Mark Maynard at ICE

Mark Maynard's Restaurant Management Advice

The Union Square Hospitality Group director of operations and co-founder of Porchlight shares insights from his experiences.

Mark Maynard manages the strategy for USHG's bar programming, as well as Cedric’s at The Shed and Porchlight. He launched his career with USHG as a host and reservationist at Union Square Café, when the hospitality group’s founder, Danny Meyer, trained Mark to become the maître d’. He was promoted to general manager before he co-founded Blue Smoke and Jazz Standard in 2002 and was the GM and managing partner for more than a decade.

In 2015, he co-founded Porchlight, a bar in Chelsea, followed by Cedric’s at The Shed this year. He published “The Next Frontier of Restaurant Management: Harnessing Data to Improve Guest Service and Enhance the Employee Experience” in June.

Mark was a guest instructor at ICE for 11 years and has lectured and instructed at Cornell and NYU since. Here, we share the highlights from his success-driven restaurant management advice:

Know what you’re getting into. If you want to open a bakery, go work in a bakery. If you want to open a bar, go work in a bar. Learn who your customer would be. You can do all of this before you spend a dime. Understand the physical place: what’s the weather like, what are the traffic patterns? I walk up and down the streets and avenues to see which way people walk and the demographics of people on the block. At Porchlight, we learned that there are a lot of fashion people in the neighborhood so we tried to have food at lunch based on what people in the fashion industry eat. When we opened Blue Smoke Battery Park City, we realized there’s a huge international clientele that’s also fancy so they don’t want to eat ribs with their hands and get sauce on $2,000 suits.

In life, ask questions: If you pretend that you know something, the contractor is going to make the decision. It’s okay to ask your manager, “what’s your plan for me?” That’s different from I want something or I deserve something. I have gotten a lot better as a leader because people have asked me that over the years.

Think like a guest. Be really honest with yourself. Don’t be so headstrong, be a little cynical. Do a SWAT analysis on yourself and your business: what am I awesome at, what am I terrible at, what am I likely to do?

Try not to focus on concepts or trends. I’m aware of them but I would never ever open a business unless I had passion behind it because then I make it personal. Do it with passion, it if happens to be a trend that’s awesome. The way people buy and the way people eat changes every two years.

Mark Maynard spoke to Restaurant & Culinary Management students at our New York campus.
Mark Maynard spoke to Restaurant & Culinary Management students at our New York campus.

Play offense not defense. I would way rather throw a party every night and figure out how to make that profitable than how to cut costs.

You’re always going to be taking a risk. This business could make you bankrupt. You have to be really aware of that. Whenever we do scenarios — whether it’s for USHG or when I advise people as a consultant — we identify our doomsday scenario. Okay, the doomsday scenario is I’m behind the bar for five nights and the general manager is running food for five nights. If we’re going out of business and the only choice is to fire everyone, can the three of us run this business? It’s reprehensible when people think they’re going to be the owner and not actually be in the business. I don’t care if you’re a chef or an investment banker, you can’t phone it in. You have to do the work.

Consistency is the number one thing that keeps anyone who runs a business up at night. We have to be consistent as leaders too.

Explore a career in Restaurant & Culinary Management at ICE.

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