Don’t treat your employees different from your customers. Personally, I don’t treat my staff any differently than my VIP guests. I’ve had A-list celebrities call me up to make reservations to my restaurants and hang out with me, but I don’t treat them any differently in my interactions than I treat the waiters who work with me.
I had the pleasure to interview Giampaolo Ienna. Giampaolo is an actor, DJ, and the VIP Director at the White Horse Tavern and Hunt & Fish Club in NYC. The White Horse Tavern is the 2nd oldest bar in NY.
Thank you so much for joining us Giampaolo. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
In the 90s, the Italian government took away my family’s property. They took it from my grandfather — it was worth a lot of money and it caused a lot of problems for us. Ultimately, my goal is to get into real estate and build an empire to show my grandfather (and my family) that rebuilding is possible. It’s why I got into music and the restaurant business:
I started off as a DJ in Italy, building relationships in the music world at clubs and lounges. I played all over the world at the best clubs with people who I idolized as a kid. Eventually, I moved into the restaurant industry as a VIP Director — I manage relationships with celebrities and build relationships with people who come into my restaurant and nurture the relationships for both the restaurant and real estate areas in my life.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most interesting story was an interaction I had with 50 Cent.
I got to know 50 a little bit when I DJ’d for his party when he launched Vitamin Water. It was amazing to meet him and get this opportunity because his CD “Get rich or die tryin” was the first hip hop CD I bought and listened to when I was a kid. We ended up interacting over the coming months and years and became friends. The most interesting story happened on Christmas Eve. It was 10pm, and I was taking a shower and I almost missed a call from 50 Cent.
He wanted to get Christmas dinner with his family and asked me if I could set up a restaurant for him. I ended up calling many restaurants I knew to see if anyone could do me a favor to open a restaurant on Christmas Eve at 10pm. I finally secured one guy who agreed and had the entire restaurant open and waiting for 50 Cent by the time he got there. It was the craziest experience I’ve had with a celebrity.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The biggest mistake I made back when I was serving tables at 18 years old was not paying attention to the food being served to a child with a nut allergy. The parents told me he had a nut allergy and if they could order a special kind of Tartufo on the menu. I thought it didn’t contain any nuts so I went ahead and took their order and brought out the Tartufo without asking the chef. Unfortunately, this specific restaurant I was working at did put nuts in their Tartufo. Once the child ate it, he had an immediate reaction and his parents were infuriated. Eventually, his dad took out an allergy pen and thankfully the boy was totally fine. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. Learning from the mistakes I have made help me guide my staff so they don’t make the same mistakes also.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to talent today?
I always make sure that when I hire someone, that they’re willing to be coached and adapt to the style of the restaurant. On top of that, I try to make sure that I’m friends with everyone first. If we’re going to be around each other all day, I make sure that I like the person first — it helps a lot when it comes to them following my instructions and enjoying the process of delivering a great experience for the guest.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
Creating trust between everyone is key. That comes from two things: 1) Knowing that everyone knows how to do their job well (this comes from training and holding their hand through the first few days or weeks of the job), and 2) cultivating a certain level of friendship between everyone on the team. Setting expectations in the beginning and helping someone do their job well (so they can understand what a “good job” looks like is huge), plus getting everyone to a place where they like everyone they work with.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Focus on relationships first. It’s not about giving orders to your employees and telling them to do things — it’s about building a relationship with them just like you build relationships with your biggest clients. Once they like you and feel like you’re their friend, many doors will start to open up.
Can you share your 5 strategies to effectively manage a team?
1. Be authentic. If you’re fake, you can never be a great manager. It is a different kind of relationship you have with people when you’re genuine and real. It’ll separate you from everyone else in the industry. People will trust you and come back, and back, and back.
2. Make friends with everyone. If you truly make friends with the people on your team, you’ll win. I treat every part of the business as a relationship first, and that includes the team I work with. They’ll respond to you better if you’re friends first, and it makes it more fun.
3. Don’t treat your employees different from your customers. Personally, I don’t treat my staff any differently than my VIP guests. I’ve had A-list celebrities call me up to make reservations to my restaurants and hang out with me, but I don’t treat them any differently in my interactions than I treat the waiters who work with me.
4. Hold their hand in the beginning. When any waiter or staff member is serving a VIP for the first time, they all go through the same training process — they have to look at me during the first time and I’ll give them signals. I’ll tell them whether the water needs to be filled again, signal to them to ask if the VIP needs anything else, etc. After the first few times, they’ll be able to do it on their own but the support and mentorship in the beginning goes a long way.
5. Always remember when you were in the position of the person you’re managing. Being a restaurant that is always in demand, we are always going into a nightly service knowing that new challenges will always arise. On one particular evening we had two servers that had just passed training but were not yet accustomed to a service when we have three major VIP’s coming in at 5:30 pm before a Broadway performance and wanting to be out in one hour with a full dining experience. Not to mention the other 150 covers coming in within that time frame. It was noticeable that our new team members became overwhelmed. It is our jobs as great managers to see this and jump in before a guest notices it. Most importantly it helps evolve the comradery amongst your staff when they know that you will always be there to back them up.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Happiness. There’s a lot of hate right now online, and most people struggle with having empathy. If you’re doing things you don’t want to be doing or complaining you’re going to impact people negatively so it’s important to remain optimistic and therefore impact your team positively.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You’re going to die.
It’s from Gary Vaynerchuk. It helps me squeeze the maximum out of every day — when you really understand what this quote means, you start to see life in a different way.