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Why Restaurant Industry Professionals Need Mentors

Posted on | April 1, 2011 | 2 Comments

Article by Shed Wallace

During high school I worked part-time and summers for an Italian family owned catering company named Jay’s Catering in Orange County California. Less than a week into my new job I was asked to get olives from the kitchen store room. I moved briskly to the store room found the can of olives and walked over to the table where the huge commercial can opener was attached. The device looked simple enough, so I proceeded in trying to open the can.

After several failed attempts, I realized that I was doing something wrong. Just then, Michael Mastrianni, one of the company owners walked in and noticed my trouble. He walked over grabbed the can, flipped up the handle on the opener, slammed the opener’s blade into the can, cranked the handle a couple of time, and within seconds the can was open. Michael, then put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye with a smile, and said “Sometime you have to pause and say, by George there’s got to be a better way”.

This was the beginning of my first professional mentor relationship. Over the following three years Mike taught me an amazing amount about catering, customer service, and leadership. Over my foodservice career mentor-mentee relationships have helped me achieve career successes that I could not have dreamed earlier. Likewise, acting as a mentor has enriched my life and allow me to help many others achieve their professional goals. Here are a few important things that mentors do:

Mentors provide us with knowledge and expertise that we otherwise would not have. Just like the can opener example, we often don’t know why our efforts fall short of delivering us to our goals. Sometimes we are closer than we realize when frustration or fear takes over. The best mentors have experience in the areas and subjects, in which we are striving. They can guide us through new experience and on to successful outcomes

Mentors help us stay focused and accountable. Even the most disciplined and talented individuals struggle to allocate there time, energy, and focus among competing interests. It is sometimes hard to maintain the focus to see big challenging goals through to completion. This is precisely why the most accomplished people in their fields rely on mentors, trainers, and coaches. Being accountable to another encourages us to keep our commitments.

Mentors can be an excellent source for contacts. When your connect with the right mentor in your profession, you gain access to their years of experience as well as their networks. Over the years, my mentors have introduced me to critically important contacts. They have been invaluable references and opened countless doors for me. This is one of the most under-appreciated and under-reported secrets of most people’s success.

Mentors are also a steady and dependable voice of objectivity. The problem with asking your mom, spouse, or best friend about major ideas is that you are likely to get responses filtered by their emotional connection to you. Although their feedback is needed, candid and object insight is the key ingredient to good decision making. As intelligent and capable as First Lady Michelle Obama is, I doubt that anyone would advocate her being President Obama’s sole policy advisor. Like the President, high achievers need advisers who are experts in their respective professions.

Finally, mentors provide a great source with whom to share our wildest ideas. Great mentors know that some of the best ideas start as crazy notions. Take Chipotle’s Mexican Grill for example, I am sure that when founder Steve Ells decided to introduce fast-casual restaurants with upscale Mexican food, organic ingredients, hormone-free meats, and environmentally friendly buildings it may have seemed like a far out visions. Ironically, today his company is ahead in some of the hottest industry trends. Rather than shoot down your ideas, the right mentor will challenge you to develop your ideas in ways that will steer you to a successful outcome.

So, if you want to turbo-charge your career, business, or personal projects, I strongly recommend finding a reliable mentor, adviser, or coach. I guarantee the relationship will help you progress faster toward key goals, balance any weaknesses you may have, avoid costly mistakes, and achieve breakthroughs currently out of your reach.