Career advice and job interview tips from NY Hilton Food and Beverage Director
Craig Burdick, Director of Food and Beverage at New York Hilton Midtown, provides career advice and insights into what it takes to build a successful food and beverage career in the hospitality industry, including tips on education and training, navigating the interview and hiring process, how to gain valuable experience when you’re just starting out, and what kinds of rewards or challenges you’ll face on the job.
HC: How did you break in to hospitality and specifically, F&B?
CB: Like many, I fell in to it at a young age. For me the spark was at summer camp in Sussex, New Jersey. Food runner/dishwasher was my ticket to start earning my own money. You quickly learn that if you take care of your dish machine, life is a lot easier. Decades later, the same holds true, but with more lights and buzzers on the machines! It’s always been a fast environment, and on any given day, you’re going to learn something new.
HC: What advice would you give job seekers about the hiring process?
CB: Old school rules apply – posture, eye-contact, appearance, engaging dialogue and yes, if you’re coming in for an interview, you’d better have a resume on paper. There have been a few people I’ve taken risks on without F&B experience in hiring and they have paid off.
HC: Do you advise F&B job seekers to have formal education/credentials under their belt?
CB: Today’s hiring managers are more flexible regarding educational requirements, but a degree in the field does help. If you’re unsure, experience the industry first hand at some level, as it’s not for everyone.
HC: What types of job experiences are most beneficial and career-enhancing for those interested in F&B?
CB: Hotels, restaurant, or other food service areas – both front and back of the house. I also believe that face to face customer service jobs lend similar talents in working with people.
HC: What about business savvy and experience? Do you have degrees in this field?
CB: Today’s leaders have to delve in to a lot more than just one aspect. Get involved in finance, accounting, marketing and whatever you don’t know, ask a trusted source. When all else fails, use common sense and look at the numbers.
HC: How do you stay on your game and ahead of the curve in your industry?
CB: I prefer online publications nowadays. Hotels, Hotel business, Hotel F&B, and Food & Wine. I loke getting out to tradeshows, tasting events and staying close to my vendors.
HC: How important are mentors along the F&B track? What have yours taught you?
CB: Mentors are priceless and can be scarce. I’ve had a couple and each of them have demonstrated the importance of taking care of your people. Grow your managers to the next level and they in turn will take care of you.
HC: What are the greatest challenges in serving 25,000 people weekly?
CB: I make sure my team has the right resources to get it done and not over manage them. They are talented and aligned in achieving their responsibilities while working with one another. I try not to focus on the small stuff, but on the desired outcome.
HC: What are the unique rewards of your work?
CB: I’m able to participate in unique events, meet industry leaders and celebrities while playing a supporting role here at Hilton. Black tie dinners can be fun, but you learn a lot from many of the symposiums. I find, you become very close with fell department managers, which is rewarding.
HC: In your new role as F&B Director, how large of a staff do you oversee and who are your direct-reports?
CB: I’m involved with over 325 staff members and directly communicating with six department heads (Executive Chef, Director of Banquets, Director of Restaurant, Director of Commercial Facilities, Director of Meeting Convention Services, and Food & Beverage Analyst).
HC: What’s your typical day like?
CB: Days aren’t the same, which is good, but expect to put in at least 12 hours and when you’re done, you’re still involved with work. Major responsibilities are what’s important to the boss. What’s blocking my team’s success? How am I growing my team’s skill sets? After that, it’s really making sure the processes are running correctly and being able to help other areas of our hotel reach their goals. Life runs smoother when your team runs cohesively.
HC: What is your leadership style?
CB: It really depends on the needs of the moment. You have to be patient in many cases, but willing to respectfully challenge to get your point across. Communication is key in telling, sharing, and exhibiting what you are about. I often use humor to make my point. Having a very hands-on approach and open door policy are required when working with so many different personalities.
HC: How do your role and approach differ when catering to celebrity gatherings or high-profile events?
CB: Depending on the celebrity’s status, your approach can really challenge your team, as well as the process and outcome. A lot more communicating and of course, compromising is required. One aspect I hold firm on is ensuring whomever the celebrity is, that they are able to enjoy their meal. Define what is important and deliver.
HC: Are you a foodie? How helpful is it to your job to be a food + beverage lover/connoisseur?
CB: This job requires you to look, listen, learn, and my favorite – taste! I’ve been fortunate to be around passionate people, that have introduced their favorites that I too, now share. The curiosity to question the cooking process, ingredients or even what they were thinking has to be genuinely driven. In retrospect, I truly admire the daring person who looked at pasta and tomato sauce and thought… why not?