The Restaurant Industry’s Mentorship Crisis and How to Fix It

By Dana Krook

Chefs being mentored in a restaurant kitchen

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.”

–Benjamin Disraeli

Try to find a person in the restaurant industry who hasn’t started out on salads, as a host, or in another entry level position. In fact, studies show that nine out of ten management level restaurant employees start at the entry level – in the dish pit, hosting, as a line cook, or barback. One would think that these early employees would be nurtured into a career; they’re young, often eager, and easily molded. But yet they often find themselves clamouring for guidance in an industry that rewards hard-won, self-serving seniority.

While mentorship programs exist within culinary schools, within actual restaurants they are  unstructured and minimal at best. Gus Gluck, a cellar hand at Mac Forbes Winery writes, “The lack of mentoring in hospitality isn’t a recent phenomenon but a recurring theme. While I think it happens in many professions, I feel it is salient in our industry because unlike others, we are currently under more scrutiny than ever before from restaurant reviewers, social media and the likes of TripAdvisor, and we’re one of the fastest growing industries in the country.”

This reality is unfortunate because the benefits of mentoring run deep.

Mentorship is paramount to the development of junior staff members as far as career progression goes, it plays role in developing senior staff members, who in turn, get satisfaction from transferring their knowledge. On this, Stuart Johnson, general manager of Brown’s Hotel and founder of the Savoy Society Mentoring Scheme said, “Whenever you’re showing someone else what to do or talking about the pros and cons of a situation, you end up learning a huge amount about yourself.”

Through this learning, Johnson asserts that both the mentor and mentee enter a symbiotic relationship where they both learn and are gratified by the transfer of knowledge. This gratification leads to benefits for restaurant owners by way of employee engagement and retention. “Both the mentor and the mentee tend to become much more engaged in the job they’re doing,” Johnson says.

And he’s right. A 2013 study, “Career Benefits Associated with Mentoring for Mentors,” in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, found that people who have the opportunity to mentor others feel greater job satisfaction and have a higher commitment to their employer.

In addition to job satisfaction, in a study of 1,000 employees over a five year period, Sun Microsystems found that 25% of mentees and 28% of mentors received a raise. A substantial difference from the 5% of managers who were not mentors. In addition, employees who were mentored were promoted five times more often than those who weren’t and mentors were six times more likely be promoted as well. Win – win – win!

So with benefits to all parties involved, how can restaurants implement a mentorship program within their own company? Check out our mini Mentoring 101 below to help you create a culture of mentorship in your restaurant.

Define Roles and Responsibilities

First things first, the mentor should begin by listening to the mentee’s goals and connect those goals to the bigger picture – their career and the restaurant industry at large. In the restaurant industry, the role of the mentor could also entail being directly responsible for teaching a specific set of skills or giving constructive feedback. This could manifest as teaching knife skills, job shadowing, or prep work. While learning these new skills, the mentee should be committed to their own personal development and willing to be challenged by their mentor.

Set Goals

As Warren Bennis said, “Mentors are trusted counsellors or guides who provide direction toward a line of thought or inclination – developing personal concern and responsibility in assisting others.”

The goal of mentorship is about carrying forth a work ethic and skill set that will last far into the future. While the mentor and mentee each have individual goals, the mentorship program itself should have a broader goal when being marketed to both mentors and mentees. What’s the benefit to both parties? What’s the benefit to the business? Is the restaurant equipping them with specific skills to further their careers within the restaurant, or are these skills transferrable into the future regardless? By positioning the mentorship program with long-term benefits, staff members will be more likely to partake and more invested in the opportunity.

Choose a Mentoring Model

Traditionally, it’s recommended that the mentor and mentee relationship have some distance, with the two not working too close together, in order to provide space where both parties can air grievances and challenges without the possibility of reprimand in the workplace. As the restaurant industry is based on acquiring technical skills, a distant mentorship isn’t very realistic. The best mentoring model to consider in a restaurant is a mix of one-on-one mentoring, which allows for the development of a personal relationship, and training-based mentoring, where “a mentor is assigned to a mentee to help that person develop the specific skills being taught in the program.”

Match Mentors and Mentees

Mentors and mentees should have an active role in selecting each other. Rail Mentoring reported that, “It’s been found that when mentors and mentees had input into the matching process (e.g. choice of partners), they reported higher mentorship quality and role modelling function. False expectations by either the mentor or mentee could be sparked if the mentor and mentee are not given any choice in the matching process.”

They suggest that mentees should evaluate their mentors based on the following questions:

  • Does the mentor show sufficient empathy and is there potential synergy?
  • Does the mentor have the right knowledge, skill and experience to offer?
  • Do both parties’ goals and expectations align?
  • Can the practicalities work out, such as dates, times and meeting places?

Just as skills should be a match when pairing mentors with mentees, so should the level of commitment and enthusiasm in both parties.

In the end, the goal is to create not just a culture of mentorship, but a culture of learning. Whether it’s job shadowing or weekly meetings, mentorship in its nature is supportive. Once you’ve instituted an outline of a program in theory, in action you’ll find it has a positive effect on workplace morale. The ideal is that when one junior staff member sees another progressing, they’ll want to progress too – and a culture of learning and mentorship is born.

Photo of Dana Krook
by Dana Krook

Dana is the former Content Marketing Manager at TouchBistro, sharing tips for and stories of restaurateurs turning their passion into success. She loves homemade hot sauce, deep fried pickles and finding excuses to consume real maple syrup.

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