After more than two years of the pandemic, and all the myriad adjustments and creativity employed by operators to survive, the hospitality industry is emerging as both adaptable and resilient, but also hamstrung and in need of fundamental change. Owners are beginning to accept a new reality where staffing will continue to be one of their biggest challenges, and retention of talented managers and employees is paramount to their success. The industry can, and must, renew its vision for the future to create teams that are motivated, inspired, and truly in touch with the ‘why’ of the work they do. Without this deeper connection, employee turnover will only continue to thwart success.
For restaurant owners and managers who wish to not only inspire their teams, but also find their own grounding in what can be a tumultuous career, understanding that ‘why’ can be a gamechanger. Once that deeper objective is determined, learning to communicate those principles quickly and efficiently through a series of short mission statements or mantras can serve as powerful reminders in the moment.
“It’s so much easier to follow a plan, an action or a directive when you understand the purpose behind it,” said Scott Ota, co-founder of Second Growth, a new wine bar and retail shop slated to open in the winter of 2022 in San Antonio, Texas. “And in some ways, a good catchphrase or a soundbite that captures that purpose can motivate a team and provide guidance. However, mantras cannot and should not be empty words. These sayings should communicate your values and be easy to understand and must be followed up with proper training and values practice.”
The restaurant world is full of oft-used mantras — things like “make it nice” or ‘”work clean” or “the customer is always right” — which are thrown around to focus staff on the essentials as they go about their work. But for many of today’s top beverage managers, they have graduated to more personal and inspiring expressions learned from introspection and years on the floor.
“‘My first and foremost mantra is ‘make people happy’,” said Aaron Wood-Snyderman, wine director at the Metropolitan Grill in Seattle. “Years ago, at another restaurant which was my first fine-dining job, I was grumbling about something relatively trivial. My wife said to me: ‘Do you remember that restaurant we ate at in Rome on our honeymoon? Of course you do. And you work at a place like that now, and you are part of people’s memories.’ My wife has never worked a day in the restaurant industry, and yet she said the most fundamentally important thing I have ever been told. So, think about your vision. What is it that you want to accomplish? And how do you get yourself and your co-workers and employees to buy into this?”
Any operator or management team needs to make the time to create a list of core values, solicit input from everyone on the team, and ask some hard questions. Why are we doing what we do? How is this organization unique? Why do I choose to be part of this team? What kind of culture are we trying to foster among our staff?
“It really depends on the culture of each operation. However, there are a few important factors to consider when determining mission statements — things like vision, goals, values, target clientele and service execution,” said Tim Parkhouse, director of wine at The Pacific Club in Newport Beach, Calif. “And keep in mind that the internal side of an operation is often overlooked in mission statements and mantras. Because of the pandemic, everyone is short-staffed, and it is more important than ever to treat employees well. The dishwasher should absolutely be given the same respect as the general manager. And competition among top restaurants and clubs for those that have a genuine passion for the industry, and that are here by choice, is stiffer than ever. Essentially, it all comes down to respect for each member of your team. When putting together your establishment’s mantras and mission statements consider putting the employees first. Be the beacon showing a newer, more diverse, and empathic face of the industry post-pandemic. There is a direct correlation between happy employees and happy guests.”
In addition to the overall vision of the organization needing to be clearly defined and communicated, it’s also essential that individuals on the team, and particularly those in management roles, take the time to assess their own reasons for doing the work.
“Everyone comes to their own personal mantras, but for me, I think it’s important not to let myself get too wound up in the preciousness of this product or get my blinders on with regard to fine wine and the wine industry,” said Molly Brooks, wine buyer and director of events at Meritage Wine Market in San Diego. “I have to remind myself, ‘wine is my passion and my profession, but at the end of the day, it’s just wine.’ It’s important for my team, and myself, to feel comfortable exploring and investigating wine and admitting when we don’t know the answer.”
It’s a fact that the restaurant and hospitality industry needs to evolve if it is to continue to attract top talent, and those who are formulating their vision for what that future will look like are leading the charge.
“My purpose is to make this industry more inclusive and more equitable for anyone who wants food and beverage to be their profession,” said Scott Ota. “We need to remove the barriers of entry for those who want to serve others, and we need to provide a living wage to create work-life balance. Hospitality is all about being ‘other-centered,’ and hopefully I work and live with value-driven actions that support this purpose. My personal mantra is ‘Be humble, be hospitable, drink well and have fun! High tides raise all ships, and we’re better when we do it together.’”
David Flaherty has more than 20 years of experience in the hospitality industry. He is a certified specialist of wine, a certified cicerone and a former operations manager and beer and spirits director for Hearth restaurant and the Terroir wine bars in New York City. He is currently marketing director for the Washington State Wine Commission and writes about wine, beer and spirits in his blog, Grapes and Grains.