Best Career Advice from Restaurant Pros

I asked several successful restaurant executives to share the best career advice that was ever given to them.

Here’s what they had to say:

Jack Butorac, President, Marco’s Franchising: “I met someone who developed a number of companies. He was very successful with what appeared to be little effort. I asked him if you could advise me – because I want to grow companies – what advice could you share with me about your success. His statement was short and I have tried to follow it. I can tell you it helped. It is the following: “Hire people who are smarter than you (me) and have the same values/goals.”

Hans Hess, CEO, Elevation Burger: “The best advice I got was when I brought my boss a plan to increase the profitability of the team I ran. He told me “you have no place thinking about this…” that’s when I realized I needed to be my own boss!”

Tania Burt, Executive Vice President, Maid-Rite Corporation: “Do what you love, be creative and the money will follow.”

Patrick Droesch, President/COO at Lone Star Steakhouse and Texas Land & Cattle: “To be successful, be sure to make a continuous effort to learn, a continuous effort to improve, and a continuous effort to make your life and the lives of those around you better.”

Chris Brooks, owner at Café 131 in Dripping Springs, TX: “Early in my management career, I was advised to “shoot the breeze” with my employees. Doug Brooks, current CEO at Brinker International, was an early mentor. He once told me it was ok to just talk to our people about general stuff, their lives, the weather or whatever. He talked about breaking down invisible barriers and the enhancement of working relations.

This unusually sound advice evolved into a personal philosophy of investing in people, creating less cluttered lines of communication, and accentuating more common ground. I hope this has been helpful to staff through the years. It has certainly provided gratification on this end. I’m thankful for this timeless advice.”

Keith Sirois, CEO at Big Boy Restaurants International: “The absolute best advice I ever received was a simple statement – “If it’s right for you it’s wrong for your employee”. It came from a regional personnel guy in 1973. He has been my friend and mentor now for 40 years.

His meaning was to know the person you are hiring and working with. Their values and motivators can be very different from mine but that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful in their position and grow within the organization. It is up to me to create the environment where they can be successful.”

Kristin Hartman, VP, Brand Activation and Sales at Burger King Corporation: “A great piece of leadership and therefore career advice came from General Norman Schwarzkopf years ago and has always stuck with me: when placed in command, take charge and do what’s right.”

Eric Houseman, President and COO, Red Robin Restaurants: “Surround yourself with people that share your values and can make an impact on the two or three things that truly matter.”

Phil Flores, Director, Corporate Dining- West Coast Division at CulinArt Managed Dining Services: “Do not sell what we cannot deliver and don’t use smoke & mirrors to create a false picture. Be honest with the client and let them make the choice.”

Keith Carleton, Director of Operations at Gorditas Dona Tota: “Find those things that no one else likes to do and then make yourself the best at doing them. Then, when experience is required by decision-makers to accomplish one of those undesired tasks, your expertise will outshine those who shied away from such tasks. Your face will eventually appear in front of persons who will have the power to make a difference in your career.”

Chris Elliot, CEO, Beef O Brady’s: “It’s not your boss’s job to get along with you. It is your job to get along with your boss.” It was good advice for me…..I didn’t like to take direction from people I didn’t respect and I had a couple of bosses in my career I didn’t respect very much. That advice put things in perspective.”

Jerry Ruta, President and CEO, RT Midwest: “It’s all about the people”. Hiring decisions are the most important decisions a leader will be required to make. Whether you’re hiring an entry level team member or a senior level executive, take the time to make a decision that is the best for the organization as well as the person being considered for the position.

Chuck Cooper, President and CEO, Lee’s Famous Recipes, Inc.: “When you need to make a decision, and after understanding all the facts and issues, don’t avoid making that decision because you are afraid it is wrong.  You will make bad decisions in life, but you will learn more from those than you will from good decisions (without feedback), or no decision.”

Nina Baldwin, COO, Pallino Pastaria: “We sell ______(fill in the blank, Big Macs, Whoppers, Grand Slams) to pay the bills but we ARE IN the people business.”… I give my speech to all first time managers, promoted managers and new hired managers, I want to make sure they know “people” are the MOST important part of our job: the people they work for, the people who work for them, the vendors, and the customers. The job of a manager at any/every level is all about “people.”

Paul Mangiamele, President and CEO at Bennigan’s: “Inspire others to motivate themselves to adapt, improvise and overcome all obstacles.”

Steve Davidson, President and CEO, Robeks Corporation: “Listen to all advice. Follow none. Find your own way and blaze a new trail to exciting new places.”

Want to have an executive chat with Rebecca Patt? Contact her at Rebecca.patt@wraysearch.com. Rebecca specializes in recruiting game-changing talent for the restaurant industry.

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