marriott women of f&b
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Jennifer Etzkin O’Brien was dazzled by the hotel industry.

“Coming from restaurants, the hotel world fascinated me with its breadth and depth,” says Jennifer, now the Director of Restaurants & Bars for Marriott’s U.S. & Canada organization. “Ultimately, the opportunities to share my skills at a much larger scope excited and inspired me.”

Jennifer began her Marriott career as an Executive Chef at the JW Marriott Austin. She later moved into culinary management for Marriott’s luxury properties before accepting her current role.

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In early 2018, Jennifer and four other talented women chefs collaborated on a quarterly taste panel for Marriott executives. Little did she know that time together would inspire her to launch a network to highlight and elevate each other in a field so often dominated by men.

Enter: Women of F&B.

Connections Across the Globe: The Women of F&B

The Women of F&B is a Marriott-wide network designed to inspire, connect, and elevate women in food and beverage careers across the company.

“Truly, the most impactful element has been connecting women all over the world and witnessing the deep and lasting connections women make with peers through the group,” says Jennifer.

marriott women of f&b - Alexa Delgao

Courtesy of Alexa Delgao

One of these women is Alexa Delgado, Director of Bars at The Miami Beach EDITION. Alexa traces her career back to a foundational moment in 2013 when she came across a magazine article about a woman who co-founded a brewery. In learning that there was little representation from women in the beverage industry as a whole, Alexa discovered her intended trajectory.

“I took it personally,” says Alexa.

marriott women of f&b - Alexa Delgao

Courtesy of Alexa Delgado

She applied and was accepted into a master’s program in Food & Beverage Management at one of the top business schools in the world, then started as a server at a local Irish pub, where she worked her way up to a bartender position. She later accepted her first Marriott role as a Lobby Lounge Supervisor at The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami.

“My brother was working there at the time. He spoke so highly of the company, and I was curious to see what the hype was about. Needless to say, I fell in love with the culture, and here I am seven years, four properties, and six positions later.”

Alexa was first introduced to Jennifer and the Women of F&B when Jennifer was working as a chef, prior to her current role.

“I remember seeing a few Instagram stories featuring women in culinary, front of house, and beverage roles in the company, and they were doing incredible things in their field,” says Alexa. “More importantly, they wanted to meet like-minded women and share their experiences, knowledge, and stories. I love that. I think people outside of our industry don’t realize how much networking can positively impact your career, but also how essential it is to have a support system with women who have overcome some of the same hurdles.”

marriott women of f&b - Alexa Delgao

Courtesy of Alexa Delgao

Since then, Alexa has been an active member of the network, supporting and uplifting other women in the industry.

“The thing I find most unique isn’t so much the events I get to attend or facilitate, but it’s the relationships,” says Alexa. “I have been inspired and mentored by so many women in the industry through the Women of F&B, and I haven’t even met them all in person. The thought of having this group of wildly successful women in my corner supporting and encouraging me…some who don’t even know me personally…I love that.”

Showcasing Culinary Excellence to Inspire Others

In addition to networking opportunities, the Women of F&B network also highlights women making culinary strides within the company. One such woman is Kandice Symister, Cook and Supervisor at the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach, who supports the executive chef for the hotel’s restaurant.

marriott women of f&b - Kandice Smyster

Courtesy of Kandice Smyster

“I was always making something in the kitchen when I was a kid, and in high school, I took a culinary course and really enjoyed it,” says Kandice.

She enrolled in the Kapiolani Community College Culinary Program and began to work in kitchens before applying to hotel roles.

In 2023, Kandice became an inspiration for women chefs across Marriott when she competed in — and won — the Masters of the Craft competition, hosted in the Food & Beverage Design Lab at Marriott’s headquarters in Bethesda, HQ. In the final round of the competition, Kandice surprised the judges with a hoisin-marinated rack of lamb with a mushroom broth.

marriott women of f&b - Kandice Smyster

Courtesy of Kandice Smyster

“It was a fun blur,” says Kandice. “I’d always start with a plan, then throw it all out as soon as the announcer said ‘go.’ The competition is really an exciting rush and pushes your mental cooking capabilities.”

Kandice’s outstanding accolade was broadcast to the entire Women of F&B network in celebration of her win. Her secret to success? She advises other women in the culinary field to learn by watching other chefs and asking questions.

“I’ve always asked chefs what makes them come up with their dishes, or why they used particular ingredients. You can learn a little something from everyone around you,” says Kandice. “Marriott has amazing cooks in the kitchen — use their knowledge when you can.”

Kandice also encourages culinary professionals to “keep moving forward.”

“If there’s an open position you want to try, do it. Don’t hold yourself back,” she says.

marriott women of f&b - Kandice Smyster

Courtesy of Kandice Smyster

This mindset has inspired so many professionals within Marriott to pursue their culinary and beverage dreams.

“The culture we are part of and invited to help shape at Marriott is so authentically a part of what we do every day. The ability to have this kind of impact and reach motivates me every day,” says Jennifer. “Every phase of my career has had high moments, but what I’ve become most proud and grateful for is finding a way to carve out a place for myself and those I love most while still tackling roles that are demanding and intense. Every day is different and the opportunity to learn seems boundless. Know that your talent is needed. You also need to show up confident that you are the answer. Because you are. Own it!”

Alexa believes differences can be the biggest strength.

“We often forget that the obstacles we have to overcome as women are often very different than those of our male counterparts. Different isn’t bad, and can oftentimes lead to better, more innovative solutions,” says Alexa. “The best, piece of advice I can give is, ‘have fun with it.’ We have the best job in the world, so might as well have a good time doing it!”

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