Kayla Morrison

Kayla Morrison

Director of Operations at Ballyhoo Hospitality

The opportunity to help shape young people into better leaders everyday inspires me to continue in this industry. I chose this career very deliberately and each time that someone looks at me with a little twinkle in their eye and says, "I think I want to be a restaurant manager/a GM/a Beverage Director/etc.," I all but jump out of my seat and start crafting a plan on how we can get them there.

Such a small thing, but a big thing; a mentor, COO Mike O'Donnell of Cunningham Restaurant Group (Indianapolis), told me: "For however long you plan to speak, that's how long you should plan." So for me this applied to everything. If I was hosting an hour-long meeting, then I spent at least an hour preparing for that meeting. 15-minute pre-shift, I better be planning for 15 minutes, and so forth. It just gave me such an easy perspective on how to best captivate and inspire my team by having a clear and confident voice.
I started this career so very young. If we take it all the way back, I was slinging Blizzards at Dairy Queen at 15 years old. I'd like to think this is where I got my first taste of bartending! However, I started in my first full-service restaurant just a year later and never looked back. I was addicted to it. The excitement, the chaos, the challenge, the connection. It all fed me in a way that I don't feel I could get anywhere else. I have always said that the best hospitality people are those who are nourished by nourishing others, and that nourishment takes many forms other than food.
I never left a job without knowing it was a step up or a step toward a goal. Sometimes that left me in positions I didn't always love, but I found ways to learn in each of them. Having a sightline of what you hope your path to be is vital, even if that evolves over time.
There are certain administrative skills that are crucial to spinning as many plates as we do. Being highly organized and being able to communicate clearly and effectively across multiple mediums contributes to my success, but ultimately, we're in the people business. Our jobs are to connect and get emotional buy-in from our teams so we can build trust to push them and grow them. And that's really it. The job is about being a mentor and creating future leaders.
When interviewing, I always look for humility with grace. If I ask you a question and you don't know the answer, I want to see you smile or laugh through it. It's impossible to know everything, but I want to see if you're willing to learn.
I spend a great deal of time thinking. I carve time out to just think about how to be better, for myself or for my team. It could be as simple as not listening to a podcast or music in the car and just giving myself a little windshield time to reflect. In those moments, I'm honest with myself on where I'm failing and how I can be better. It's generally where I come up with my most outlandish (sometimes genius) ideas. Having a sense of direction and control over creating positive impact keeps me motivated.
I have found a new hospitality anthem in Will Guidara's “Unreasonable Hospitality.” I think it's everything we can be and should be no matter the concept, price point, or style of service. The ways in which we take care of people are paramount to any other aspect of what we do.
I think my claim to fame in my current role is the one (but not only!) GM outing I planned. Ballyhoo is so fortunate to have all of its locations at an arm's reach, but the GMs weren't as connected as I would have hoped. So I planned some mandatory bonding. Instead of dinner, escape room, or some other played-out adventure, I took them all to Six Flags for a day during Fright Night. And I tell you what - you don't know bonding until you are forced to be vulnerable and hold hands through a haunted house or scream on a roller coaster. That experience took a group of professionals and made them a team.
I have always felt a certain responsibility in forging a path for future female leaders by embodying the strength and kindness it takes to be a leader. I'd like to think I've inspired young women I've mentored to take on leadership roles, in restaurants or otherwise, simply by showing them how it can be done.
I live and die by my calendar. I use Google Calendar invites for EVERYTHING. It's my coping mechanism to know where I need to be, what I need to be doing, and who I am accountable to that day.
I am someone that if the job isn't done, the job isn't done. And that can run you into the ground. Now more than ever, in a Director role, the job is never done. So I've learned that tomorrow is another day to tackle everything on my plate and progress is progress.
I get out in nature on a regular basis. The same challenge and gratification you get from a wild and crazy shift, I get from climbing a mountain. I tend to choose hikes that will likely have me questioning my strength and grit but the feeling of accomplishment when you overcome those physical and mental battles is incredible.
I listen to so many podcasts; lots of TED Talks (TED Radio Hour, TED Talks Daily, etc), Radiolab, Adam Grant, Design Matters and Hidden Brain – I could go on.

Disclaimer: Individuals featured in the Inspirational Career Timelines section have been nominated by peers, colleagues and/or other members of the hospitality industry. It is to the best of our knowledge that each individual has demonstrated leadership and acted as a positive role model for others.

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