The Best Career for DECA Members Who Love Food

Do you love food? Do you love creating amazing experiences for your friends and family? Do you love taking care of people? Then a career in the hospitality industry might just be the perfect calling for you!

Now, we know what you might be thinking. Working at a front desk and swiping room keys doesn’t sound
too glamorous, right? Well how does coordinating a $100,000 wedding sound? Or executing events for celebrities, top industry executives and athletes? Now you’re interested!

The truth is, the hospitality industry has a wide array of careers focused in event planning, catering, operations management and more that are perfect for DECA members with a keen eye for detail and an ability to go the extra mile for a satisfied customer.

Talib McDowell

Talib McDowell is currently the Assistant General Manager at the Renaissance Tampa International Hotel in Tampa, Fla., but has held several interesting positions within Marriott International, Inc. during his career. Talib shared with DECA his top tips how to advance your career within a global hospitality brand such as Marriott and shared his favorite stories of the most elaborate and creative events he had a hand in executing.

Talib first became interested in hospitality during high school, but was mostly focused in the culinary field. He decided to attend Johnson & Wales University, a DECA National Advisory Board partner, where he says he obtained what he called a “realistic view of the hospitality industry.”

“JWU has professors who are retired industry professionals, so you’re learning from someone who was a manager, a regional vice president, a director of sales and marketing, and they’re able to share with you their real-life experiences and what you should expect.”

After graduation, Talib started his career as a server with Marriott, and then moved onto various roles including Senior Banquet Manager and Director of Banquets, which gave Talib the opportunity to learn many different disciplines. Talib said that the experience he gained through these positions at Marriott helped him propel his career forward, especially those banquet leadership positions.

“I was literally given the key to a $5-10 million-dollar operation as a first-time manager, and had to oversee all kinds of corporate events. I learned how to motivate a team, how to hire the right people, and how to follow up and follow through because accountability is a huge factor. If someone is paying $100,000 for a wedding, those doors better open up in 15 minutes for the bride.”

During his time as Director of Banquets at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta, Ga., Talib said his number one focus was service. “Your life is hospitality and making people happy,” he shared. When he transitioned to Director of Event Operations at the largest hotel in Georgia, the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, he said his focus suddenly shifted to volume. While now overseeing a staff of 150 individuals, it was Talib’s job to set the strategic vision for what the customer experiences.

“[The Ritz Carlton taught me] what it meant to create a vision and what the minimum expectation should be, and at the Marquis I was able to hone in on my vision on a larger scale, and then hold my directors accountable for executing the vision that I created,” Talib explained.

“[Being at the Marquis] was a great learning experience because it gave me the opportunity to lead at such a high level, to be in charge of some of the most amazing meetings, conventions, functions and weddings that Atlanta had to offer, and extremely rewarding because I had the opportunity to really showcase my vision and talent by having a few hundred thousand dollars to spend on really cool props and equipment. You’re able to hone in on what your style is, your strategic partnerships in the community, the visitor’s bureau and the mayor’s office, and once you have all that in line, you’re really able to push the needle and change the game.”

While at the Marquis, Talib was part of a very exciting project for Marriott called Meetings Imagined, which is a website solely dedicated to helping event and meeting planners create incredible experiences with Marriott.

At, you’ll find inspiration galleries, tips from experts, planning tools and idea boards to help you create an unforgettable event, and Talib was one of the Marriott directors who had a hand in rolling out this innovative event creation and management tool.

When it comes to Talib’s strategy behind creating a successful event, his first step is to always understand the purpose of the meeting.

“Why is everyone getting together?” Talib asked. “Once you identify the underlying purpose, then you can truly start to tailor the programming and the experience to make something special.”

“For example, when you’re planning a wedding, the couple always comes in with a theme. Let’s say the theme is blue – well why is it blue? Is it the bride’s favorite color? What makes it so special? Is it because it’s the color of the ocean and that’s where the couple went on a vacation? Knowing these details is so important because now I know I need to find textures and colors that remind the couple of this amazing vacation and place, not just blue.”

Talib shared another one of his favorite events, which was a meeting for a group of high level executives in Charlotte, N.C.

“The purpose of the meeting was to re-energize the group and dial into initiatives for 2018, but the group also wanted to experience the NASCAR Hall of Fame (located in Charlotte), so I really wanted to pull the strategy of the event in the hotel through the NASCAR theme,” Talib shared. “NASCAR drivers are athletes, and these executives were like corporate athletes, so why can’t they be treated like drivers too? Why can’t the meeting be in the form of a stadium, where they’re actually coming to perform?”

By partnering with the audio visual company, PSAV, Talib was able to bring the vision of NASCAR into the meeting.

“We brought in specialty backdrops, we staged the meeting space to look like a stadium and we even created meal breaks that were “pit stop” themed, and in the end, the meeting was a huge success,” Talib said.

If this sounds like your dream job – you’re in luck! The hospitality industry is constantly growing and hiring new talent like DECA members. If you’re already interested in the hospitality industry, Talib suggests that you get some experience as soon as possible.

“Work in the environment you aspire to lead one day, because you’ll quickly understand and figure out what you love and what you don’t love,” he advised.

“Get your foot in the door at an early age so when you graduate, you’ll truly be ready to take on the responsibility of managing and leading others.”

And for those members who haven’t ever considered hospitality before, Talib is here to change your mind!

“Hospitality is such an amazing field because you can do and work in any discipline in business that’s out there,” he said. “You can do accounting or finance, you can be a chef, you can be at the front desk or in event management – you can do a million different jobs under one umbrella. The sky’s the limit and a world of opportunity is open, as long as you’re willing to go after it.”

Follow Marriott on Twitter @Marriott and @MarriottIntl, and for meeting and event inspiration, check out

Categories: Career Advice, College & Career Advice, Hospitality, Job Advice, Tips For Finding A Job