring managers in the tourism industry, but your academic studies – and even the fieldwork you complete as part of your curriculum – will only take you so far. Most lodging managers, food service managers and meeting planners have some degree of work experience in their respective areas or in the hospitality field as a whole. Fortunately, most graduates of a hospitality degree program have a combination of both education and hands-on work experience in the hospitality industry to start working in mid-level management or junior-level planning roles in restaurants, hotels, event planning and tourism companies.

The Benefits of a Hospitality Degree and Experience

first job in hospitality

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By the time they graduate with their certificate or degree, many students of hospitality management already have at least some work experience in some area of the hospitality industry. As a result, they aren’t starting from the bottom, but instead building off of their past work experience and internship experience to get hired at a higher-level position than they would otherwise be qualified to hold.

Recent graduates of a hospitality management degree program may hold job titles like restaurant manager, hotel manager, country club manager or revenue manager, although they usually aren’t yet in top executive leadership positions. Often, they answer to senior-level managers who have many years of experience and who, in some instances, may serve as mentors to new hospitality managers. Instead of being the senior-level resort manager or restaurant general manager, for example, recent hospitality management graduates may hold titles like concierge manager, or food and beverage cost accountant.

In fields like event planning, new graduates are likely to start out in junior planner roles and work their way up to more advanced positions. The benefit of having a degree in hospitality management or event planning specifically, rather than a business or communications degree, is that workers with this academic background are likely to have more responsibilities right off the bat, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Some hospitality management graduates go on to become entrepreneurs, establishing their own restaurants, hotels or tourism companies. Launching a business of this nature takes significant capital and planning, though, so entrepreneurship may be a long-term goal.

Earning Potential in the Hospitality Management Industry

Experience plays a big part in your earning potential in the hospitality industry. With less than a year of experience, you can expect a median salary of $37,668. Earning potential rises slightly for workers with one to four years of experience, to a median wage of $39,572, and more drastically at five to nine years of experience, landing on a median salary of $48,280. With 10 to 19 years of work experience, the median salary in the hospitality industry is $57,995, while workers with 20 years of experience enjoy an impressive $75,778 median wage.

These starting wages may not sound especially lucrative, but compared to the median salaries for non-management roles in the restaurant and hotel industry, they’re not bad at all. The median wage for desk clerks at hotels and motels is just $25,130, and cooks make a similar salary of $25,200. Waiters and waitresses and hosts and hostesses earn even less, at $21,780 and $21,750, respectively.

The overall median wages for hospitality management roles at all levels of experience are $49,370 for meeting and event planners, $53,390 for lodging managers and $54,240 for food service managers, the BLS reported.

Internships as Experience in Hospitality Management

Even if you don’t have extensive work experience as a hotel desk clerk, cook, event assistant or waiter or waitress, you should at least graduate with some valuable experience through an internship. Most hospitality management programs require some amount of field experience. Some hospitality management colleges have restaurants and even full-service hotels on campus, allowing students easy access to hands-on experience opportunities throughout their education. You may also complete field experience off-campus – possibly, on the other side of the world – in an established restaurant or hotel where you learn alongside experienced managers and workers in the field.

In campus-run hospitality facilities, students’ responsibilities tend to increase as they progress through their degree program, so students get a real sense of what it means to work their way up in the restaurant business or another hospitality industry.

Additional Resources

Is It More Worthwhile to Get a Job in the Hospitality Industry or Get a Degree?

Am I Better Off Getting a Job at a Hotel or Going Straight to Getting a Degree in Hotel Management?

How Important Is Hands-On Experience in a Hospitality Degree Program?