Pros & cons of working in the hospitality industry

Waiter Laying Tables In Empty Restaurant

For many people, the hospitality industry (including jobs at hotels, restaurants, and in catering) comes with a healthy dose of variety and excitement. But if you’re looking at any of these jobs — of which there are many — there’s a few factors you should consider. Anyone who’s been in the industry for a while will tell you that it’s not for everyone — but is it for you?

Pro: The money can be better than you’d expect

Although it’s generally considered one of the lower-paying fields, the service industry can provide a solid income. How much you make depends largely on what level of the industry you’re at. This is especially true of servers and bartenders, who rely on tips for most of their incomes.

Those tipped employees are also the ones who are the most likely to end up earning big. As in any industry, those who put in the effort to climb to the top via exceptional performance will often be rewarded, and stories of servers making $100,000 a year are more common than you’d think. However, it should be emphasized that those stories are extreme outliers, and require a rare combination of luck, massive commitment, and determination to find the right gig.

The previously mentioned “$100,000 waitress” worked at an establishment where she served celebrities like Bono and Angelina Jolie, and working at that level demands a real and passionate commitment to top-flight customer service. Attention to detail is key, whether that means remembering a guest’s favorite drink or double-checking the tablecloth to make sure the skirting clips aren’t showing.

chef counting money

Con: You still probably won’t get rich

Outliers aside, the average hospitality worker will reap limited financial rewards. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual salaries for service industry workers tend to hover in the mid-to-low $20,000 range, including:

  • Hotel Desk Clerks: $24,250
  • Waiters and Waitresses: $20,820
  • Bartenders: $21,690
  • Cooks: $23,970

For those who reach the upper echelons of these careers, such as chefs and servers in the fine dining industry, salaries can be considerably higher. Entering the management level also provides a significant income boost, with the BLS’s average salary for a food service manager pegged at $52,030. However, competition for these jobs is usually much more intense than lower-level jobs and requires more experience or, sometimes, a college degree.

Pro: It’s a great field for high-energy, extroverted personalities

For a true “people person,” a hospitality industry job can be genuinely rewarding. You’ll meet interesting people, make new friends, and possibly even get to network a bit. Both your coworkers and your customers will likely come from all walks of life. You’ll definitely hear some wild and crazy stories, and probably even notch a few of your own. Many hospitality workers cite the fast-paced nature of the work as something they enjoy and find fulfilling. If an office job where you’re staring at a screen or talking on the phone all day sounds deathly dull to you, the hospitality industry is worth checking out.

Con: The social interaction can be overly intense

Even the most outgoing people need a break once in a while. If you’re in the service industry, you may not get that break when you need it. A busy shift is “go time,” and there’s often little time to stop and catch your breath. Moreover, anyone who’s worked customer service knows that customers can sometimes go shockingly over-the-line with their comments — particularly when they’re unhappy. If you’re stuck with one of these customers, you’ll have to do your best to be polite, keep a stiff upper lip, and move on. There’s always another customer who needs service and will hopefully be more civil.

Unsatisfied customer scolding waitress

Pro: It’s usually pretty easy to find a job

The National Restaurant Association predicts 1.6 million new jobs in restaurants alone by 2026. If you need a job and you need one now, hospitality industry skills will allow you to quickly slide into a variety of roles. Knowing you can land on your feet in a hospitality job can make it easier to relocate or quit a job that’s making you unhappy.

Con: The turnover can be grueling

In 2016, the hospitality industry’s turnover rate was an eye-popping 72.9 percent. In other words, part of the reason it’s so easy to find a job in this industry is that 73 out of 100 hospitality employees who start the year at one job won’t be there by the end of the year. What accounts for the churn? Several factors, including:

  • Seasonality: Many hospitality employees are in school and base their schedule around the academic calendar.
  • Competition: Since it’s fairly easy to jump ship to another business in this sector, many employees will seek greener pastures on a regular basis.
  • Internal Tensions: The fast-paced and stressful nature of hospitality work can take its toll on many people and cause tempers to flare and relationships to fracture.
  • The Launchpad Factor: The hard truth is that many hospitality workers are using their jobs to make ends meet while they seek employment in another industry. When these employees find another option, they’re often quickly out the door.

This also means that employees who do stick around can rise relatively quickly to positions of responsibility. If you can ride out the turnover, there’s certainly opportunities to be had.

Pro: The camaraderie can be outstanding

There’s definitely an “in the trenches” mentality to many hospitality industry jobs. The coworker who comes to the rescue with a well-placed table-leveling wedge during a busy shift may just become your instant best friend. The close proximity of the working environments also tends to create strong bonds and relationships that develop quickly.

Con: Workplace drama is a constant concern

The flipside of that coin is that, as previously mentioned, the working environments can turn into pressure cookers when the stress levels are high. Common courtesy and even incorporating some mindfulness into your routine can be helpful with these issues, but sometimes it can still be too much.

Compounding these problems is the fact that the service industry has documented issues with employee substance abuse and mental health. The high-pressure, late-night environment can often encourage irresponsible behavior with alcohol and drugs, and while it’s by no means a problem for every employee, it can certainly contribute to levels of personal tension.

Waitress attending happy customers

A rewarding option for many

In spite of the industry’s many stressful moments, many hospitality workers wouldn’t want to do anything else. Many more use it as a gateway to success in another area. If you’re still on the fence, the best option is to reach out to people you know in the industry. They’ll be able to give you an insider’s view of the ups and downs — and probably tell you a few great stories as well.