With two decades in the hospitality field, Ken McGarrie brings a strong background to his position as Principal @ Korgen Hospitality, a nationwide consulting firm dedicated to helping restauranteurs reach their absolute potential. Although an accomplished writer with an impressive list of published works, McGarrie was always drawn to the hospitality field.
In 2001, he moved from his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma and joined the management team at Chicago's Hunt Club nightclub. His five-year success led him to Toronto, where he co-founded Highway 61 Barbeque, featuring live music, award-winning ribs, and Ontario craft beers. After several years, he returned to the U.S. to join TopGolf and was rapidly promoted to National Director of Operations. While there, he sourced Hospitality Quotient, a consulting company associated with Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group and worked in tandem to provide remarkable experiences for TG guests.
In 2013, McGarrie was named Managing Partner for Fulton Alley, an upscale, entertainment-based concept in the heart of New Orleans. Overseeing every aspect of operations from construction to completion, the venue remains the preferred destination for numerous wrap parties and movie premieres.
After nearly a decade away, McGarrie chose to return to Chicago. His focus on anticipatory service, associate empowerment and attentive hospitality helped quickly propel him to the position of Director of Operations at DineAmic Group. After three years, he stepped down from this role to build Korgen Hospitality and work to publish a hospitality management book, tentatively scheduled for 2019.
Q: What professional accomplishments are you most proud of since you are Principal at Korgen Hospitality?
Ken: Although I am proud of our repeat clients and celebrate the successful launch of multiple restaurants nationwide, my favorite accomplishment is found in the philosophy of our training. When I was a server, I always resented being told what to "push" on the menu. It was disingenuous, and often merely based on what was about to expire in the kitchen. One of the requirements of our clients is that they foster authenticity in their hospitality. We don't tell our teams what to fall in love with on the menu; we just want them to love something and speak with passion. No robots, no scripts, no "push the salmon" – just an honest conversation between our staff and our guests.
Q: What are the superpowers of your team?
Ken: Our greatest superpower is acknowledging our kryptonite – those qualities or skills we each lack. I might be great at managing expenses or building forecasts, but I am not the one to pick the music for our clients' restaurants. There was a time I would have argued that point, but my Dire Straits playlists lean toward "dad rock", which really doesn't work in most modern restaurants. We make a conscious effort to surround ourselves with creative individual who excel in the areas we fail – and then provide them the space to grow.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
Ken: The #1 challenge of any leader is effective communication. One must be willing to constantly reevaluate how they interact and modify rapidly given each situation. Every client in unique, so we strive to be fluid and graceful in our conversations. One key is embracing personal interactions. Ever notice how challenging it is to convey proper tone via text or email? Although these are valuable tools for supplying basic information, true connections are made when a dialogue exists.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have met in your career?
Ken: My biggest challenge is to remain nimble. The more experience you have, you more prone you are to being self-convinced. You tend to lean too hard on how you have performed tasks in the past instead of discovering new ways to address them in the future. I challenge myself to be agile daily and to embrace fresh paths, while promoting a similar philosophy with clients who wish to be trendsetters.
Q: What are some challenges or trends you see in hiring today?
Ken: The best trends in hiring are companies invested in alternate methods to illicit an applicant's personality, not basing their opinions on a traditional interview. One sports-based venue I know hosts a job fair. While attendees wait to chat, they are invited to play a game and interact with others. Those who join and make introductions are viewed as having a welcoming and positive attitude, whereas those who disengage and remain on their phones are likely not cut out for hospitality. Anyone can look good under the spotlight, but it is backstage that truly tells the story.
Q: Have you ever had an hourly job? If yes, please share with us your experience
Ken: I have definitely had my share of hourly service industry jobs, but none compare to my first as a dishwasher at Chuck E Cheese. The reason this stands out wasn't because I was required to wear the mouse outfit or that the music was the same eight songs in rotation all year (although I do still flinch when I hear the Bangles "Eternal Flame").
It was one of my co-workers, a pizza cook, who would take delight in making my life difficult. My immediate inclination was to quit, but it was my dad who coached me on maintaining composure in the face of adversity. He turned my challenge into a lesson about developing a strong work ethic. By the end of summer, the cook had quit and I was promoted to the pizza station.
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