The latest installment in our ongoing Women’s Leadership Programs webinar series delved into the challenges around mentorship in the restaurant industry, for both those seeking mentors and more established professionals looking to develop the promising individuals around them. Dr. Kim Rubenstein, co-founder of Compatibility LLC joined Angie Mar of New York City’s Beatrice Inn and Ellen Yin of High Street Hospitality in discussing strategies for mastering mentoring. Below, Rubenstein, Mar, and Yin share some of their top takeaways.
James Beard Foundation: What’s the best way to start an organizational mentorship program?
Dr. Kim Rubenstein: An organization really should begin by asking “what are our values, what is the career path look like for people in our work, and what do we need from them?” Define what a program would look like, what the objective would be, and what you would like to accomplish. Try to take on a more formal definition so that your organization can foster an environment where people can meet and set their own goals that actually align the mission of the program. It really takes a village to define what it is that you’re looking for, so that expectations can be established.
Ellen Yin: We’re a restaurant group with four restaurants, so many of our employees actually didn’t know each other. One thing we did was creating a women’s roundtable that any woman in any of the restaurants can participate in. That roundtable offers a completely open dialogue about different subjects, not even necessarily having to do with High Street Hospitality Group. I think one of the most important things about creating a mentorship program within an organization is that mentees and mentors have to know each other’s backgrounds, to help them to figure out how to form relationships.
JBF: What does the ideal workplace environment look like? How do you make sure that all of your employees feel heard?
Angie Mar: First of all, our hiring process is very intense. I’ve worked in kitchens before where chefs are just hiring people just because they need a body. For us, if I’m going to invest a bunch of time into cultivating a culture at my restaurant, I want to make sure that I’m hiring the right people.
But more than that, I spend a lot of time with my staff. We start off our daily front of house meetings with a quote. We talk about what it might mean to them, how it applies to this restaurant, and we also talk about what we want to improve. We’re not only opening ourselves up and being a bit vulnerable, but we’re also holding each other accountable so we can all grow.
I end my night in the kitchen by doing the exact same thing. After we’ve had a long service, we scrub down the kitchen, we take out the trash, and instead of clocking out, we go and sit down and one of my cooks will bring a quote and explain how it applies to us in the kitchen, and what we can learn from it, and then we go around the kitchen and we say okay, this is what I did better today than I did yesterday, and this is what I want to improve upon for tomorrow.
I think that’s tremendously important because when my team is opening themselves, up they’re not just telling me as their boss, they’re telling their teammates. It’s about cultivating that team.
Even in a leadership position, I have to allow myself to be vulnerable and say hey, my communication wasn’t as good with you today, let’s work on that for tomorrow’s service, etc.
JBF: What do you all think are of the biggest roadblocks for a successful mentorship and then, conversely, what are some indicators of a strong mentoring relationship?
Ellen Yin: At different points in your career, you’re looking for different types of mentorship. So, whoever inspires you when you’re in your twenties or thirties maybe not the same person who inspires you when you’re in your fifties. I’m still learning and looking for mentors, even though I mentor other people. I’m still developing those relationships with people that I can learn from. It’s like any other relationship where you have to build trust. As a mentee, you have to know that your mentor really is open to listening to you and hearing what you want and helping you figure out how you get to your journey versus what their journey was and whether or not you fit into that same model. You don’t want to just hear somebody talking to you about how they did everything and thinking you’re going to do it the exact same way.
JBF: How do you ask a person to formalize a mentoring relationship or go about looking for a mentor if you decide to take a more formal route? What are some resources that are out there and what are some things that you can do?
Dr. Kim Rubenstein: I think it’s important to understand that it begins with you—what are you looking for and how do you ask for it? You won’t get what you don’t ask for in life, and when you’re looking for a mentor you want to take an incremental approach. Look in the community in which you live and work. Look to professional associations. Look at LinkedIn. Start locally and grow community. It begins by asking questions and not being afraid of the answer no.