Getting a job in hospitality accounting

aat comment

Hospitality is a world of big personalities, you’ll have to take them on if you want to work in hotels and restaurants.

As far back as he can remember, Alan Murray wanted to be a hotel manager. He did a higher national diploma in hotel management and catering after leaving school, and found he excelled at the finance side of the job, but wasn’t keen on the operational side. This resulted in a 25-year career in hospitality accounting, culminating in his current role: director and co-owner of ETC Hospitality, running the practice’s Manchester office.

“We don’t really see ourselves as an accountancy practice, even though there are bits of what we do that make us that,” he explains. “We become the accounts departments for our various clients, so it’s not like a typical accountancy practice as such. But the main difference between working in a hotel and working in an office environment is that you see the bigger picture, really.”

ETC Hospitality was founded by hospitality specialists Stephen Easthope and Alan Morgan in London eight years ago, and Murray joined them as a co-owner in 2014. Its modern, consultative approach to accountancy services has seen it expand into a national firm, employing AAT members and trainees.

Clients include hip and modern restaurant, hotel and event chains such as Wahaca, Camm & Hooper, and Chicago Rib Shack. Murray says that hospitality accounting is a Marmite sector – people either leave after six months or stay in it for life. It pays to be sociable and people-focused if you want to work in the sector, he says.

“There are a lot of characters in the industry – a lot of strong characters. We’ve got a number of them as our clients. But, you know, hospitality needs a bit of flair and personality to stand out, so it comes with the territory, I guess.” Working with hotels can be quite different to working with bars and restaurants (ETC has a separate hotels team), but there are some similarities in the work.

Timely processing of invoices and sales is very important, and both are people-heavy, so payroll is key as well. Also, these areas are all fast-moving: hotels have daily management meetings to assess the previous day’s performance, while restaurants, Murray says, measure performance almost hourly.

Regular, timely management reports are very important. Cash flow is critical, particularly in restaurants, he says: “As it’s a cash business, you don’t build up debtors at all; everyone pays at the point of sale. So people think that it should be quite an easy one, but, because of the seasonality of restaurants and the fact that a lot of the costs are fixed, you have to manage that cash flow throughout the 12 months.

“In January and February, you’ve probably got about 40% less coming in, in terms of sales, but not far off the same amount going out in cash. So cash flow is difficult.”

Besides having a winning personality, you need to be organised. Working in hospitality accounting involves spinning a lot of plates; there are many little daily jobs that need to be done, often for multiple clients and locations.

“That’s the tricky thing,” says Murray. “If you’re looking after three clients, you need to make every one of those clients feel like they’re the only client you’ve got.” It’s a similar story if you work in-house in a hotel or restaurant. Paula Rutter has worked at the same small group of hotels for the past 22 years, working up from the reception desk to assistant to the finance director.

Like Murray, she’d always wanted to work in hotels, ever since it became apparent that her first career choice might not be possible. “I wanted to be an air hostess, but the first time I flew on a plane I was terrified,” she says. “I was too short anyway.”

While you might focus on one or two areas in a larger hotel chain, Rutter’s role is incredibly varied. “I’m responsible for cost control, the purchase ledger, the sales ledger, and preparing budgets and management accounts,” she explains. “It is a very varied role and I have to juggle a lot of balls at the same time.” You don’t need to have an in-depth knowledge of the hotel, Rutter says, but an understanding of the different departments – reception, food and beverage, housekeeping and so on – can help.

“A lot of hotels also promote and develop roles from within, so you can always work your way across from another department,” she says. “I moved across from an admin/ reception position, so that would be a good starting area if there were no vacancies in the accounts department.”

The main thing to remember, says Rutter, is that no two days are ever the same in the hotel and leisure sector – you might have a plan for your day, but be prepared to change it. She agrees with Murray that, to work in hospitality, you’ve got to love it. “Hotels are a way of life. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

The role requires

1. A lively and sociable personality

This is a sector run by big characters. You’ll need to have a good rapport with them.

2. Strong cash-flow skills

Hospitality is highly competitive and seasonal, and varies from day to day. Cash flow is critical.

3. Plate-spinning

You need to be able to keep track of a lot of different jobs, and the sector is very fast-moving.

4. Flexibility

Be prepared to react quickly if something unexpected happens.

This piece was first published in Accounting Technician magazine. AAT members can login to the archive to read more of the May/June issue with great reads on tax experiments from around the world and blockchain technology.

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

Related articles