Why and How to Surround Yourself with Restaurant Mentors

By: Isabelle Hahn

7 Minute Read

Aug 22, 2019

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Restaurant Mentors

Eric Cacciatore has produced over 600 episodes at Restaurant Unstoppable, a podcast consisting of interviews with the most well-known names in the restaurant industry.

The purpose of these interviews is to uncover exactly what it takes to be successful in the restaurant industry. 

“I hope that by sharing these findings I will be able to help those, who like me, have dreams of someday becoming a fantastic restaurateur,” he writes. 

One of the most common characteristics Cacciatore has seen in successful restaurateurs is collaboration. They’ve climbed to the top by riding on the backs of other successful restaurateurs. They’ve learned from others’ mistakes and embraced mentorship at its core.

Too often, people open a restaurant and fail because they don’t have adequate experience or a realistic perception of what it takes to be successful, or at the very least, stay in business. Opening a restaurant can be an extremely daunting task, and oftentimes the most successful restaurateurs are devoted students of the industry. This is where restaurant mentorship comes into play. 

In the restaurant industry, mentorship is pretty common in every role. Chefs have mentors, general managers are brought up by supportive leaders, and servers fall in love with the industry by having inclusive and knowledgeable bosses.

Free Resource: The 2019 Restaurant Success Report

How a Restaurant Mentor Can Improve Your Business

Here are a few ways working with a restaurant mentor can help to improve your business:

  • They have experience opening restaurants and can help make the process easier for you.

  • They can steer you away from making the same mistakes they may have made in the past.

  • They know people. In this industry, you’re only as good as your team. It’s not only about what you know; it’s who you know and who you surround yourself with. A mentor can help surround you with great people.

  • They help with brand association. If you go to a bank looking for money and they see you’ve worked with other successful restaurateurs, they’ll be that more confident in their decision to back your restaurant.

  • They could become future business partners.

  • They will teach you so much. You will be learning every moment of your life as long as you make it a point to show up looking to learn. Learning from another successful restaurateur is the equivalent to a million-dollar education.

How to Find a Restaurant Mentor

1. Be willing to learn from everyone

Charlie Brunetti, General Manager of 3 Fat Guys Diner, credits mentorship for his successful restaurant ventures. Luckily, he grew up with his mentor ⁠— literally.

“My Dad was the cook in our house growing up. We are in the entertainment business, and he taught me to show guests what you're made of — not only through great food but by walking the floor and talking to everyone. People go out to eat to take a break from the everyday issues we all have,” says Brunetti. 

For restaurateurs who aren’t lucky enough to be related to a great mentor, or even leaders who are looking for someone to mentor themselves, Brunetti suggests being willing to learn, listen, and keep an open mind with the people around you. 

“Find excellence in each and every person and just start practicing. You never know who you might meet.”

Charlie Brunetti

General Manager at 3 Fat Guys Diner

2. Don’t give up if you don’t immediately find the perfect mentor

Katie Rosengren has been in the restaurant industry for thirteen years, but during the first ten, she never thought she would stay in the industry forever. For her, there was a lack of mentorship throughout her career ⁠— especially from other women in the industry.

“I really didn’t receive [mentorship] very much, and it made me a little disillusioned with the restaurant industry,” she says. “I think having someone who believes you and really wants to cultivate your talent keeps people in this industry.” 

But when she joined the team at Juliet Somerville three years ago, everything changed. She suddenly saw the industry through her mentors, and now considers restaurant management a viable, long-term career.

“I was never really looking for mentorship, or thinking about a long-term career path until I started working at Juliet,” she says. “In my current job as a general manager, my bosses Josh Lewin and Katrina Jazayeri have been really amazing in terms of mentoring. They’ve really given me a lot of space to grow. It feels really collaborative between us. They recognize my ideas and help me build on them.”

Because of the lack of mentors in her early career, Rosengren always tries to be a mentor for other people, especially other women

“I think one of the best things about cultivating these relationships, whether you're being mentored or mentoring someone, is that you have something to learn from everyone. I learn so much from the people I work with. Sometimes it's as easy as learning patience, or seeing a situation in a different way. Everyone has a unique perspective that they bring to restaurants because everyone is coming from a different place."

Katie Rosengren

General Manager at Juliet Somerville

3. Find restaurant mentors where they are — at work

Odds are, there are people in your restaurant who have been in your shoes. And better yet, they have similar experiences under their belt. Ciro Fodera, Chef de Cuisine at Capo Restaurant, has two mentors that he found at Capo: Culinary Director, Nick Dixson, and General Manager, Will Clark.

“I said to Nick, ‘I see you as someone I want to work with, would you want to be my mentor?’ Now I have someone I can rely on to teach me everything he knows," says Fodera. "Our general manager is also a huge mentor. As a chef, it’s good to have the front of house experience as well.”

After a year of working closely with Dixon, Ciro was promoted. He is currently trying to learn as much as he can from both mentors so that he can mentor the next generation of chefs. 

4. Just ask

A lot of times, a mentor won't just take you under their wing. You have to express interest in them, their career, and prove that you're willing to listen and learn from them. 

“I think a lot of people don’t put themselves out there. People have an ego or pride, but nobody should be ashamed to admit they don’t know everything. People assume that not knowing something makes them weak. Everyone needs someone they can learn from."

Ciro Fodera

Chef de Cuisine at Capo Restaurant

5. Determine your unique offer

In his book Ask Gary Vee, Gary Vaynerchuck says to not approach a mentor looking for something. Instead, approach prospective mentors with a unique offer. Ask yourself, “What can I provide them?”

Now, you may be asking yourself, “What can I offer a successful restaurateur that they don’t already know or have?” The answer to that question is more than you may think.

The restaurant industry attracts a diverse group of people. Maybe you went to school and minored in accounting, information technology, marketing, multimedia, web design, or human relations. All of these fields are becoming increasingly important as the restaurant industry evolves and becomes more competitive. Offer your unique skill in exchange for advice.

And for mentors, Rosengren suggests keeping an open mind. 

"Always really listen first to understand how you can help someone else, and not go into it thinking that you have all of the answers. Mentorship is much more collaborative than that," she says.

Read More: 10 Restaurant Management Books All Restaurateurs Will Love

6. Approach restaurant consultants online

Today, there is more knowledge and content being shared than ever before. Many times, this knowledge comes straight from the source. Surround yourself with tips from these incredible restaurateurs by reading or listening to their books, blogs, or podcasts. 

Here are a few restaurant consultants who share their knowledge for free: 

Surround yourself with the content of successful restaurant professionals, and you'll learn a thing or two.

Mentorship Makes for Successful Restaurateurs 

Everyone remembers the first great mentor they had because of how mentors shape who we are and how far we go.

Having a mentor can make a career, just as being a mentor can keep you afloat of any new tricks of the trade. And in an industry where turnover is at an all-time high, being a mentor to an employee could be the difference between retaining someone and losing them to another restaurant.

Today, there's even the option of virtual coaches. Check out Roger Beaudoin’s Restaurant Rockstars, Anthony Rudolph’s Journee, or Typsy. All of these resources allow you to surround yourself with advice from industry experts whether you're in a kitchen or not. 

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