How Joan Barker Developed Skills to Promote and Improve the Hospitality Workforce

Ignite Expert

Ignite Expert

Before Stouffer’s was known as a frozen food brand, Joan Barker was a chef for the original Stouffer’s restaurant chain that included high-volume, made-from-scratch food, and fine dining. However, her trip through hospitality also involved corporate giants, like Marriott, that got its start in the food and beverage industry.

Although both Marriot and Stouffers began small, the companies expanded and grew because they relied on standards. Now, Joan admits, “Some people feel that standards are too confining, whereas others realize that standards can drive continuity of service, food cost, and quality.”

Yet, standards and a solid training program helped both organizations succeed. Each found employees with an interest in the industry, but not many skills. Exceptional leadership and thriving training and development programs helped each corporation build a robust, guest-centric, and diverse workforce.

Joan’s exposure to corporate food and beverage operations, including training and development methods, gave her the foundation to contribute to several F&B businesses’ success. She also credits her work experience as showing her the path to introducing newcomers to the industry while helping them build foundations in guest service, food preparation, and sanitation.

According to Joan, “The wisdom imparted about solid management principles, facility maintenance, and the importance of the guest, has served me well. It helped me prepare students at the secondary and post-secondary levels to be contributing members of the industry. My experience also affected how I design and implement programs for associates and management by putting the focus on developing stronger employees that drive their operations’ success.”

Still, there are difficulties in the food and beverage industry. To meet and overcome these hurdles, Joan offers three tips for aspiring and current F&B operators.

The challenge: Operations that lack a hands-on approach

Like many new hires, Joan didn’t find success in every step she made. Instead, she dove into the trenches to learn what worked and what didn’t. In her roles, Joan saw problems with staffing, training, and customer experiences. But, she found that ultimately, people want to work and be successful. And leadership is the determining factor that provides real results.

The solution: Jump into the trenches

To build a thriving food and beverage brand, it’s vital to get into the trenches daily. Joan suggests getting to know your team and guests. Plus, she recommends not being afraid to mentor and coach employees to help them (and your business) reach goals.

1. Do the daily work

The bottom line is that leaders need to be present and visible on the floor. Joan says, “If you’re not working with your crew daily, you don’t know what’s going on in your operation. I know that some people will take issue with this. They say, oh, I trust my people or this isn’t a difficult job. But, I ask owners or management to explain how you can run your operation from a desk or in an office. Sure, you have paperwork and desk time at all levels of hospitality. But you absolutely need to be on the floor. Especially as a leader, you need to be a living, working part of your team. It earns you respect.” Joan suggests getting involved by:

  • Working alongside staff during shifts
  • Coaching people in various positions
  • Communicating with your regional offices
  • Holding daily discussions with your leadership teams

2. Know your people and guests

The people you hire will make or break your sales, so it’s essential to take the time to build that working relationship. And knowing your people starts with hiring. Joan recommends finding and retaining the right team members. She says, “Get the right person for your operation. Then keep up with them. Praise them, teach them, thank them individually for their contributions, and find ways for them to grow. Make them want to support your business because they’re an integral part of it.”

It’s also crucial to know and understand your guests. Not only the ones who return but all customers. What do they like about your place, what would they change? And most importantly, where else do they like to eat or stay.

3. Coach, coach, and coach some more

Being in the trenches means you notice potential problems and opportunities. This insight helps you develop stronger employees in all parts of your hospitality business. Joan says, “If you can help a person become successful, make that steak a little better every time, make your crew feel like they’re part of a winning group, then they’ll stay with you. Engaged hospitality staff supports you and your business while keeping guests coming back again and again.”

Next steps: Thrive in the food and beverage industry

The hospitality industry is fraught with all kinds of daily issues. Joan remarks, “I wish I could sell you a silver bullet, and it would take care of everything like magic. Instead, I challenge you to arm yourself with that strong foundation of knowledge, including expertise in food, guest and staff management, supplies, and facilities. Once you develop and expand on that foundational knowledge, you’ll be a successful operator.”

Arm yourself with the tools to succeed

Get the help you need to manage your operations and build a system that produces consistent results. Joan assists food and beverage operators with various issues, including training, culture development, guest service, and food safety. Make a change today by scheduling a call with Joan.


“I had the privilege of working with Joan when she was the Hotel Division Trainer for Landry’s, Inc. She has great experience, with an educational background and work history with Landry’s, Inc., Marriott, and Stouffers. Joan was always organized, professional, and a pleasure to work with because of her make-things-happen attitude. I hold Joan in high regard.” – Paul Schultz, Vice President of Hospitality, San Luis Resort, Spa & Conference Center

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