Reflections From the Field: A Day on a Hospitality Tour

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Jessica Rodriguez, the Director of the Alliance for College and Career Readiness at Reaching Higher NH, recently went on a tour of area businesses with Belmont High School students to learn more about what they are interested in and how these school tours help them with planning their futures. Here’s her reflection of the event:

April was Hospitality Month, where over the course of thirty days, over five hundred students participated in seventy eight business tours and other planned activities to learn about the diverse array of hospitality career opportunities that exist in New Hampshire today. New Hampshire Hospitality Month is coordinated by the NH Lodging and Restaurant Association (NHRLA) and further promoted through the NH Sector Partnerships Initiative (SPI), an industry-led program that provides funding, training expertise and other resources to help companies on workforce development.

During Hospitality Month, local businesses open their doors to middle and high school students and arrange tours and meetings with employees in restaurants, ski resorts, concert venues, and hotels, among others.

“Hospitality Month offers students a chance to see and interact with companies in the hospitality industry and gain a better understanding of the significant opportunities that exist in these fun and fast-paced organizations,” said Amie Pariseau, education and workforce development director for the NHLRA and the hospitality sector advisor for SPI.

Jessica Rodriguez, Director of the NH Alliance for College and Career Readiness, joined a group of fifteen students from Belmont High School to see first-hand what a day on an industry tour looks like and to hear from students about their experience learning about the Hospitality Industry. Together with their ELO Coordinator, Amy Burke, students visited four local businesses in the Laconia and Lakes Region. We visited Lake Opechee Inn and Spa, O Steaks & Seafood, Patrick’s Pub & Eatery, and the Bank of NH Pavilion.

“This is our second year participating in Hospitality Month and we love it. Being able to connect with local businesses in such a tangible way– seeing the kitchen prep area, touring hotels, and hearing from real employees– is transformative for students. It makes the classroom learning real and relevant. We are thrilled to be here again”.  – Amy Burke, ELO Coordinator

At Belmont High School,  every 11th grader takes a College and Career Readiness Course where they learn to write resumes and cover letters, and how to apply for internships.  Hospitality Month is one way to complement this by giving them an opportunity to begin to practice their work skills.

First stop: “Everywhere you go, Hospitality is there”

Students began their day at Lake Opechee Inn and Spa, a boutique hotel in Laconia situated on Lake Opechee. They met with  Michelle DuPont, Director of Human Resources, who started the tour by asking, “How many of you are interested in Hospitality?”Several students raised their hands, and by the end of her presentation,  all of the students were curious to learn more.

DuPont explained that Hospitality is an industry that is expansive:

“No matter what you are interested in, there is a place for you in Hospitality. The industry is widespread. There are roles that are public facing and involve customer service and others that do not– like the behind-the scenes- roles needed to have a company work. We have a website, for instance. We need IT and marketing skills.

Also, Hospitality can take you places and find you employed when you travel.  Think about it: everywhere you go, Hospitality is there. This is an industry where you can travel.” Michelle DuPont, Director of Human Resources, Lake Opechee Inn and Spa

Students toured the guest rooms, seeing different themes and sizes, and also the pool and welcome area. At the conclusion of the tour, DuPont gave students the tip– “Our biggest thing is dependability. Show up. If you can’t make it anymore, let your potential employer know.”

Second stop: “We work hard and play hard”

Next on the tour was O Steaks & Seafood, conveniently attached to Lake Opechee Inn and Spa. Students met with Chef Ben Hooker, a fellow Belmont High School student (Class of 1999). He started by telling students about how his summer job turned into a career and how he worked his way up to his current position.  

“We work hard and play hard. There is a lot of fun in this industry, but the effort you put in determines your path,” he told students.

Hooker gave students a run-down of the prep-timeline and number of orders expected on a busy Friday night. He talked about staffing and how many people make the restaurant run. His message to students before they toured the kitchen was, “Communication is key and so is teamwork. Sometimes you might work with someone you don’t like. How do you handle that? There is massive volume of orders and we all need to work together. It is hard work, but it is rewarding.”

Some students took an application as Hooker indicated he would be looking for summer staff. Students were excited to hear that everything is hands-on, as well as the other benefits for full-time employees, including  insurance, a 401K match, and health and dental.

Third stop: Career options and hands-on-experience

The third stop on the tour was to Patrick’s Pub & Eatery, where students received a cooking demonstration and had  a behind-the scenes tour of the kitchen and preparation area.  Students got a taste of the food they saw prepped while speaking with Megan Page, General Manager of Patrick’s.

During the kitchen tour, students learned that Patrick’s has employees with a wide range of experience–from just starting out to years worth of experience. Some employees have been there for 25 years, others for a year, and some for 3 weeks, so there is also a good amount of fluidity and transition in the field.

During the kitchen tour, students heard about the importance of  listening and paying attention, especially in the kitchen. You must be coordinated and work well on teams.

I sat with senior Kyra Bryant, and asked her what she had learned so far. She told me that she didn’t realize there were so many different paths to a meaningful career:

“You don’t necessarily need education or at least a lot of businesses aren’t looking for the education aspect, but rather the experience you have. I think that’s really cool because it gives you the option to not pursue college necessarily and save money, and actually get hands-on-experience versus going for that.”  

Fourth stop: Communication matters

The final stop on the tour was at the Bank of NH Pavilion where students learned about the “show before the show”. Emma Womack, VP of Venue Partnerships at the Bank of NH Pavilion gave students a tour of the concert venue including the famous VIP section known as Rock and Roll Camp to musicians.  Students had fun learning about all of the service jobs that are critical to making the concert season a success–merchandise sales, food and beverage work, maintenance, and customer relations, to name a few.

I spoke with another student, Katrina Annis, who was participating for the second year in Hospitality Month and asked her what she learned differently than last year. She said:

“I’ve learned a lot more about the communication aspect of things, and how important that is. [I’ve also learned that it’s] Not only [about] communicating with people you are working with but communicating with outside peers, knowing what to do differently.”

The day ended around 2:00 pm and students boarded the bus to go back to their high school.

Hospitality Month and Career Pathways

This is just one of 78 different tours that students across the state participated in, last month alone. Through these tours, students learn that hospitality employs individuals with many different backgrounds in accounting, culinary, human resources, marketing, social media, information technology, and more.

“Whatever your skill set may be, there is a home for you in the hospitality industry,” said one partner. Learn more about the hospitality industry at explorenhcareers.com.

Do you have an upcoming event that you’d like Reaching Higher NH to attend? Let us know at christina@reachinghighernh.org.

Jessica Rodriguez is the Director of the New Hampshire Alliance for College and Career Readiness, a program of Reaching Higher NH. Learn more about the New Hampshire Alliance for College and Career Readiness at https://thenhalliance.org/ and read the latest news on initiatives in New Hampshire: