Cooking Up a New Career

From time to time I like to write about different jobs in the hospitality industry because, well, there are tons of them.  So many, in fact, that I always tell people if you are unhappy with your current hospitality position you have no one to blame but yourself because all you need to do is look around and spread your wings – fly right,turn left, look up, then down. There is such a variety of jobs under this broad category that I could write about a different one every day of the week and you and I both would still be learning .  But, I’m not going to do that because, well, frankly that might get boring.  Plus, I’m not a headhunter (please don’t start sending me your resumes), so I’m going to spare you the details of Hospitality Jobs 101 and go straight to some of the more interesting ones.  Please consider this part of the advanced course.

My last post about an interesting hospitality career position was last August, and you can read about here Have You Ever Been First?. That was explaining how Jenna Borreggine, Assistant Director of Sales, got to be hired as employee #1 at the Four Seasons Orlando Resort at Walt Disney World Resort.

Now, judging by the title of today’s post you might think this story is about a waiter who decided to become a chef, but you would be incorrect. This is a story about a Chef who left the kitchen for the excitement of event operations at a major convention hotel, the Orlando World Center Marriott.  In fact, this facility is the largest convention hotel in the worldwide Marriott family, and Jon Espelage, Director of Event Operations, has no ordinary hospitality job.  Jon oversees a staff of over 500 (plus hundreds more that come and go on a temporary basis as needed to work larger events).  The permanent positions include those in catering and conventions services (the people who organize all the details of the meetings and events that clients bring), banquet staff (those that serve and supervise the coffee breaks and banquet meals), housemen (they do all the meeting room set ups including the heavy lifting of tables and chairs placed to the client’s specifications), the ‘famous’ Marriott Red Coats (if you manage meetings and events you know these people as being your ever-present assistants), and more.  You see, in case you haven’t been involved in this end of the industry before, it really does take a village to make a convention into a flawless and memorable event.

Aerial view of Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center

From the beginning stages with his newly minted degree from Johnson & Wales University, a hotbed for those training in culinary arts, Jon worked in the kitchen climbing up from Banquet Chef (where he once supervised a complete meal service to over 7,000 guests at one sitting and yeah, that’s impressive even in this industry) to Sous Chef (the second-in-command right under the head or executive chef) where you could spend an entire day plating twenty very special covers (meals), to Food and Beverage Director (usually responsible for all restaurant outlets within a hotel plus banquets) and now this position where no two days are alike.  “My daily routine is dictated by what’s going on in the hotel.  Are we turning banquet rooms and meeting space from one group to the next, are we in pre-planning meetings for the next customer, are we trying to accommodate some planners special set-up or menu requests, or are we winding down from the last big push?  All these efforts require appropriate staffing, massive paperwork, meetings with each department as well as plenty of vendors and clients to pull it all together.  My typical day is never the same, and I like that about this position.”  And while each of Jon’s past positions have been stepping stones in his career growth, by his own admission, he still had a learning curve when he settled in to this one which is a common denominator for many who are on an expanding career path in other professions as well as in hospitality.

Jon Espelage MOWC Jan 2016
Jon Espelage, Director of Event Operations, Orlando World Center Marriott Resort & Convention Center


ME: Can you share any ‘secrets’ from your time in the kitchen?

JON:  “Buy the best quality ingredients and execute flawlessly.  At some point, everyone wants to attempt ‘scratch cooking’ (taking a recipe for something you loved in a restaurant and trying to replicate it back home),  but they might look at the ingredients and try to substitute or find a short cut, but there are no short cuts to doing in properly.”

ME:  Where do hotel executives go on vacation or what do you do in any spare time?

JON:  “Always learning, I seek out cool food places.  As far as vacations, cruises are the best way to totally disconnect.”

ME:  I know you’re a guest lecturer at UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management, what’s your best advice for industry newbies?

JON:  “Find what you want to do and become a master of it.  Take something off your boss’s plate if you want to be the boss.  Get your head out of the gadgets and focus on building relationships, because that’s what really matters in this industry.”

Good advice for anyone, don’t you agree?

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Just your average middle age gal trying to deal with career/life/family changes and issues while studying people and places, one lobby bar at a time.

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