A lot of people have asked me: why restaurants? I’ve thought about that question deeply during my 25 years in the industry. I have even asked myself, “Why restaurants?” when my servers did no-call no-shows, a kitchen fire shuttered one of my concepts, or I drowned in tickets on the line. Working in restaurants is messy, stressful, and often thankless work. But it’s also incredibly rewarding and one of the most fun ways to get a paycheck.

I fell in love with restaurants at a young age, but it’s a relationship that has evolved over time as I gained experience. I’ve become more pragmatic, sure, but I’ve also become more passionate and proud to be a part of the industry. My uncle Edward owned and operated multiple trendy restaurants in Soho and Tribeca. I saw, in him, the prototype for who I wanted to be. I grew up in Cincinnati, where my Dad loved to take us out for dinner to the best restaurants in town. They weren’t always the fanciest. From chili parlors to triple-decker sandwich shops to steakhouses, our favorites were those who knew us and took great care of us. This is when I started to understand that hospitality is all about how you make people feel.

Restaurants have a buzz unrivaled by any desk job. I was a server, busser, and food runner, an all-around fixture in the front-of-house. My first gig was at Montgomery Inn during high school. I was so green, but I recognized the great culture and successful operation that made it a popular Cincinnati restaurant. Domenico Germano and his son, David, gave me my first fine dining job at 19 under the incorrect assumption I was 21. Every night, we had to recite all 8 specials. I learned the importance of staff training and how it’s tied to revenue. The more (higher price) specials we sold, the higher our tips would be, and the more revenue for the business.

While I rarely attended the wine tastings, I spent many nights with Domenico and his team for a family meal. I locked in on the independently owned and operated idea and saw it as the only way I wanted to run a restaurant. I wanted to be close with my staff and make it feel like family. Later on, I realized it’s got to be a business first in order to take care of that family.

I knew I wanted to open a restaurant one day and that kitchen expertise would be a prerequisite. I’ve never wanted to be the hands-off owner who signs the checks and then leaves. While I have always loved cooking at home, I didn’t consider myself a professional in the kitchen. From my first role in the back-of-house, it felt like a homecoming. I learned the back-of-house essentials at Johnson & Wales University’s culinary school, followed by hands-on experience in San Francisco restaurants. Together, those two experiences gave me the instrumental skills and know-how I needed to open my own successful restaurant, Maverick, in 2005.

There’s so much about opening and running a restaurant that you can only learn from experience. It’s hard to know how important kitchen layout is until you’ve elbowed the prep cook while handling a hot pan. Or understand the mental (and physical) toughness that goes into Mother’s Day Brunch. And while the restaurant industry has changed dramatically since my early server days in Cincinnati, the core challenge has stayed the same. How to create a superior guest experience while still turning a profit?

Restaurant technology has expanded the operators’ toolbox. But it’s no cure-all. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated your handheld POS system or online ordering is if your guests aren’t into it. When I was running Hi Lo BBQ, a barbecue restaurant in San Francisco, we opened with counter service. We read the reviews, asked for feedback, and delivered what our guests wanted: table service and a reservation system. It wasn't easy, but we built a bar, retrained our staff, and created a new restaurant nearly overnight. Our flexibility and willingness to appease our guests helped us find a more secure path toward a winning concept.

From my first day of restaurant employment, I knew I’d work in, around, and for restaurants for the rest of my career. I’ve stuck to that promise. At SpotOn, I’m the Restaurateur-in-Residence. It’s a fancy title that means I get to talk shop with restaurant folks all day long, helping create technology that moves the needle in their operations. Whether that’s restaurant scheduling software or marketing automation tools, it always comes down to the same goals: saving time, controlling costs, increasing sales, and creating a knockout guest experience. I work with our Restaurant Advisory Council and brand ambassadors to ensure our products meet the challenges and opportunities that restaurants face today and in the future.

I love spending every day connecting with restaurateurs and encouraging collaboration between operators across the country. It’s energizing work. It might not all be sunshine and rainbows and 5-star reviews, but seeing people come together to solve kitchen inefficiencies or brainstorm how to convert third-party ordering customers makes me optimistic about the future of hospitality.

Knowledge-sharing in the restaurant industry is part of survival. As long as there are spaces for restaurateurs to share their experiences, there’s room for growth. In that spirit, I’ll share what I've learned as chef-owner of three award-winning San Francisco restaurants and conversations with today’s operators. This includes my Bite-Size Advice videos that explore all the nooks and crannies of a restaurant’s operations, from the dreaded foamy beer to how to not lose your mind updating a menu. They’re bite-size, but don’t let the portion fool you. I know firsthand how a little advice can go a long way in a restaurant.

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