Leadership Stories: 7 ways to make your restaurant a success

  • 03 Mar 2020

For years, hospitality businesses have used textbook methods to grow and achieve success. In a dwindling economy and a competitive marketplace, these methods may not be enough any more. With so many operations closing every year, it’s time to think outside the box. We recently attended the Eliotts and Propel Leadership Summit, where a select group of the sector’s most experienced leaders shared their leadership stories and recommendations for success.

 ‘Taking the legwork out of leadership’.

Jonathan Arana Morton, Co-Founder of The Breakfast Club

Giving back to employees and the community.  Jonathan’s leadership story revolved around the concept of giving back. Staff members swept the streets outside early one morning. When the street sweeper arrived for work he could then sit and enjoy a breakfast with the team. The business holds regular events at their sites for LGBT groups to connect. Charity work, team events (cycling, running, tough mudder, etc) are all things that the company has done to raise money and build team moral. The recognition that customers are the most important stakeholder to the business is never overlooked. Going above and beyond, showing gratitude, love and care was the most common theme throughout the day.

Being hands on and down to earth with a fantastic team around you.  Jumping in with service teams and just listening to staff and guests made a huge difference at The Breakfast Club. Jonathan would often go to his restaurants, stand in the queues and help the service teams out. He believes that giving back to the team is the best way to learn from them. By constantly asking for feedback on how he was doing as a leader, both negative and positive, he developed a new ethos: without a great team around you, nothing will get done.

Create a winning Culture, make a difference in society’.

Ken McMeikan, Chief Executive of Moto

Action and Reaction –  Ken’s leadership story focussed on keeping in touch and collecting feedback. ‘Pulse questionnaires’ on shop floors enabled the collection of vital information about how the business was performing, from both a customer and staff perspective. This allowed him and the board to make key business decisions, staying innovative through customer and staff feedback. Having carried out this exercise at Greggs, he managed to help grow the company to the largest high-street baker in the UK. 

Listening deeply- “you’ve got 2 ears and one mouth, use them in them proportion” There should be a priority placed on listening to people within the organisation, in order to be successful.

‘Creating culture at Dishoom’

Shamil Thakrar, Co-founder of Dishoom

Culture of the business – Shamil discussed the importance of a strong company culture running through the veins of the business. Through gratitude, selfless service and giving back, staff are focussed on the tasks in hand. When they do their jobs collectively, the business runs smoothly as a whole, creating a constant culture of cohesiveness and belonging.

‘Leadership lessons from a Playbarn’.

Alistair Darby, Chief Executive of SA Brain

Communication is key. Alistair Darby told an interesting leadership story. The board was divided on how best to proceed with the renovation of their sites.  Faced with a choice of spending £250,000 on a new playbarn or £100,000 on a new kitchen in each location, half of the board agreed that playbarns were a good idea and the other half were very much against.

In order to get further insight, they held a discussion session with mums to gauge their views about the value of playbarns for families when visiting SA Brain sites.  Whilst all the mums asked thought they were a great idea, further questioning revealed that the main reason parents were enthusiastic about the playbarn concept was that their children get agitated while waiting for their food. The answer: get the food to the tables faster!

As a result of this research, SA Brain took the decision to remove 40 playbarns from their sites and invest in their kitchens instead. Chefs were able to get food out faster, allowing families to enjoy a meal together, thus increasing guest satisfaction. A key lesson learned within SA Brain was that ‘simplicity is key and there is no monopoly on great ideas’. Through communication with guests, SA Brain were able to save money on investment and increase guest satisfaction.

An interview with Ann Elliott on the role of leadership in innovation’

Emma Woods, Chief Executive of Wagamama

Continuous improvement.  By empowering central decision makers, the levels of innovation can increase due to increased levels of responsibility and communication.


About the event….

The day was run and organised by Anne Elliott (Chief Executive of Elliotts) who brought together key influencers in the industry to share their leadership stories. The event was attended by Founders, Managing Directors and Chief Executives from different verticals in the industry highlighted below:

  • Ken McMeikan, Chief Executive of Moto discussing how to Create a winning Culture, make a difference in society’.
  • Alexa Reid, Managing Director of Nobel Organisation discussing ‘Empowering individuals to create a cohesive team’
  • Shamil Thakrar, Co-founder of Dishoom discussing ‘Creating culture at Dishoom’
  • Chris Jowsey, Chief Executive of Admiral Taverns discussing ‘The importance of being open in a changing world!’
  • Emma Woods, Chief Executive of Wagamama ‘An interview with Ann Elliott on the role of leadership in innovation’
  • Jonathan Arana Morton, Co-Founder of The Breakfast Club discussing ‘Taking the legwork out of leadership’
  • Jonathan Recanti, Co-founder of Farmer J discussing ‘Starting with a great idea’
  • Alistair Darby, Chief Executive of SA Brain discussing ‘Leadership lessons from a Playbarn’
  • Penny Manuel, Managing Director of Soho Coffee discussing how ‘Women make better leaders than men’
  • Shane Kavanagh, Chief Executive of Crussh discussing ‘Leadership and extensive change- lessons learnt’

Find out more…


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