Executive Restaurateurs Tout ‘People Skills’ as Managers’ Keys to Success

PULLMAN, Wash. — Their message was unanimous. Speakers and panelists at the recent
14th Annual Donald I. Smith Chain Restaurant Management Conference agreed. Honing skills to
better understand and honor people — whether they’re your customers or your employees —
could well be the most powerful tool for managers in the restaurant industry today and
Build trust. Compete to win. Make each encounter positive. Use technology to tackle tough
jobs, like scheduling. Learn to listen. (Learn to listen better.) Foster creativity among your staff.
These admonitions were heard last week by an audience of more than 100 restaurant
managers from as near as Moscow, Idaho, and as far as North Carolina, and Hotel & Restaurant
Administration (HRA) majors at Washington State University. Delivering the news was a
dynamic set of hospitality professionals and effectiveness trainers with hundreds of years of
executive experience among them.
“This was a tremendous gathering of some of the most successful and influential leaders in
the restaurant business, and their messages were powerful and insightful,” commented W. Terry
Umbreit, WSU HRA director. “It is always our pleasure to host the conference. We have to again
tip our hats to Don Smith and Charles Bernstein for pulling together such a fine group of guest
speakers.” Smith, for whom the conference is named, is an internationally-renowned hospitality
expert, and a popular and energetic professor retired from the WSU hospitality program.
Bernstein is editor-at-large of Chain Leader Magazine who has been involved with the
conference for many years.
Guest speakers included the National Restaurant Association Chairman Joseph Fassler,
president and CEO of Restaura, Inc.; Stephen Elmont, consulting principal, Technomic, Inc.; Ted
Fowler, president and CEO, Golden Corral Corp.; Molly Hancock, COO of Consolidated
Restaurants, Inc.; and William J. Post, founder, president and COO, It’s New York — An Amazing
Eatery. Other speakers and panelists were John Alexander, president, CBORD Group; Tom
Champoux, VP, The Effectiveness Institute; and John Nye, executive chef, Cucina! Cucina!
During panel discussions, questions posed by Bernstein and Smith sparked friendly
interchange between guests and the audience. “Is there a place for computers in hospitality?”
was answered by most with a solid “Yes!” though Hancock’s response, “Technology can be
your best friend or worst enemy!” drew both laughs and applause from listeners. Smith
expressed concern over potential Y2K computer issues when the new millenium arrives. And,
points made by Bill Main about differences between Baby Boomer managers and Generation X
employees were revisited. WSU HRA students were eager to point out that they reject being
categorized as “Generation Xers” with generalized qualities and faults. “If anything, I’d call us
Generation Why, because we are willing to ask for what we want or want to know,” said one
In response to a question, HRA senior Jim Harbour said the three things he’ll look for in an
employer are a chance to grow and be creative, a feeling of belonging and involvement, and the
opportunity to live near his parents and family. His comments neatly summarized many of the
points made during the conference — namely, the importance as of valuing people, their needs,
and wishes, as hospitality professionals and patrons heading into the 21st Century.