Will Guidara

Will Guidara

Restaurateur & Author of "Unreasonable Hospitality"

Inviting people into the creative process and giving them a genuine ability to contribute in the direction you are going is the most effective way for a team to remain inspired.

Hospitality is the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. When I was 12, my dad had me come up with a to do list of things I wanted to accomplish in life. The first two things on the list were that I wanted to go to Cornell's Hotel School and I wanted to own my own restaurant in New York City. I grew up going to work with him, and from a very early age I was enchanted by the energy of restaurants and always knew that I wanted to be a part of it.
My dad always told me to reach for the stars, but to understand that getting there would take time. He gave me a paperweight that read “What would you attempt to do if you could not fail?” He always encouraged me to have the confidence to answer that question honestly. I’ve found that so few people will even ask themselves this question. If you do, even if you don’t achieve it, you will get very far down the road just for even having tried.
My dad was very disciplined in making sure that I never tried to skip steps along the way. Because it was very important to him that I saw enough seasons pass at every position along the journey. It resulted in me (A) having a very strong foundation and (B) having the right amount of empathy for the people who ended up working for me in the future because I had spent real time walking in their shoes.
When picking jobs, the most important thing to consider is not the company, not the brand, not the job itself, but the individual who you will be working for and learning from.
In my career, as often as possible, if I could put myself in a position where I was learning from a great leader, I’d be moving in the right direction.
Most of what you learn in a job is not transferrable. Everyone does different things in different ways, but learning to be a great leader is evergreen, you can take that with you wherever you go.
When you’re looking for a partner, you want to find someone you connect with, someone you trust, someone who has integrity and passion. When you hire someone, even though it’s a different kind of relationship, it’s still a relationship, and I think the same approach needs to apply.
The moment your creative side is activated, two things happen: (1) work becomes more energizing and less depleting, because creativity is one of the most energizing things in the world, and (2) people are so much more willing to work hard when to help deliver an experience at the highest level if they had a hand in defining what that experience is.
When you make the choice to be in the hospitality industry, you’re in the business of giving people gifts constantly. And I don’t think anything feels better than the look of complete joy on someone’s face when they receive a gift that you are responsible for giving them.
I find inspiration everywhere. My dad used to always say, “keep your eyes peeled.” I believe if you do keep your eyes peeled, you’ll see moments of inspiration all around you. There are so many beautiful things that happen outside of our industry that can inspire what happens inside our industry, if you are constantly open to those things.
In a restaurant you spend so much time within your walls you can get disconnected from what is going on in the world, while at the same time it’s basically part of our job description that you’re meant to know what’s happening in the world. Personally, I love listening to podcasts to stay current, it’s a thing that I do when I get in my car. I drive places frequently and I know in that time, that is my practice. No matter what you do to keep learning, you need to make it into a practice and do it consistently. A couple of my favorite podcasts are “The Next Big Idea” and “The Journal”.
When I find myself with extra space and time, I love reading. Recently my reading list has included “Culture Code” by Dan Coyle and “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. I also love books by those who challenge what I think about strategy, culture and leadership, including Seth Godin, Simon Sinek and Roger Martin.
There are so many books about how to be a better cook, but I’ve found that there aren’t many industry specific books for hospitality. I obviously love “Setting the Table” by Danny Meyer. My entire philosophy of hospitality is built on the foundation that Danny Meyer gave me during my years working for him. My book, “Unreasonable Hospitality” doesn’t exist without everything I learned from Danny. My hope is that in the next five, six, or seven years, the ideas in my book are not considered to be unreasonable any more and to me would be the book was a great success.
I believe the craft of hospitality is a muscle you can strengthen. If I can help others to strengthen their hospitality muscle by sharing all of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my career working at amazing restaurants and for amazing people, that would be something I would be really proud to achieve.
I believe a restaurant’s ability to put hospitality at the center of every decision it makes is truly the thing of what separates the great ones from the pack.
As Danny Meyer says, “Hospitality is a team sport.” I don’t think there is a single thing in my career that I could not have done without a team. It’s why I love this business so much. I don’t love working alone. When I look at any meaningful accomplishment I’ve had, I can picture the group of people sitting around the metaphorical table that helped make that possible. When I see people taking individual credit it makes me sad, because in our industry there is not such thing as an individual accomplishment — and that’s the coolest thing about it.
To provide an inclusive environment for my team, the biggest thing I can do as a leader is to create a culture where feedback is normalized. Where people can seek out both praise and criticism.
Family is far too often used as a platitude in this industry and not often embodied. Thinking back, my dad was always there to catch me when I fell, to praise me when I succeeded and to hold me accountable when I was led astray. He wanted to love me and help me be the best version of myself. And so, I think if you want your team to feel as much like a family as possible — and it will never be a family, it’s a workplace — the best things you can do are to provide affirmations through praise and to invest in people through criticism.
When a restaurant struggles or is faced with adversity, sometimes it is because of a mistake made by its leader. I think the most powerful opportunity that is presented to a leader when this happens, is to be able to stand up in front of your whole team and apologize for having made that mistake. People are so much more willing to receive criticism from you if you are willing to criticize yourself. When a leader says “I’m sorry” to a whole team and can express vulnerability, it strengthens their role as a leader in ways that are impossible to articulate.
I don’t try to maintain a firm separation between work and life because then I always feel some amount of guilt when I am pursuing one and not the other. Instead, I let the two flow into one another because there’s so much about each that is rooted in the other.
I’ve also recognized what my oxygen is — what I need to do as an individual to fill up my gas tank. I make sure to create space so that I can give myself the grace to do those things. For example, I like to binge-watch television and eat Chinese food, alone, once in a while. That fills up my gas tank. I don’t feel lazy when I do it, because I know that I need to do it in order to have the energy to do everything else that I do.
People often look outside of work for ways to not burn out, I try to create the kind of moments inside the restaurants that energize me instead of the ones that deplete me — it’s the entire thesis of my book, “Unreasonable Hospitality.” If you create a culture where you and your team have the permission and resources to go above and beyond in fun, creative and unreasonable ways for one another and the people who you serve, that is one of the most energizing things you can do.

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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