Why Hospitality Workers Make Incredible CSMs

Hilary Tjian
Director of Customer Operations

Interview Highlights:

  • Hospitality experience is well suited for customer success because they know how to work with people and have a strong work ethic.
  • Hospitality employees can improve their chances of getting hired as CSMs by highlighting their problem solving abilities  
  • Companies could benefit from the “I’ve got your back” mentality that exists in food services

Can you tell me about yourself and your experience with the hospitality industry and with CS?

I actually started in hospitality - the food and beverage industry. I worked in restaurants during the summer through highschool and college. When I moved to New York after college, I naturally fell back into restaurants, working in a number of positions but mostly hostessing and management. 

I was then offered a job at Cover, a restaurant mobile payments app. I worked directly with restaurants, onboarded managers and trained their staff, while also troubleshooting with their customers. I found that the startup environment and work culture were really similar to the restaurant industry - small and close knit. I really felt at home there, which was refreshing because I’d always thought I wouldn’t be an office person.

I joined Feather, and over the last three years we built an incredibly strong and passionate team. We doubled the Account Management team last summer and renamed it Customer Success to better reflect the responsibilities and role of the team in our current stage of growth. 

What qualities make hospitality people such good Customer Success candidates?

There are so many! I’m constantly thinking back to my experiences and the skills that I built in hospitality and drawing upon that in Customer Success. 

  • They know how to work with people - they’re friendly and empathetic and generally good at navigating people’s needs. They pick up on small cues in tone and behavior that inform how they carry themselves in a given conversation or situation. 
  • They have a great work ethic - they will roll up their sleeves and work to get the job done. People who have hospitality experience can multitask like it’s no one’s business, especially restaurant managers. You need to really love your work when you’re in that kind of position, so you know they’re passionate. 
  • The make-it-work attitude - folks in hospitality are skilled in creative problem-solving. They know how to get scrappy when they need to and communicate effectively to get the job done. That kind of skill set and approach will get you far in the startup industry, especially in Customer Success or Operations.

Let’s take the opposite stance. What do you think they need to learn in order to adjust to CS?

To be honest, learning to sit still. . 

When you’re working in hospitality, you’re often moving around, using your mind and your body throughout the day, but when you’re on a Customer Success team, you’re likely sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day, which can be a really difficult transition. It was certainly the hardest part for me! 

The tech side of things is another adjustment. Customer Success usually has to work with multiple platforms and software tools at once. That’s a new experience for a lot of people in hospitality, but it’s the same kind of skill set. 

If you’re a host at a restaurant, you’re really good at solving puzzles, constantly moving reservations and walk-ins around to try to get the most turns in a night. It’s a matter of taking those skills and then translating them into more of a technical scenario.

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That need to move around is an interesting adjustment to make. How do you burn off that kind of energy?

It’s important for everyone’s physical, emotional and mental health to move around throughout the day, especially right now, so I encourage the team to take breaks, even if it’s just a 10-minute walk or a short stretch session.

In food and beverage, you’re often exercising your mind and your body. In Customer Success, not so much. You have to balance it out with breaks and other ways of moving around.

Bringing it back to the mental part of the job, hospitality people really like to use different parts of their brain. They’re skilled in code-switching and are able to bounce between administrative tasks and customer-facing work with ease. They’re naturally wearing multiple hats throughout the day, much like CS managers at startups.

There’s also a lot of cross-over in relationship building. For example, servers are dealing with customers, taking their orders, figuring out how to build that relationship, and creating a good customer experience. And then they’re taking those orders to the back of the house, so they need to have good relationships with the chefs and line cooks. It’s the same sort of dynamic with CS, because you need to have great internal relationships with coworkers as well as external relationships with customers.

If you’re a hospitality person and you want to make the jump to CS, how can you make yourself more attractive to hiring managers?

Apply! Check out other platforms for jobs besides the standard hospitality channels. Angel List is great if you’re looking for a startup job. Be brave and explore! You’re more qualified for these roles than you may think. 

I recommend applying to startups because they’re more likely to see the similarities in your experience and skill set than an established corporation, which is more likely looking at your pedigree. In my experience, startups want smart, passionate people with grit; where you went to college is less relevant. Spend some time on your resume and LinkedIn to make your experience and skillset accessible to non-hospitality folks. 

Outside of job platforms, utilize your network. When you work in the restaurant industry, you’re making friends with so many people and building a network without realizing it. So use it. Make yourself available and realize your skills can translate very well. 

This question hits very close to home for me, because the journey from hospitality to startups has been my story arc. I want to show that it’s a viable path for others. 

I feel for folks who are in the hospitality industry who feel stuck. Sometimes you feel like this is the only career path you have available because this is all you’ve ever done, but that skill set is applicable to other careers. 

Last question: What can organizations learn from the hospitality industry?

Something I try to bring into my team--and the company at large--is the “I’ve got your back” mentality that hospitality does very well. 

If I was managing a restaurant one night and my server got into a little bit of a tiff with a customer, I’m not going to go over to the table and immediately say, “The customer’s right. Whatever the customer wants, we’re giving them.”

I’m hearing this server out, because ultimately I have their back first. We want to make sure that the customer experience is great, but the customer isn’t always right.

It’s very important that my team knows I’m going to support them. If a customer gives them a really bad review, I’m not going to come down on them for it. I know and trust them, but something went wrong and we have to figure out what. 

If companies did this as well as restaurants did, they’d see better employee retention numbers. When I worked in restaurants, there were one or two places where the employees never left. Turnover was low because it’s like a family; you stick together and look out for each other. 

Ultimately, that’s the thing that’s going to keep you working at a place--the people. The “I have your back” mentality will keep your team strong and create a happier, healthier work environment for everyone.


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