Gary Johnson’s 5 Tips for Managing the Hospitality Industry

Rosie Ramirez

23 May 2019    |   

“Anywhere and everywhere you go, people need hospitality people. So it’s kind of like a ticket to ride, it gives you a fantastic experience to not only travel through different cities or countries for that matter, but along the way, you get the skills, you gather experiences, you gather knowledge,” says Gary Johnson, National Food Manager for Spirit Hotels. From his first job working at the back of the house, he is now an internationally recognised and award-winning chef. With over 40 years of culinary experience and leadership in restaurants, pubs and hotels, he is a force to be reckoned with in hospitality management. Managing Chefs, delivering hospitality “Hospitality is as diverse as it is a potpourri not only of different dishes, skills, nationalities,” Gary shares, “but any country, anywhere you go, everybody loves great food and everybody loves hospitality.” Drawing on his vast experience, this 2011 Australian Hotel Association (AHA) “National Chef of the Year” currently manages 88 hotels nationally. With thousands of staff, 5 million meals, and $80 million of food sales annually, how does he keep up? Below are Gary Johnson’s five tips for success in managing chefs and making the most out of the hospitality industry. 1. “Trust always comes back to you” “I believe that if you give people the respect that they deserve, it always comes back to you,” he begins. Gary’s collaborative management style is hinged on honest communication with his teams. He wants them to understand how important their roles are and trust them to get the job done. “Some of the chefs can misbehave [but] they’re the ones that don’t last very long in our industry. They probably don’t get the best out of their people in the long term anyway. And if it’s only a short-term thing, well you’ve wasted your time and money so that can only end in sadness,” he quips. Read more: Revolutionising Employee Engagement with Pragmatic Thinking’s Mikey Ellis Chef Gary Johnson (middle) with Chef Kenneth Bryce (left) and Sam Burke (right) at Red Meat 2018 in Canberra. Source: Farm Online 2. “Understand what people want from the leadership team” A 2017 survey from hospitality software provider Impos found that more than half of Australian businesses had difficulty hiring and retaining staff. Gary had the same experience when he first joined the Spirit Hotels group. “We had a turnover of around 150%. Katrina Gill in the HR department and I put plans together instead of wasting time and money from both sides of the fence. We really got down to being in touch with our people and learning how to understand what they wanted from us as a leadership team and what the business could give back to them long-term for their careers,” he says. Now their turnover rate is hovering at 40%, a huge improvement from what it used to be. Read more: How to Achieve Culture by Design with Career Culture Lab’s Amanda Lutvey “In the seven and a half years that I’ve been with the [Spirit Hotels] group we still have the same people who started as kitchen hands who are now head chefs,” he adds. Gary also employed staff who started casually waiting on tables while they were in university who have now diversified. Some have even done a hospitality degree and ended up running the hotels. “There was a really great career path and a trajectory from the beginning. If you’re a people person if you love hospitality, then it will be very good to you.” 3. “Find out what works best with which people” Gary has worked in both small restaurants and big hotels in several different countries. The secret, according to him, is blending in and learning along the way. “You have to be somewhat like a chameleon: draw on those managerial experiences and your own resources to be able to find out what works best with which people.” The key to having people stay is having genuine conversations about where they see themselves going and adapting your management style to deliver that.  He continues, “Generally, I also find that people don’t necessarily work for a particular company. Although that definitely has a bearing but they’ll work for leaders that they respect, appreciate, and trust. That’s the big key.” 4. “Back up your intuition with big data analytics” “Culture is integral and I believe very much so in any service industry, especially in the hospitality business, if you have a progressive, dynamic, cohesive culture then you generally have a pretty healthy business,” he reflects. But spreadsheets and numbers can only tell you so much. “I also believe that from time to time deep data analytics is no substitute for intuition. You can back up your intuition with some big data analytics and it’ll give you a pretty good indication of how the business is traveling.” According to Gary, having both data and intuition honed by being on the frontline will give you a much better grasp of business culture and progress. Read more: Four Ways to Keep your Managers on the Frontline 5. “It’s better to train people regardless of their length of stay” “Training is not cheap but it’s better to have better to train people and have them not stay for a long time, rather than not train them and have them stay for a long time,” Gary says. “The most important part is definitely having somebody there that can that can mentor that new person coming,” he continues. “We’ve all been there. We’ve all started the new job and it could be a pretty nervous time. If you’ve got somebody that can look after that person at least for the first three weeks, and then follow it up yourself. And in the first quarter, make sure that you actually sit down with them. There might only be 15 minutes but it is a valuable piece of time and investment that you’ll make for that person.” He believes the best and most efficient way is to identify the people who can deliver culture, skills, and competencies that you need in a role and buddy them up with new hires. This is part of an effective onboarding process that any company should invest in. Good employee onboarding helps them perform better and determines whether or not they will stay with the company. “I generally find if you get those people through and they enjoy the first three months, you have them for three years or even longer. So that to me would be the best advice I give anybody if they’re having a high turnover [rate].” Free download: In this Tanda eBook, we discuss why onboarding matters and present a complete onboarding checklist for employers, including a way to measure success! Mentoring the next generation is success Gary Johnson’s decades of international experience in the hospitality industry is instrumental to managing hotels and training new industry leaders. At the heart of it is his people-centered vision of management. The culture of taking care of clients starts with taking care of your own employees. “You can tell people what to do and you’ll get workers. But if you show people what to do, if you mentor them, develop them, and get to know them even better and then trust them, you get leaders,” he concludes. “I think the mark of success of any good leader should be in developing other leaders, and that’s what we’re all about.” Want to manage your hospitality business better? Looking for ways to change the game in your industry? Learn from Gary Johnson and other topnotch speakers at the Workforce Success Conference on 26 July 2019. Get your tickets now!

