Surprise and Delight: How to Build Better Leaders

There is no single path to success in the restaurant industry. With a passion for service, a keen understanding of people, and genuine support and guidance from industry veterans, an ambitious individual can climb the ranks while making a tremendous impact in their organization each step of the way. 

Training programs are an essential tool for developing these future restaurant leaders, and in an industry where surprise and delights are key components of a memorable experience, a one-size-fits-all approach to learning isn’t going to cut it. With this in mind, The Indigo Road Hospitality Group launched Indigo Road Hospitality U (IRHU). This immersive program forwent traditional corporate training to create a personalized employee experience. 

Attendees were nominated from all levels of the organization. Nominees had to meet certain criteria: They had to have been with The Indigo Road for at least a year and been promoted at least once during that time. This ensured that the Indigo Road team member who earned this esteemed invite had already shown a deep investment in their personal growth in the hospitality industry. 

Our inaugural session of The Indigo Road Hospitality U was a success, and our first group has already begun to leverage their learnings in their day-to-day work. This group also taught us. They helped guide how we shape our approach to training moving forward and taught us how to foster more well-rounded and passionate leaders. 

Show, Don’t Tell

As we were developing IRHU, we decided to take an extremely personalized approach to the program. Each attendee participated in one-on-one sessions with experts in their area of the hospitality industry, learned new skills that were immediately applicable to their work, and even received personalized gifts tailored to their tastes and interests. For instance, one of the students, who is currently a sous chef, was taken by two of our culinary directors to a local farm where he spent one-on-one time learning more about farm-to-table practices that are important to us as a company. The purpose of this was to show, not tell, our leaders-in-training how memorable a bespoke experience could be. They were blown away by our attention to detail.

This lesson is key to success in the restaurant and lodging industries. Every time someone goes out to eat, there’s an opportunity to make that experience exceptional – they’ll either remember it for the rest of their lives, or they’ll forget pretty quickly. We should always aim for the former, and the IRHU leaders-in-training took that lesson to heart.

Start from the Top Down

Successful leadership starts from the top down. The first night of our program included a dinner cooked by our culinary directors and served by our leadership team, including The Indigo Road founder and CEO, Steve Palmer. It was truly servant leadership. Our approach here showed the group that our entire senior team was deeply invested in their success and available to share their knowledge and insights. It also “broke the ice,” so to speak, so that the leaders-in-training felt comfortable making the most of the educational opportunities presented by IRHU.

Teach What Matters

The best training programs spend time on the non-negotiables. There are a lot of gray areas in the hospitality industry, but certain best practices are black-and-white, including realistic budget expectations, learning to be relentless about the direction and integrity of the individual concepts and the company as a whole, and upholding our core values. IRHU focused on ensuring those best practices were well-established and understood by our leaders-in-training so that they felt knowledgeable and comfortable with how The Indigo Road operates. These pillars are something we are always able to go back to. They’re the “why” of what we do. Being able to teach the group what matters most gives them a North Star to follow when they are faced with making a difficult decision on the fly. 

Build Confidence

The single most important thing IRHU instilled in our first group is the knowledge that they could do hard things. We didn’t just offer learnings around work; we also had our trainees attend an early morning exercise class, experience contrast therapy (ice baths and sauna sessions) and participate in mindfulness activities focusing on personal growth to help build confidence.

Pushing people outside their comfort zones and empowering them to make good, sound decisions – by teaching them what matters in a restaurant environment – leads to greater and greater accomplishments. There’s a whole big world out there, and while these skills are critical to professional success, they can also have an enormous impact on our team members’ lives outside of work. We want them to succeed in all areas, not just their jobs!

Make the Benefits Explicit

There are a lot of opportunities in this industry for individuals who want to grow, and this IRHG approach modeled our commitment to growth from within at The Indigo Road.  To really drive this value home, our time together included a one-hour boat ride with our founder, during which the group was encouraged to ask about the company's evolution, its future direction, and the requirements to reach our goals. We didn’t want them to leave without a clear idea of where their career could take them, and there is nothing as motivating as knowing exactly how far you can go.