There’s a proud tradition of mentorship in the restaurant and catering industry but how can you ensure it’s done right? By Frank Leggett
Mentorship happens when experienced staff, managers, chefs and owners pass on the skills and traditions associated with the industry in order to aid and direct the careers of younger staff members. But what does good mentoring look like? It should be all about nurturing, up-skilling and empowering the mentee. The mentee should be able to confide in the mentor without the discussion ever being thrown back in their face. Good mentorship also knows when to cut the ties with a mentee and let them stand on their own two feet.
“Some of my greatest mentors were people who probably didn’t even realise they were helping me,” recalls Danielle Alvarez, head chef of the Merivale restaurant Fred’s, in the Sydney suburb of Paddington. Receiving some inspiring but understated mentorship early in her career was instrumental in putting her on the road to success. “They all happily shared knowledge and were never too busy to explain what they knew or how they did something. They were generous, empathetic, consistent and had a profound impact on me and my future.”
Alvarez believes a mentee needs to actively seek out mentorship and expertise in order to make the most of the relationships. “There’s a wonderful culture of mentorship at Merivale and a willingness to help more inexperienced staff to learn, grow and succeed,” she says.
Quay is one of Australia’s most celebrated restaurants and it takes teaching and learning very seriously. The team consists of over 80 staff who all strive towards the same goal—to continually learn and grow in order to run one of Australia’s most highly acclaimed restaurants.
“[My mentors] were generous, empathetic, consistent and had a profound impact on me and my future.”
Danielle Alvarez, head chef, Fred’s
“We have built an extensive training program that’s locked in for an entire year,” says Nadine Stegmeier, general manager at Quay. “We believe that providing employees with tools and solutions doesn’t just improve their productivity—it increases job satisfaction and morale.”
She says that all staff are committed to open communication and their managers are available to all employees. “We ensure that processes are in place that allow for vital information to be communicated regularly throughout our restaurant. We have an open-door policy.”
The Trippas White Group, which has a staff of more than 1000, operates restaurants, cafes, events and catering facilities Australia-wide. A few years ago, co-founder Brien Trippas moved from managing director to executive chairman.
“Our CFO, Joseph Murray, took over as managing director,” says Trippas. “During the transition, we would have weekly meetings and just chat about things. It wasn’t a standard mentorship but it worked for us.
“As a mentor, I think the most important thing is to let go of your ego.
At some point, the mentor needs to step away and pass the mentee the reins.”
Brien Trippas, co-founder, Trippas White Group
“As a mentor, I think the most important thing is to let go of your ego. At some point, the mentor needs to step away and pass the mentee the reins.”
When mentoring is done right, it feels like good coaching. Learning occurs by observing the mentor at work or by attending meetings to discuss all aspects of the job.
“Mentoring doesn’t have to be formal,” says Alvarez. “What’s important is for the person to feel comfortable enough to speak up when they disagree. You don’t need to share the same job but you both need to know how the dynamics of your work affects your day, your process and your decisions.”
A working partnership
According to Stegmeier, a mentoring partnership should be broader than a relationship with a teacher, trainer or boss. “The result of good mentoring is that staff feel confident to speak honestly in their work environment and empowered to do a good job,” she says.
Finding the right mentor for the mentee is key to making the relationship work. Despite this, everyone can be a good mentor if they have the right attitude.
“We believe that providing employees with tools and solutions doesn’t just improve their productivity—it increases job satisfaction and morale.”
Nadine Stegmeier, general manager, Quay
“A mentor should be able to help unlock a mentee’s potential,” says Stegmeier. “It’s important that a mentor shares the same vision of success. A mentor should respect and support you, pick you up if there’s a stumble, listen carefully and provide constructive feedback when things go wrong.”
Alvarez agrees, “A mentee should gain guidance and clarity in a world where there can be too many opinions or not nearly enough. I know I would be nothing if not for the kindness and generosity of my mentors. I feel it’s a debt I need and want to pay back.”
It’s also important that the mentor allows the person being mentored to have a thought process that is in line with the business goals.
“The end result is easy to identify,” says Trippas. “The business should make a profit, the company should grow, and the employees should enjoy meeting those goals. How you navigate that path is the difficult thing—and there’s never a single way. Even if you don’t fully agree with your mentee’s decision, you need to go with it. It’s important to show confidence in their decision-making.”
A successful mentor motivates and encourages others which builds leadership and communication skills. By working with someone less experienced, you gain a fresh perspective on things while learning new ways of thinking.
“It can be very fulfilling knowing you have directly contributed to someone else’s growth and development,” says Stegmeier. “Seeing a mentee succeed as a result of your input is a reward in itself.”