3 Tips for Finding the Right Mentor in the Restaurant Industry

The right mentor makes all the difference in any industry, the restaurant industry included. In fact, these relationships can be the most powerful in business, transforming companies and changing lives. 

As John Crosby said, “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”

Have you found that one person to help you over the hurdles every person in hospitality must someday cross? If you’re unsure where to start in your search for the elusive mentor, let these three tips be your guide.

Examples of Mentors Who Made a Difference

Richard Branson mentioned the importance of his mentor, Sir Freddie Laker, the pioneer of low-cost air travel. Mike Markkula, an angel investor in Apple, took a liking to Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs and was so highly regarded he found a spot in Jobs’ biography.

We don’t really know what tidbits of information our mentors may share that spark a change and makes all the difference in our enterprise. For instance, when Mark Zuckerberg hit a rough patch in the early days of Facebook, he went to Steve Jobs who suggested he reconnect with his primary vision and the mission of his company. 

To do this, he suggested he go to a temple in India that Jobs had visited during the early stages of Apple when he was looking for his future vision. That trip set the stage for the evolution of Facebook.

Where Have All the Good Mentors Gone?

Did you know that nine out of ten restaurant managers started out in restaurants at the entry level? Whether a line cook, barback, or host, someone saw their potential and nurtured it. Yet today, some in the industry suggest we have a mentor deficit. 

Even venture capital funding, while not a mentor by any means, shows a slowdown in the restaurant industry. According to Food Dive, Venture Capital Funding for food and beverage startups is down significantly. Approximately 1,030 transactions raised about $1 billion in the first quarter of 2023. This same time last year saw 1,349 deals totaling $1.3 billion. 

The decline may be in response to the challenges facing the global economy, the rising interest rates, and, of course, the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank didn’t help. The result is increasingly cautious investors prioritizing established brands. 

Finding Your Mentor 

  • Your Future Self

What drives your passion? Is it in the BOH creating unique food pairings or optimizing the guest experience in the FOH? Have you set your sights on a restaurant to call your own, or are you working your way up the ladder with the goal of GM? The first step is determining your direction and choosing a mentor with practical experience in that field. 

  • Research

Behind every great manager, operator, owner, and chef is almost always, without a doubt, a mentor. Gordon Ramsay’s mentor was Marco Pierre White, a British chef, and restauranteur known for his fiery temper. Surprise!

He met him on the front lines, as many mentees do. If there’s no one that inspires you in your current place of employment or business, explore the local scene. Is there someone who has successfully traversed the same rocky slope and achieved similar goals that you’re aiming for? Their advice could be invaluable, such as the right words, connections, or encouragement that help you rise above the competition and run a successful restaurant.

Remember, your mentor should possess the skills you want to emulate.

  • Ask

Sounds simple, right? Claim your vision, research possibilities, and then ask. Yet, this last and most important step often causes procrastination that slows down the manifestation of your dreams. Why is it so hard to ask for help? 

According to Psychology Today, the number one reason people don’t ask is because they don’t want to be a burden. Yet, how often have you helped someone and felt a little pep in your step? Helping brings happiness, and most people, though they may come off as extraordinarily brusk, consider becoming a mentor a confirmation of their own achievements. 

Be clear and specific, and make sure to ask when the person’s relaxed and not in the midst of a frantic service. Then, should they say no, don’t take it personally. Guess what? There are over 14 million restaurant employees and about 750,000 restaurants.

Many of you have heard the success story surrounding KFC and Colonel Sanders. It does, however, bear repeating. At 65, he was broke, living off $99 social security checks, and decided it was time for a change. He went to restaurants, offering his chicken recipe for free in return for a small percentage of sold items. He was rejected over 1,000 times before he got his first yes. And the rest is history. The moral of the story? There is a “yes” in your future as long as you persist.

EMERGING’s division, EMERGING Fund, was founded to invest and partner with leading entrepreneurs in restaurants and restaurant technology. We provide funding and the support and mentorship designed to help emerging brands transcend the hurdles we’ve all encountered and achieve success through innovation and collaboration. To learn more about the EMERGING Fund, set up a discovery call today.

  • Subscribe to our latest insights


Are you capital raise ready?