“Anywhere and everywhere you go, people need hospitality people. So it’s kind of like a ticket to ride, it gives you a fantastic experience to not only travel through different cities or countries for that matter, but along the way, you get the skills, you gather experiences, you gather knowledge,” says Gary Johnson, National Food Manager for Spirit Hotels. From his first job working at the back of the house, he is now an internationally recognised and award-winning chef. With over 40 years of culinary experience and leadership in restaurants, pubs and hotels, he is a force to be reckoned with in hospitality management.

Managing Chefs, delivering hospitality

“Hospitality is as diverse as it is a potpourri not only of different dishes, skills, nationalities,” Gary shares, “but any country, anywhere you go, everybody loves great food and everybody loves hospitality.” Drawing on his vast experience, this 2011 Australian Hotel Association (AHA) “National Chef of the Year” currently manages 88 hotels nationally. With thousands of staff, 5 million meals, and $80 million of food sales annually, how does he keep up? Below are Gary Johnson’s five tips for success in managing chefs and making the most out of the hospitality industry.

1. “Trust always comes back to you”

“I believe that if you give people the respect that they deserve, it always comes back to you,” he begins. Gary’s collaborative management style is hinged on honest communication with his teams. He wants them to understand how important their roles are and trust them to get the job done. “Some of the chefs can misbehave [but] they’re the ones that don’t last very long in our industry. They probably don’t get the best out of their people in the long term anyway. And if it’s only a short-term thing, well you’ve wasted your time and money so that can only end in sadness,” he quips.

Read more: Revolutionising Employee Engagement with Pragmatic Thinking’s Mikey Ellis

farm-online-gary-johnson-red-meat-2018-canberra

Chef Gary Johnson (middle) with Chef Kenneth Bryce (left) and Sam Burke (right) at Red Meat 2018 in Canberra. Source: Farm Online

2. “Understand what people want from the leadership team”

A 2017 survey from hospitality software provider Impos found that more than half of Australian businesses had difficulty hiring and retaining staff. Gary had the same experience when he first joined the Spirit Hotels group. “We had a turnover of around 150%. Katrina Gill in the HR department and I put plans together instead of wasting time and money from both sides of the fence. We really got down to being in touch with our people and learning how to understand what they wanted from us as a leadership team and what the business could give back to them long-term for their careers,” he says. Now their turnover rate is hovering at 40%, a huge improvement from what it used to be.

