Jamel Taggart – Choctaw Casino & Resort-Durant

Jamel Taggart

Director of Beverage, Choctaw Casino & Resort—Durant

Frisco, Texas

Describe your job.

I am the strategic leader of beverage operations for 15 bars, a 3,000-seat concert venue, and a resort pool with 50 cabanas at the 1,700-room Choctaw Casino & Resort in Durant, Okla., just over the Texas border.

What made you choose the meetings and events industry?

Back in college, I fell in love with bartending, and after all these years, I just never left the industry.

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to live in a lot of amazing places and meet truly talented people because of the job opportunities I’ve been given, and I can’t see myself doing anything else.

How did you get started and what got you from there to today?

I started my career as a bartender, and that role opened the door to so many additional opportunities. I’ve had the privilege of being connected to mentors who saw my drive and passion for the craft early on, which led to my career growth and, with that, my continued desire to do and accomplish more.

Now being in a position of leadership, I’m able to mentor others so they also can have successful careers impacting others in a positive way.

How do you keep up with industry trends, changes, and cutting-edge developments?

I have developed a professional network of colleagues and friends in the industry that serves as a great resource for keeping up with trends, changes, and new developments. I try to visit exciting new destinations often, and I consistently read books and online articles. I’m also intentionally both innovative and creative in my own kitchen trying out new ideas and thinking outside the box.

What essential skills should every industry professional possess?

I believe that to be successful in hospitality, you truly must understand and anticipate people’s needs. You must have great critical listening skills, and as a leader, you need to have the capacity to allow capable people who report to you to do what they are good at without trying to micromanage them. Additional essential skills include being able to resolve conflicts, solve problems when they come up, and remain organized. Most importantly, leaders can’t forget to follow up in all areas to ensure satisfaction. I also would say you can’t be afraid to fail and learn from your failures, which,
I admit, can sometimes be challenging to do.

What is the philosophy or approach to work that gets you through stressful times?

In times of stress, I pride myself on maintaining my cool and calm demeanor. I intentionally remain steady and consistent so my team can look to me for stability and guidance no matter what else is going on. I think it is possible to increase the intensity of the team’s performance without panicking or getting frustrated. As a leader, people depend on you to think ahead, have backups, and troubleshoot on the fly when things don’t go as planned.

What is the best professional advice you ever received, and what advice do you have for others in the industry?

At the end of the day, you must remain humble and nimble and not be afraid to get creative and take chances. If you work hard and have good relationships with others you come in contact with in your work or personal life, you always will be successful. My main tips are to never burn bridges, be open to opportunities as they come your way, and don’t forget to have fun while doing it.

Describe your biggest professional success.

My biggest professional success really is just the many opportunities I’ve had over the years to work in several amazing cities and at some beautiful casinos, resorts, and hotels.

Share an anecdote about a meeting or event that did not go as planned and how you handled it.

I once had an outdoor food and cocktail event for a high-profile company that started very small but quickly grew, going from 20 to more than 100 guests. It turned into a fun, super-competitive game to see who could crank out the most sales: servers or bartenders. My bartending team absolutely got destroyed that night; but the guests loved it, and the whole team had a ton of fun. Part of the fun for all of us was being able to show I still had the hands-on skills
to bartend with the crew.

What is the best part of your job?

My favorite part of my job is witnessing up-and-coming leaders and watching people I have mentored grow and accomplish great things. I feel proud to be part of their success, and I feel fulfilled to have made an impact on others in the same way my mentors have supported me.

What do you like to do in your free time?

In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my kids, and I also love watching sports. Another thing I especially enjoy is trying out new restaurants and bars in the area with friends and family.

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