Leadership is Always on the Restaurant Menu

When we look at the data from our restaurant mystery shopping reports and restaurant market research, it shows that both poor and great guest experiences alike are heavily dependent upon the competency of management’s ability to first select, then build, and finally nurture a team. 

This week’s Corner Office showcases Niki Leondakis of Kimpton Hotels, with Adam Bryant doing his usual fantastic job of eliciting practical insights from industry leaders about how they lead.  The article is worth reading if for no other reason than to find out what Ms. Leondakis looks for when she is hiring.

What I found most inspiring though, was that Ms. Leondakis’ grandmother was one of her most important mentors.  She explains how she observed her grandmother operate the family diner in Western Massachusetts, continuously making difficult decisions and doing so willingly and with “grace and poise”. 

I had a similar experience watching chef Russell Pryzbek managing Shenanigans restaurant in Hartford, CT. over a summer, circa 1983. One day, Russell literally pushed me aside from the Bluefish Terrine I was tasked with making.  Russell saw me mixing the ingredients and was appalled.  He showed me that you don’t mix a mousse, you fold it.  OK, a simple technical mistake that was easy to fix.  After I proved I could indeed fold the ingredients, Russ told me, “You have to take care of the food.”  I thought I was supposed to be making Bluefish Terrine.  Russ showed me that I shouldn’t do anything I didn’t truly care about.

To the point.  People who manage restaurants are, by default, copious decision makers; they have to be.  People who work with those managers in any capacity get unlimited front-row access to these decision makers, and likewise possess an unusually good opportunity to learn from the good decisions and the bad ones.  I can think of no other business that offers so much leadership training with such a low barrier of entry.  People looking to be great leaders should seek out and then learn from someone like Russell Pryzbek.  Then, step up and make, say 10-15 decisions a day that everyone has to live with, and you will be well on your way to finding what Ms. Leondakis calls ‘balance’.

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