An Insider’s Perspective on Successful Restaurant Leadership

Ever wonder what it takes to successfully manage a restaurant? Mario Ponce, owner/principal of Partners in Hospitality and co-founder of Takito Kitchen, shared his unique insights at our recent Restaurant CFO Roundtable on April 30 in Chicago. With more than 25 years of restaurant/hotel effective operations experience, Mario understands that culture and leadership are important to a restaurant’s success along with food, service, and ambiance.

“Leadership is an ongoing process, and it is important to understand how it differs from management,” said Ponce. “Management is the ability to get it done through people, while leadership is the ability to inspire others to get it done.” Leaders are constantly working to improve and move their organization forward. They ask questions, are good listeners, and often make mistakes – but the key is that they learn from them.

As to the characteristics of a successful leader, “good managers make decisions quickly and change them slowly, while poor managers make decisions slowly and change them quickly,” commented Ponce.

Ponce appreciates meaningful quotes, and shared some for Roundtable attendees to consider:
  • “Motivation is not my job. My staff need to motivate themselves. Self-motivation is the best way to ensure top performance. I don’t believe in management. I have no time for it. But I am very interested in leadership.” – Charlie Trotter, chef and restaurateur
  • “Management works in the system. Leadership works on the system.”Stephen R. Covey, author of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”
  • “People don’t want to be managed, they want to be led.” - Ross Perot, American businessman and former presidential candidate
  • “People are NOT your greatest asset, the RIGHT people are.”Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great”
There is often a gap between actual performance and expected performance. A good leader understands that finding the solution to bridge the two usually requires a change in behavior.

Key elements of developing a successful leader and culture within your organization include:
  • Vision – for your restaurant and your people
  • Passion – find people that care and are passionate about their jobs, regardless of level
  • Trust/Integrity – one of the highest forms of motivation
  • Curious – a form of education that leads to new ideas and keeps thing moving forward
  • Risk-taking – the creative process stops (growth stops) when we stop taking risk
Of course hiring the right people is key. “They need to be to be smart and personable and understand what’s expected of them. Then give them the tools they need and leave them alone so they can do their jobs,” emphasized Ponce. “You want people who care, are part of the solution, are competent, may make mistakes but learn from them, and have vision.”