Read more: How to Achieve Culture by Design with Career Culture Lab’s Amanda Lutvey

“In the seven and a half years that I’ve been with the [Spirit Hotels] group we still have the same people who started as kitchen hands who are now head chefs,” he adds. Gary also employed staff who started casually waiting on tables while they were in university who have now diversified. Some have even done a hospitality degree and ended up running the hotels. “There was a really great career path and a trajectory from the beginning. If you’re a people person if you love hospitality, then it will be very good to you.”

3. “Find out what works best with
which people”

Gary has worked in both small restaurants and big hotels in several different countries. The secret, according to him, is blending in and learning along the way. “You have to be somewhat like a chameleon: draw on those managerial experiences and your own resources to be able to find out what works best with which people.”

The key to having people stay is having genuine conversations about where they see themselves going and adapting your management style to deliver that.  He continues, “Generally, I also find that people don’t necessarily work for a particular company. Although that definitely has a bearing but they’ll work for leaders that they respect, appreciate, and trust. That’s the big key.”

4. “Back up your intuition with big data analytics”

“Culture is integral and I believe very much so in any service industry, especially in the hospitality business, if you have a progressive, dynamic, cohesive culture then you generally have a pretty healthy business,” he reflects. But spreadsheets and numbers can only tell you so much. “I also believe that from time to time deep data analytics is no substitute for intuition. You can back up your intuition with some big data analytics and it’ll give you a pretty good indication of how the business is traveling.” According to Gary, having both data and intuition honed by being on the frontline will give you a much better grasp of business culture and progress.

Read more: Four Ways to Keep your Managers on the Frontline

5. “It’s better to train people regardless of their length of stay”

“Training is not cheap but it’s better to have better to train people and have them not stay for a long time, rather than not train them and have them stay for a long time,” Gary says. “The most important part is definitely having somebody there that can that can mentor that new person coming,” he continues. “We’ve all been there. We’ve all started the new job and it could be a pretty nervous time. If you’ve got somebody that can look after that person at least for the first three weeks, and then follow it up yourself. And in the first quarter, make sure that you actually sit down with them. There might only be 15 minutes but it is a valuable piece of time and investment that you’ll make for that person.”

He believes the best and most efficient way is to identify the people who can deliver culture, skills, and competencies that you need in a role and buddy them up with new hires. This is part of an effective onboarding process that any company should invest in. Good employee onboarding helps them perform better and determines whether or not they will stay with the company. “I generally find if you get those people through and they enjoy the first three months, you have them for three years or even longer. So that to me would be the best advice I give anybody if they’re having a high turnover [rate].”

tanda-onboarding-ebook

Free download: In this Tanda eBook, we discuss why onboarding matters and present a complete onboarding checklist for employers, including a way to measure success!

Mentoring the next generation is success

Gary Johnson’s decades of international experience in the hospitality industry is instrumental to managing hotels and training new industry leaders. At the heart of it is his people-centered vision of management. The culture of taking care of clients starts with taking care of your own employees. “You can tell people what to do and you’ll get workers. But if you show people what to do, if you mentor them, develop them, and get to know them even better and then trust them, you get leaders,” he concludes.

“I think the mark of success of any good leader should be in developing other leaders, and that’s what we’re all about.”

Want to manage your hospitality business better? Looking for ways to change the game in your industry? Learn from Gary Johnson and other topnotch speakers at the Workforce Success Conference on 26 July 2019. Get your tickets now!

