Real talk about restaurant management with Paul Jennette
The hospitality industry has always been known for fostering long-standing, dedicated individuals who have hospitality in their blood. Turnover is high, but there is no doubt that many hospitality professionals start at the bottom and slowly make their way to the top of the industry with hard work and perseverance; therefore, spending the majority of their long careers in the industry.
Additionally, hospitality is one of the only industries in the world in which you can start with absolutely no experience and end up in upper management. Paul Jennette, a hospitality professional with over 30 years of restaurant experience, started his career as the dishwasher of a tiny mom-and-pop restaurant in rural Michigan and worked his way up to General Manager of The Ritz-Carlton Club in the heavily toured town of Aspen, Colorado.
We caught up with Paul to get some advice for job seekers aspiring to be a part of the booming restaurant industry in the US. No one knows the industry better than a manager and he had some invaluable advice that we hope will help you in your hospitality career path.
Paul spoke fondly of the roles that got him to where he is today, working with well-known establishments such as Starwood Hotels, Lettuce Entertain You, Domino’s, and, his most recent employer, Ritz-Carlton.
When asked about his favorite role, Jennette reminisced about being a bartender in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. “Being a bartender is just so much fun,” Paul explained. “It’s great money and the I really enjoyed the clientele. I used to work at the bar once or twice a week and make enough money to live and have fun in Chicago. That’s not something I can say about any other part-time job I’ve had.”
Jennette’s least favorite position: serving. Jennette explained why: “I just wasn’t good at it. You have to have a certain flow and rhythm and I didn’t enjoy the fast-paced nature of the position. I liked being behind the bar in sort of a closed-off environment where I could really talk with my guests without feeling rushed.”
Past members of Jennette’s staff have called him tough and strict, but one former staff member explained him as “one of the hardest working people in the industry.” She went on to explain that Jennette “was firm when that was needed, but was always moving. One of the best things you can be in a restaurant is busy and Paul was always running around checking to make sure his staff and the restaurant were running smoothly. This is an invaluable trait in a manager; if you see your manager working hard, you want to work hard."
Paul’s tough, professional attitude is also reflected in his interview style. Jennette explained that is is crucial that a job applicant, especially one applying for a management position, show up to an interview in at least business casual clothing, on time, with a resume in hand.
“These rules are non-negotiable,” Jennette explained. “If you are applying to be a manager somewhere, you should already know that, but you’d be surprised how many applicants I’ve interviewed that didn’t. You have to be professional, you know? And you have to have knowledge of the industry…Something I always ask people I’m interviewing is, “If you could eat at any restaurant on the world where would you eat?” Their answer is telling about what they know about restaurants. Do they keep up with hospitality trends? Are they reading about the industry regularly?”
“I recently interviewed a guy who told me he’d eat in a restaurant that closed years ago. Needless to say, he wasn’t hired,” Jennette laughed.
Here are a few more tips and learned lessons Jennette has for hospitality professionals:
- “You can’t teach someone to be a good front-of-house staff person. You can teach them the mechanics, but they have to have the personality. Personality is key.”
- “The two most important working traits to have as a hospitality professional are hard work and teamwork. If you can’t work in a team, you should find another industry.”
- “The most frustrating thing a team member can do is give bad service when [the restaurant] is slow. It’s easy to be on your game when it’s busy, but you have to always be moving to ensure great guest service at all times.”
- “Make sure, once you’re hired, that you get to know the environment you’re working in before you expect to be understood. The establishment has rules and procedures that you haven’t learned yet. Learn them and then if you see something you think should change, speak up.”