20 Years In Hospitality; What I've Learned

I started scooping ice cream at Almos Fine Ice Cream (R.I.P Almos) in Fall River, NS in 1996 and I haven’t stopped learning about this industry and the people in it since.

I’ve told the Almos story many times on the podcast but revisiting it here I am simply reminded of the visceral feeling of joy I had having the opportunity to work with people and food. It was a dream I never knew I had come true.

Over twenty years in this food and beverage community I’ve learned what I think are some absolute jewels and I wanted to get them down here today to share with you all. And just too keep things all in line with the theme, lets knock off SIX (or Half A Dozen) of my invaluable takeaways from my time in the hospitality industry.

My Half A Dozen Jewels From 20 Years In Hospitality

  1. Have Fun. This is simple but also very difficult just due to the nature of this industry. The simplicity comes from touching base with your day number one and touching base with the times where this industry filled you up. Think of the days you were excited by what you were doing and hey maybe that is still you today and if that is the case that is awesome. Hang on to that. However, I know that for so many of us this industry can truly take more than it gives at times and if that is the case more often than not, step into that and ask yourself why you feel this way. Getting back to having fun though, it really is a must in our industry and in life in my opinion. If you’re not having fun, you need to change something because this industry demands way too much from us not to enjoy what you’re doing. If you need to switch roles, join groups outside your work space, spend more time doing non-industry stuff to bring back more joy into your actual work do that and do it before it is too late. Find ways to bring back the day one vibes you had. Remember, nothing is worth doing if at some point it doesn’t fill you up with joy. Have fun.

  2. Be Ridiculously Nice. I work with so many of my clients who aren’t having fun (see #1 above) and I get it. They are “burnt out” and that burn out and lack of fun leads them to throw courtesy, kindness and overall just being a nice person out of the window. Again I get it. I have empathy for those that feel as those they have been giving and giving and not getting anything back but we need to find a way to put on that happy face. Touching base with Jewel #1 again will allow for #2 to occur somewhat seamlessly in my opinion but let’s look at what I mean in practice. We are in the service industry and as my once upon a time podcast guest Eric Pateman put it , “I can cook a great meal at home but when I go out, I want to be taken care of.” We need to get back to the full comprehension of what we are doing here in the hospitality community. We are meant to be at the very least hospitable and this is where being nice, kind, caring, generous, etc. all begins. This one aspect of our industry and your business could be the difference between you being busy every night of the week and wondering why no one wants to dine in your space. Whether you are the owner, dishwasher, head chef, bartender or the janitor find a way to treat every single person you come into contact with (in the business and outside of it) like they are guests in your very own home. Treat people well, everyone, and that includes yourself and it will pay dividends like you’ve never experienced before. ***This isn’t unique to the hospitality industry this is an every day every way life piece***

  3. Surround Yourself With Smart & Caring People. Again I’ve seen a lot of businesses within our industry struggle not because they don’t have a kick a$$ menu or because the concept isn’t great. A lot of them struggle due to lack of proper insulation. By “insulation” I mean talented, smart, passionate, and valuable people that are going to help you, challenge you, and get you to where you want to be and likely need to be a lot faster. Don’t surround yourself with cheerleaders, people who only tell you what you want to hear. Looking at specifics I think EVERYONE in the food and beverage game should have the following people in their Power Circle. A sound and smart accountant (ideally a tax specialist), a consultant (shameless plug but really this can be a key piece in any business so long as the consultant is in line with what you are looking for), a bookkeeper (the amount of bartenders turned business owners who try to run their own books ALWAYS ends up messy), a designer (don’t pay too much but don’t get a “free” designer), a solid general contractor (whether you’re looking to complete a whole new build out or fix a busted wall, having a talented and trustworthy general contractor will be a game changer), and lastly a therapist (self explanatory, you need be proactive with this and find someone that you jive with but again challenges you)

  4. Get To Know Your Community. For me the first community that comes to mind that we in the food service industry need to have a closer relationship with is our local farmers. All those people producing our food before it gets to us at the restaurant level. Spend time on your suppliers farms and get to understand their process and work to better understand them as people. I also encourage the multitude of talents in our industry to get out in your local community and meet your customers in different environments, volunteer with kids, attend local community events, cook for strangers, whatever it is, make an attempt to be available to your local community. With a better understanding of your community, they will get a better understanding of you and that is a WIN-WIN-WIN in my books (You win, your community wins, and your business will win as well)

  5. Be honest. This one is and has been a tough one for me, but wow, when you are honest, which is tough at times to do depending on the topic and audience but punching your way through the challenge will serve you well. How does this show up in our industry? How much time do you have? We are at a pivotal time right now in the hospitality industry where the more we share, the healthier we all will be. Sharing and being honest about what it takes to even serve a hot plate of food in the current climate is extremely valuable for everyone to better understand. Honesty about the stress, anxiety and overwhelm that you may be feeling day in and day out due to your work with the appropriate audience will allow you to feel like a weight has been lifted off of your chest. Lastly, and this one perhaps needs its own blog to totally dive in to but being honest with your guests within your business. Help them better understand what it takes to keep the lights on, staff paid, and the water running in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them but again gives them a much better understanding and perhaps appreciation for what you and your team do and why you do it. If honesty can lead to feeling and being more appreciated by your community, I vote honesty 24hrs a day 7 days a week.

  6. Get out. If you’ve been grinding away at this industry for years and you’ve given literally everything you can, truly 100% and it doesn’t feel right and you really can no longer have any fun, get out. There may be fear in the form of “What else will I do? All I know is food. All I know is this industry”. If you’ve been working in this industry for any length of time, you are no doubt suited to wear many hats in many industries and thrive. I’ve been with people in our community who are just done and recognizing that is super important. We have to have real and honest (see #5 above) conversations with ourselves. If it is time to cut the cord with this industry do it. If it is time to close your restaurant, do it. Look at what Jen Agg of the Black Hoof did years ago. She took what was a very popular and successful business and shut it down. She was done and that is both powerful and admirable. If you’re done, I get it and support your decision. You will however be missed, but know you’re always and forever a member of this unique and very special community that is the hospitality industry.

After twenty years I am still learning every single day, and perhaps more now than ever before and I cannot wait to see what else I can learn from the members of the industry and every one that engages with it.

Here’s to being humble, open to learning, and celebrating the most dynamic industry in the world today!