Five Principles to Avoid a Midlife Hospitality Career Crisis

In 15 years as an agency recruiter I have had countless conversations with professionals at a crossroads in their career. Some were able to make critical decisions from a position of strength, some were at a point of weakness, and some were in a panic. “Life” just crept up, and they found themselves needing to buy a home, put their kids through college, or take care of their parents.

Truth is you can’t just accelerate your career on command. You have to plan your career carefully. Though there are many, take a close look at these principles to help you avoid a midlife career crisis. 

1. Build a Steadily-progressive Career

It is common for some chefs and managers to “bounce around” early in their careers. It’s an understandable time of discovering which track you will pick from the many options including work in hotels, restaurants, catering, clubs, and foodservice. But once you pick a lane, stay in it. And once you find an employer that will challenge you and offer career growth, plant yourself for two years or more.

Job tenure is decreasing, but it is still highly valued by employers because transformational company contribution does not really begin until the second year of employment. Nobody can be truly mentored in 12 to 18 months, and the best employers are looking for candidates who can work through challenges – not run away from them. The best employers look for candidates who master skills and leadership challenges before progressing to the next level.

Employers understand that some companies are more challenging than others and some bosses are intolerable. However, when you have short tenures you have to explain them. You can’t always blame the boss. Eventually you will be held accountable for choosing those employers in the first place.

2. Keep Your House In Order

While increasing your earnings along with your title is important, it is easy to make a bad career move because you need or want to make more money. If you take the pressure of money off the table, you open up a world of possibilities. The best career moves are made for culture and long-term opportunity. If a pay increase is weighing heavily on your decision-making, there is a good possibility you will regret the decision.

The best way to avoid this pitfall is to live below your means. Be disciplined to consistently save 10% or more of your earnings. In addition to a 401(k) and investments, build up to a cash savings of six months of your living expenses. For some of you that may seem out of reach, but savings pile up when you are faithful. Start with a small amount if you have to, but start.

Work with a financial planner to ensure you carry enough life and disability insurance to care for your loved ones should a tragedy occur. Insurance will provide peace of mind should your career be cut short, and a cash reserve will provide peace of mind to make important decisions without immediate dependence on money.

3. Study Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Your professional acumen is table stakes. Chefs have to know how to cook and run a kitchen. Managers need to know how to execute proper service and manage hotels and dining rooms. Those are “givens” to get in the door.

In the long term, your ability to effectively lead people will make the difference in your career trajectory. Every great leader will tell you that takes work. Book stores are filled with books on leadership, but the person who ultimately has to apply the principles is you. If you’re not sure where to start, pick up a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Life would be perfect if we got along perfectly with everyone – superiors, subordinates, peers, vendors, executives from the corporate office, clients, customers, and the guy who fixes the espresso machine. But life isn’t perfect, and neither are we. Learn to work with and get along with every personality in your life, because it really is your responsibility. If you haven’t done the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 Assessment, do it this week and commit to improving your score.     

4. Get a Hobby

The hospitality industry can be all-consuming. If you have family, philanthropy, and other obligations, your schedule gets full and stays full. You have to find some “me” time amid the chaos.

Find something that you do just for you that doesn’t have anything to do with work – no cooking or serving. The time has to be for you and you alone. I love catching up with my clients and candidates on Facebook, and seeing how they unwind: restoring motorcycles, playing guitar, yoga, biking, running, classic literature. Consistently spending time on your hobby will make you a better professional. It gives you space and time to clear your mind. You’re worth it.

5. When Work Is Over, Go Home

We’ve seen careers tank because of drinking in one’s own bar, partying with one’s own staff, and other inappropriate activity with coworkers. You have to create and keep healthy work-life boundaries.

You spend enough hours at work. Make a life rich with functional relationships outside your place of business. Those personal relationships require you to be present, especially if you are a spouse or parent. At the end of your life you’ll never say “I wish I would have spent more time at work.” Do your job. Do it well. Then go home to your family and live your life.

SHS practices THE CRAFT OF CURATING TALENT.  SHS’s mission is to transform excellence-driven companies that deliver a high degree of service in food and beverage verticals such as restaurants, hotels, manufacturers, and distributors.  The Illinois-based agency provides expert talent-acquisition for businesses nationwide.  They empower leaders to achieve higher levels of success by solving cultural challenges such as recruiting exceptional talent; defining organizational purpose; improving employee retention, engagement, and performance; implementing impactful communication practices; and much more.  SHS artfully helps you develop a more aligned work environment, resulting in increased profitability and amplified innovation.  To find out more, visit

Joseph D’Alessandro

About Joseph D’Alessandro

Joseph spent 15 years in leadership positions in hospitality operations before becoming a full-time executive recruiter in 2000. Joseph founded SHS in 2002 and has grown the business from a one-person outfit to a full team of dedicated experts.

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