KOKOMO, Ind. —For Cameron Gibson, taking care of restaurant customers is about more than serving their food.
It’s about creating a memorable experience.
After he graduates from Indiana University Kokomo in May with a degree in hospitality and tourism management, his goal is to manage food and beverage operations at a fine dining establishment in a large city.
Being part of offering clients great service is what appeals to him about the industry.
“The product restaurants are selling is an experience, which can be broken down into three components; the food and beverage, the service, and the atmosphere,” he said. “When a restaurant can deliver a great product, it means all three of those components were executed flawlessly to give guests an experience. I love being part of that.”
Gibson, from Wabash, gained hands-on experience in the kind of restaurant he’d like to work for, with an internship with Four Man Ladder, a Detroit-based restaurant management company. He job shadowed the general manager, learning about scheduling staff, financial management, and maintenance issues. During dinner service, he rotated through positions throughout the restaurants, “having my hand in a little of everything, from serving, bussing, bartending, and even in the kitchen, much to my chagrin.”
In an industry that relies on connections, it also allowed him a chance to network, and to see what he learned in class applied in real life.
“It was all just textbook and classroom until I went to Detroit,” he said. “Once you’re in the capacity of general manager, you see the things you’re learning about in class right in front of you, and how it relates to the day-to-day operations. I’m glad I learned most of it prior to going there.”
He discovered his passion for the food service industry at a low point in his life, after being academically dismissed from IU Bloomington. He returned home to figure out next steps, and took a job at Twenty, the Charley Creek Inn restaurant where he’d bussed tables in high school.
“I discovered that not only was I good at it, but it could lead to a career,” he said. “It wasn’t just something to do while finding a career.”
With a renewed sense of purpose, he made an appointment with Tracey Sala, an advisor for IU Kokomo’s School of Business, who helped him through the admissions process and with scheduling classes for the hospitality and tourism management major.
He’s thrived in the program, both going to school and working at the restaurant full time.
In addition to Sala’s help with admissions and scheduling, he said Mark Meng, assistant professor of hospitality and tourism, has played a role in his success.
“He’s always willing to put himself out there to help students,” Gibson said. “He’s always willing to meet outside of class time to make sure each individual student has what they need to succeed.”
Meng said Gibson has impressed him with his willingness to work and learn.
“Cameron has shown his openness to perspectives, feelings, and opinions of others, making him an outstanding team member,” he said. “With my observation of his classroom activities and internship performance, I am certain Cameron is going to do more great jobs and creative things in his future.”
Gibson proved something to himself by completing his degree.
“Hospitality is an industry where sometimes connections and work experience are more relevant than a degree,” he said. “Because I had failed so hard at my first attempt, I wanted to see to it that I went back and finished it, mostly for myself.”