A Journey from Hospitality to Qualitative Research: An Interview with Nick Costa

Welcome to The Research Happy Hour. Where we sit down with qualitative research professionals to learn about their career paths, passions and experiences.

To kick off our new Research Happy Hour Series, we had the privilege of speaking with Nick Costa, an experienced Insights Director who has had a not-so-traditional career path. Nick shared his journey of making the jump from the hospitality industry to market research, the importance of adaptability and his favourite part of working as a qualitative researcher. Join us as we delve into his experiences, advice and how his background in hospitality has significantly influenced his approach to working in qual.

Burn-out to B2B Insights

"So just plan for chaos and then when there is none[…] it's gravy."

After feeling burnt out from 10 years in the bustling hospitality industry, Nick was ready for a fresh start. Despite not having a formal education in market research, a colleague recommended him for an entry level Insights Analyst role because of his strong interpersonal skills.

Fast forward 6 years and Nick is now the Insights Director at Escalent, an award-winning data analytics and advisory firm. Talk about an incredible career switch!

We wanted to know: how does a hospitality background translate to a career in Market Research?

Nick: It’s funny. Even as I was trying to go into my market research interview, I thought, how do I sell myself? Because too often, I think, people put hospitality in a box. But, it’s really about being able to understand that people are coming from broad perspectives, unique perspectives and that their background is going to be different than yours. It’s really understanding that no one is going to be the same as someone else and understanding that those opinions are always valid.

I'm very good at adjusting my communication style to the person I'm talking with and because of that, I've led teams as large as a hundred during peak seasons. You can't communicate the same way to every person. And so, in the the same way, you have to be able to listen to all these different points of view.

And I would also say another thing I’ve learned is nothing is ever going to go as planned. So just plan for chaos and then when there is none, then, it's gravy.

Adaptability in Times of Chaos

What are the biggest drivers of chaos in qualitative research?

Nick: Before I moved to the tech practice, I was in the auto industry. The auto industry team is very much a a doer. You're doing project management, you're finding vendors, you're finding venues. You'll get an RFP that's eight weeks out to fielding, and then you win that job, and you're calling “oh, we need 50, 000 square feet in LA”, and you're calling any conference centre and they're like, “Wait, you want this next month or next month, the following year? From a logistics standpoint, things always go on.

"Something's going to go wrong. That's just the nature of everything."

Nick: I've been in New York City a week before Christmas and you get just torrential snow and no one can actually get into the city. You were supposed to have, six focus groups over two days but you’re just doing IDIs because only one person could actually make it into the city.

Or, you're moderating a focus group and you have someone who might be not the right person or disruptive. It’s an important skill to be able to adapt to the situation quickly, but also be prepared and realize that something's always going to go wrong.

The nice part with the work we do now with IDIs and focus groups is you get the first one done, but then ask - Did it go well? Did it not? We almost always try and debrief right after maybe the first or second. So that you can pivot, give yourself a chance to make those adjustments. That way you are dialed in for what your customer or your clients want. And then, you're getting the right results or insights out of the conversations.

The Value of Insightful Conversations

"In qualitative research, there’s life learnings regardless of what the topic of conversation is."

What do you love about qualitative research?

Nick:  Talking with people and getting those different perspectives. Everyone has different drivers, whether that's value or, it fits into their more budget concepts or they're driven by brand recognition and style. Whatever it may be, people are coming from things at all different angles. And that's why I like to hear people's different perspectives.

Even in my own personal growth, I just did an interview last week with a tech company that has alliance and strategic partners and channel partners and we spoke about what makes a good partner. Some of those things are so applicable to so many things outside of the tech space and so I shared some takeaways with my team so we can be better partners to our clients or be better partners to ourselves. And this was just an hour of conversation.


It is clear that Nick’s background in hospitality has allowed him to approach research with a unique perspective. Communication skills are vital in the field of market research but being able to find value in diverse perspectives makes it a deeply rewarding profession. Thank you Nick for sharing your time and this powerful sentiment with us!

Interested in learning more about Nick’s Market Research career journey? Give him a follow and connect with him on LinkedIn.

About Escalent

Escalent is an award-winning advisory firm that helps clients understand human and market behaviors to navigate disruption. As catalysts of progress for more than 40 years, Escalent’s strategies guide the world’s leading brands from insights through implementation. Visit escalent.co to see how we are helping shape the brands that are reshaping the world.

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Melissa Romain
Senior Social Media Specialist

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