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COVID has pushed a "Great Reset" to our work: Culinary, hospitality, or graduate school? Which one is the best fit?

When COVID hit, who would expect that our industry must deal with the toughest labor shortage ever in just a few months?

By far, we have seen older staff want an early retirement; younger ones refuse to settle for what is offered. Just like the title of “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” “Great Retirement,” “Great Resignation,” “Great Refusal,” and “Great Relocation,” you name it, everything is happening now in the workplace (McGowan and Shipley, 2023).

Here comes the “Great Reset”

The workplace needs a reset when people are now reassessing the purposes of their work and lives. Since the start of the pandemic, many people have switched jobs and even professions. Some also decided to go back to school to recharge and reskill.

It is not a bad idea to gain additional training or a new degree because continuous education can often fuel career growth. The challenge is how to pick the right program that helps us accelerate our potential. 

Culinary Arts vs. Hospitality 

Culinary and hospitality are two top-rated options among workers in our industry. Employers appreciate both concentrations from accredited associate- or bachelor-degree programs while recognizing their unique values.

What are the focuses of a culinary program?

A culinary program focuses more on the development of cooking techniques and the management of food and beverage (F&B) operations. Students know the science behind F&B. They will usually learn:

  • How to prepare a wide range of dishes.
  • How to design a well-balanced menu (e.g., taste, nutrition, food supply, production time, sustainability concerns, etc.).
  • How to optimize the F&B revenues through marketing and cost controls.

A culinary degree is ideal for those passionate about a career in F&B operations. Career options in this area may include line cooks, chefs, executive chefs, restaurant managers, multi-unit restaurant operators, executives in F&B retailers and wholesalers, and so forth.

What are the focuses of a hospitality program?

A hospitality program also teaches F&B operations but is usually not as deep as a culinary program. Instead, a hospitality program focuses more on the management and administration side of the industry. Additionally, hospitality students will be exposed to more sectors within the hospitality industry that goes beyond F&B operations. They will usually learn the following:

  • What different hospitality industry sectors entail, including restaurant and foodservice operations, hotel management, event management, club management, gaming, entertainment business, etc.
  • How to design and market a hospitality business.
  • How to manage a hospitality business through revenue optimization and cost controls.

A hospitality degree will benefit those who like the “people” business. While their jobs may also deal with F&B operations, graduates with a hospitality degree usually focus more on the work dealing with the business and management side of the operations. Career options in this area may include hotel workers and managers, revenue analysts, restaurant managers, event planners, project managers, sales and marketing managers, etc.

How about getting an additional bachelor’s degree vs. a master’s degree?

Is it wise to get an additional bachelor’s degree with a different focus or major? I will recommend a master’s degree instead for those who have already had a bachelor’s degree (of any major). A master’s degree is often designed for people who want to switch to a new profession. Plus, a master’s degree opens another door to people with industry experience --- career opportunities in higher education. Most two-year and four-year degree programs require their teaching faculty to earn at least a master’s degree.

What makes the best hospitality or culinary program for a person’s career growth?

Ranking? Reputation? Location? They are all important, but when it comes to picking the best program to help me advance my career, the first thing that comes to my mind is the program’s connections with the industry. I would ask myself:

  • Which companies actively recruit students in the program?
  • Where do the program’s alumni work?
  • What networking opportunities does the program offer?
    • Will I be able to connect with the alumni and top executives who are already working in my dream companies?
    • Will I be able to study and become friends with like-minded students?
  • How actively do the program’s faculty engage with the industry?
  • Am I appreciated and treated with respect as a student and a future alum?
  • Will I be able to learn in rigorous classes while having fun?

I hope I answered some of your questions regarding career development. What other questions do you have for me?

Note: This article is also published in The Hospitality News Magazine. All pictures were provided by the Collins College of Hospitality Management at Cal Poly Pomona


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