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How to Serve 200 Customers Daily in an 8-seat Restaurant

Breaking down the cost of eating a fine meal there’s a lot you pay for on top of the transactional value of buying and preparing food. Being waited on in an architecturally designed restaurant in a prime location is great. But what if you want the same quality food without the premium price? As the case goes for Australia, to get a fine dining meal here, you’ll also be paying for self-inflicted operational inefficiencies. We’re largely talking: Capital and operational expenses of having a large fancy venue Staff who perform various activities that don’t directly pertain to the preparation of food Time consumed in a long seated meal that prevents the venue from turning over the table several times during service But this isn’t the case in many places of the world – I recently travelled to Japan where I discovered good food can be purely transaction. It’s usually in an alleyway and the people who greet you also cook your food. In Japan, many well-regarded restaurants have no front of house staff at all. Many don’t have a human taking your order. Here’s one example I encountered: I picked this example because it has a western counterpart – a high-end steak restaurant. The place is called Le Monde, located in Shinjuku, and it’s tiny. There’s 3 staff, there’s no time of the day that doesn’t have a line and the dining room has 8 seats. Here’s how they do it Eliminate menu choice. What do you want? We have steak, steak, and steak. There is no question as to what you’re ordering. It’s going to be steak and it will be cooked medium-rare. The only question is what cut you will be ordering. Each steak comes with an exact amount of thick cut potato chips, a small number of greens and a tiny amount of rice. The result is an ultra-low wastage restaurant with a hyper-efficient kitchen process. Efficient design. This place is evidence that if you design your restaurant with the efficiency of a Toyota plant you can serve up high-value food at a low price. Those waiting outside observe the menu, the one front of house team member takes your order at the door. You then progress to a standing line inside. The chefs watch the progress of seated customers and line up the steaks to match the inside line of customers. A perfectly timed steak hits the grill, you simply sit and a steak goes directly from the grill to a plate in front of you within 30 seconds. You then leave promptly after finishing your meal because people are looking at you waiting for your seat. Here’s a technical diagram I put together in the early hours of the morning: No time for talking. There’s dead silence in this restaurant. The feel is part fine dining restaurant with quiet jazz music and a little bit like a solemn funeral. You sit, you eat, you leave. This is in part because you’re eating to an audience of other people waiting for your seat. Never an empty seat. Empty seats are dead money. Hospitality operators pay for the seat and the square meter it sits on for one reason – to make money from it. By having a small footprint, every seat makes money. Restaurant wastage comes in many forms, and ultimately the consumer pays for it somehow. The same goes for wasted seats and square meters, if you’re eating in an empty restaurant there are only two options: you’re either paying for the empty seats in your meal price or the operator is going backward. I walked past at all hours of the day and never observed this place without a line to get a seat. Aces in their places. Unlike my fellow diners who looked down at their meal and only looked up to pay, I took a good look at how the kitchen operated. The simplicity created insane efficiency. Everything had its place and each meal was prepared like clockwork. All perfect. Always on time. Here’s the staff setup: 1x FOH staff member takes care of the dining room, takes orders and prints the bill. 1x Chef manages the grill. They observe the eating progress of seated customers and ensure everything is ready to go in order of those in line. 1x Chef manages the sides and plating, and everything else that happens in the kitchen. Insane value. This is a subjective statement but rings true if your goal though is to eat fine dining food at takeaway prices. This is achieved by eliminating all of the activities that are non-value adding to you getting a quality steak cheap and fast. The result: a restaurant quality steak for a fast food price. It’s a place where well off business people and broke backpackers eat side by side. Something you won’t see often in Australia.

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About the author

Rosie Ramirez

Our team's goal is to provide practical advice for business owners and managers across industries.

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This one is looking at all you Food Produce and Hospitality business owners out there in the Tandaverse. It has been announced that the Senate will launch an inquiry into the Australian Wine Industry. Tanda users in wine country, also known as South Australia, may have already heard South Australian Senator Anne Ruston moved for […]

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Knowing when staff are working is one thing, but knowing that staff are qualified and competent can add a huge reassurance for employers. Industries such as hospitality, childcare and medical services are required to track staff qualifications to meet legal compliance regulations. In addition to recording staff qualifications, childcare centres are required to display staff […]

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How to Serve 200 Customers Daily in an 8-seat Restaurant

Breaking down the cost of eating a fine meal there’s a lot you pay for on top of the transactional value of buying and preparing food. Being waited on in an architecturally designed restaurant in a prime location is great. But what if you want the same quality food without the premium price? As the […]

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