Guest Speakers

Apr 1, 2020, 2:34
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Guest Speaker: Picking up Straws

07 September 2010

By Mark Molinaro, CEC

guest_sept10When it comes to quality of guest service, the smallest example can make the biggest impression.

Reflecting on the guidance I received from the ladies and gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton has served me well in my 15 years as a cook, chef, teacher and now director. It was a pleasure and a privilege to have been able to work with such passionate and dedicated people whose shared goal was to surprise and delight every guest who walked through our doors.

The Ritz-Carlton culture is a model for excellence in organizational behavior. From the daily line-ups to departmental meetings to hotel-wide seminars, I always felt connected and an important part of the organization. Examples of model leadership, behavior and expectation are expressed throughout the company, from the interactions between individual line employees to the daily briefs that were sent from corporate office.

I recall sitting in a conference room for management training at the leadership center in Buckhead, Ga., when Horst Schulze, the founding president and COO, walked in to speak. Naturally, we were expecting something prophetic to come out of his mouth that would cause us to rise out of our chairs. Instead, he asked us who the most important people in the hotel are. We all looked around the room to see if anyone had a clue what he was talking about. Silence.

He broke the silence by asking, “What do you think would happen in your hotel if I didn’t show up for work tomorrow?” None of us dared say what we knew the answer to be. Thankfully, he supplied it for us. “Nothing. Nothing would happen to your hotels if I didn’t come in to work tomorrow. Now, think what would happen if a line cook or dishwasher or server did not come in. Do you see my point?” We did. The ladies and gentlemen who are closest to the guest are the priority, and our job as leaders was to equip them for greatness while holding the highest standards and creating the culture of The Ritz-Carlton mystique.

Years later as a banquet chef at The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif., I witnessed something that might have been so easily overlooked, and I still refer to it in my classes today. It was a Saturday night and we had three functions going all over the hotel. (I’m sure you can relate.) Two functions were complete, and I was wheeling over the set-up for the third. As I was pushing the cart up the corridor, I saw the general manager ahead of me pick up a drinking straw that was on the floor. When he stood up, he noticed me breathing hard and reached out to give me a hand. I was certainly appreciative of his help, but what later struck me as even more impactful was the example he set by simply picking up that straw. He was a living example of excellence whether or not anyone was looking.

As you go about your busy day inspiring the next generation of foodservice professionals, remember the smallest example can make the biggest impressions. Thank you for all that you do to make our industry great and for teaching everyone how to pick up straws.


Mark Molinaro, CEC, is director of career services at New England Culinary Institute, Montpelier, Vt.