Why it’s important to balance creativity and passion with operational expertise

Written by: Gabrielle F. Mather, Founder & CEO of Restaurant Secrets Inc

Balancing creativity

It was that flawless moment when Rose walked down the grand stairs to meet Jack in Titanic; music, laughter, glamour, exquisite food, and lavish pouring in the background. It was at that picture-perfect moment that I found my passion for my future career as a restaurateur, operator, and F&B consultant.

An experience that touches hearts and leaves guests satisfied yet craving for more is our idea of doing life in the F&B world. A serenade, a wooing of senses, a promise that delivers every expectation. This is what we consider excellent F&B, and believes it takes an army of dedicated people to achieve, but her secret is in that army being more present than seen.

As the founder and CEO of Restaurant Secrets for the past two decades, I have had the privilege of creating over 300 concepts in almost every category of F&B imaginable, and whilst each holds a special place in my heart, the one project that most tested my philosophy of balancing creativity with consistency was creating and operating The Loft at Dubai Opera. This restaurant put everything that was believed in and advocated for to the test, as RSI fine-tuned the art of balancing creativity and consistency into a dreamy reality. It was at The Loft at Dubai Opera that I grew up another notch as a restaurateur and F&B consultant.

On January 1, 2019, when Restaurant Secrets Inc. acquired four properties from Emaar including Sean Connolly at Dubai Opera, and had to transform it literally overnight into a whole new brand while the theatre season was in full bloom. We built a strong back-of-house team under the capable hands of Brian Voelzing, our then group executive chef, and created an elegant three-course menu that was easy to execute while being absolutely Instagrammable and memorable. RSI’s processes and systems were put to test, with a razor-sharp focus on mise-en-place and output of a product that was to be the prologue to world-class symphonies.

The next big challenge faced was to render the expected front-of-house service of an elegant fine dining, music-filled space that sat aloft the imposing Dubai Opera every night to two sittings of 350 people each, all within an hour, and then help with the exit through two lifts into the theatre just in time for their show.

I remember, the adrenaline and excitement of those days as we grouped as a team. Expecting mature world-class service from a team that still had no real ‘team’ experience is quite a risky gamble, I assure you, and as I look back I am grateful for the grace that propelled bold leadership, as we confidently led an energetic and young team

You see, many times F&B forgets the importance of the role of sound leadership and operational systems of running a restaurant. Being accountable and responsible, and having a ‘captain-of-the-ship’ mentality is still very relevant in this industry. You cannot just come up with trendy, creative, and entertaining concepts in the board room, share them through to the digital and influencer marketing departments, and then expect miracles every night. For every great idea, the leaders needed to put in place multiple small detailed steps that visualize and manage the scene from start to end.

An example would be staying expansive and bold in the creative areas of the plan, running the teams to aim small, miss small, and equipped for the heat of operations.

A connection between brand owners, brand managers, and operations teams is another crucial link to accomplishing a balance between creativity and consistency. My strong belief in synergy being the driving force of success is also the key secret to Restaurant Secrets Inc.’s success. Every part of the F&B experience is sensitive to the guest encounter and is vulnerable to failure if it’s not played out like a symphony of processes and passion.