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College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management

  • Kevin Carroll

Career Journey: Kevin Carroll

I am chief operations officer for Applebee’s Restaurants located in the United States. My responsibility is to provide support to our 33 franchisees and ensure great operations across our 1700+ locations. 

By Kevin Carroll
Posted on: December 2018

I started in the restaurant business in 1980 as a dishwasher. I quickly realized that I enjoyed the hospitality business and the energy the business provides, so I decided to earn my degree in hospitality management at the University of South Carolina.

From college to career

While leadership skills can be something you are born with or something you model from watching and listening to others, learning how to work hard in school is something a bit different. It’s something you have to practice, and my college experience gave me that discipline and trained me how to push myself to reach a goal.

After college I began working for Steak and Ale. One of my professors had told me they had an extensive training program and that advice really started my career path in a good direction. I ended up working for a general manager who, frankly, made the biggest impact of anyone I worked for in my career. He taught me the value of servant leadership which has made a huge difference in how I approach my job every day. My job is to serve my team and help them achieve their goals.

I worked for Steak and Ale for three years and worked my way up to general manager. I then spent a year as general manager at Applebee’s before joining Chili’s for the next 27 years of my career. While at Chili’s, I worked my way through the ranks from assistant to general manager, then to area and regional director and ultimately vice president of operations where I was responsible for as many as 500 company locations. In June of 2017 I rejoined Applebee’s where I am now chief operations officer.

Restaurant rewards

Simply put, I love everything about my job! I lead a field operations team of 30 individuals who directly support the restaurants and also oversee our operations services and learning and development teams. These teams are responsible for testing everything from food and beverage to strategic initiatives. They also make sure every component is operationalized in a turnkey way so that it can be easily digested and executed in each restaurant.

Applebee’s is in a turnaround after a couple of challenging years, and we are getting our mojo back. We are America’s favorite neighborhood bar and grill, and leaning into that is our strength. What I like most is meeting the team members who care deeply for our brand and interacting with guests who are having a great time.

Easily the most rewarding part of my career is watching the people I‘ve worked with progress and take on more responsibility. The hospitality business has allowed me to grow as a leader and afforded me the ability to work and become friends with a countless number of people along the way. So many people that I’ve worked with at one point in time have now risen through the ranks and grown both personally and professionally.

Career advice

First and foremost, you have to have a strong work ethic if you want to be successful in the hospitality industry. In this business, you need to be all in. Not to say you have to work 24/7, but in many cases you need to be available, so it is important that you enjoy your job as your work / life balance will have a lot to do with the quality of your job and career enjoyment. Second, you must be willing to accept feedback — both appreciative and constructive. Asking for feedback and then building on your strengths while working on improving your opportunities is critically important for continued growth. And, finally, if you don’t love what you are doing, tell someone. If nothing is done about it, make a move. Nobody can be successful if they are not happy doing what they do. Loving my job has been one of the main reasons I attribute to my success.

The Career Journey story series shares a glimpse into the dynamic jobs of our alumni, how they got to where they are today, and their advice for the next generation — in their own words. Share your career journey story by emailing

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