While flipping burgers is often the teen-choice job, making a career out of a hot grill and drive-through window might not be very appetizing. But as the 50 members of Texas A&M’s Restaurant & Hospitality Club have found, there’s more to the food industry than a hairnet and grease stains—there’s a job pool for college graduates in management, marketing, entrepreneurship, accounting, IT and more.

Established in 2005 by Agricultural Economics Professor John Siebert, the Restaurant & Hospitality Club has helped linked students with numerous opportunities in the food industry.

Junior agribusiness major and R&H club treasurer Lacey Nixon has been able to put the networking aspect of the club to work for her: She secured an internship in the summer of 2006 with Pappas Restaurants. This experience provided her with training in every area of restaurant management and hospitality, including hosting, serving, catering, banquets, bussing, floor managing and kitchen managing.

Though she wasn’t sure if she’d be allowed to intern with Pappas since she wasn’t yet a college senior, Nixon said it was her “passion for the industry” that made her an exception to the rule. When she graduates, Nixon plans to start her career in restaurant management. “Eventually I would love to become a general manager and have my own store,” she said. “Or I would like to go into menu design, marketing or company recruiting.”

Whatever track a student may choose, the opportunities in the industry are virtually endless. According to the National Restaurant Association, employment in the food and restaurant industry will increase by 14 percent in the next decade. And what increases along with this statistic are employee standards.

“A&M and Mays are obviously well known for the education they offer,” Nixon said. Since many of the restaurants in the industry no longer see a degree as an advantage, but rather a requirement, she says her time as Texas A&M has been a good investment.

In an evolving industry in which this year’s annual sales are predicted to hit $511 billion, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the odds of finding a successful career in restaurant and hospitality are increasingly high. What it will take, though, is a business-minded graduate to ferret out the best opportunities and make an impact in the industry.