At the age of 16, Haley Keister found her very first job at a local restaurant. In the years since, she has stayed in the hospitality industry, where she hopes to make her career.
“I’ve never had a job outside of a restaurant,” she said. “I love working with people, and the potential to make money in this industry is crazy.”
An Event Management major set to graduate this May, Haley began attending classes part-time at SUNY Broome while she was still a student at Vestal High School. It gave her the opportunity to get ahead on her education and, later, balance her coursework with her job in the demanding restaurant industry.
These days, you can find her behind the bar at the Coppertop Tavern in Vestal, serving drinks and helping create a rewarding customer experience. She meets new people every day, striking up conversations about their lives and their world – all while serving up a menu that ranges from beer to “CopperTinis.”
Her secret ingredient in landing the job? Her coursework at SUNY Broome.
Before she took Bartending & Beverage Management, Haley felt intimidated by the field; there were so many recipes and techniques to know, she explained. The course – which has students develop their skills in a lab featuring operational dry and wet bars – also gave Haley TIPS certification, which helped her land the job at Coppertop.
“You learn the technique, the best way to deliver a drink, how to impress the guests and interact with them,” she explained.
Sanitation & Safety may not seem, at first glance, as fun as a course in bartending. But it’s deeply useful in the hospitality industry, teaching students to identify and correct behaviors that can contaminate food, how to prevent cross-contamination and more. Students also earn certifications in ServSafe, a nationally known food and beverage safety training program, as well as CPR.
The ServSafe certification definitely improved her employment options, and Haley occasionally finds herself educating her colleagues on safe practices.
“There was so much you don’t realize until you actually take the course,” she said.
While the restaurant industry has demanding hours, many Hospitality program courses are largely online, giving Haley the flexible schedule she needs. Her cooking class, for example, involves hands-on time in the lab on Mondays, with the rest of the coursework – homework, tests and quizzes – all online. Her Human Resources class was completely online.
“I can live my life around my classes and still do well,” she said.
Planning a future in hospitality
Looking ahead to her future in the hospitality industry, Haley realizes that she doesn’t want to own or manage a restaurant; she would miss the front-line interaction as a bartender and server. However, her strength stems from a focus on presentation – which is why the Event Management degree program appealed to her.
Events bring a different sort of pressure than a restaurant. In the latter, “everyone needs you at once,” Haley explained. Events are more linear, involving planning, a deadline and an end product.
Event Management classes are hands-on and Haley has honed her skills in a variety of events, from the Hurricane Harvey relief fundraiser to bridal shows at the Holiday Inn and mock weddings.
After graduation, she plans to relocate to North Carolina, where her family lives – and where the hospitality industry is booming. She will also continue her studies online at SUNY Delhi while she focuses on building her career.
She would definitely recommend SUNY Broome’s Hospitality Programs to anyone with a passion for the industry. Ultimately, the secret to success is to have a sense of “personalization, to really care about the customers you have,” she reflected.
“It’s taught me a lot more than what I expected in the beginning,” she said of her experience at SUNY Broome. “When you work at a restaurant, you come in and think you know everything, but six months later you realize you know nothing. I’ve gained such knowledge from being in the program.”