It wasn’t until Laura Payne was working one of her first jobs as a server at an Evanston café that she realized she had a passion she hadn’t yet tapped into: hospitality. “This industry allows you to take care of people professionally,” she explains. “It allows me to make everyone feel special.”
Her manager encouraged her to learn more about the industry by enrolling at Kendall. “He said to me, ‘You belong in the business; you haven’t figured that out yet?’” Two weeks later, she was enrolled at Kendall College.
“I intentionally started in the culinary arts program because it was the most intimidating, therefore the most intriguing to me, but I always knew I wanted to work in the front of the house,” she says. Before she graduated with a bachelor’s in hospitality management, Payne obtained a position at the Four Seasons, where she worked for several years, in all front of house positions, including the restaurant, lounge, room service and banquets.
When she realized she wanted to pivot within the industry, she turned to what she calls her most valuable asset, fellow alumni. “Our industry is centered on professional relationships,” Payne explains. “It’s not a cliché; it’s real life.” An alumna she met for lunch told her about an opening for a general manager position at The Purple Pig. She applied and has now served as its general manager for more than five years.
“The Purple Pig feels like family,” Payne says. “The owners, Jimmy Bannos Jr. is like my brother and Jimmy Bannos Sr. is like my dad. At this point, we’re talking about what the future holds for the organization.” Since she joined, Payne has done everything but cook—and credits her well-rounded education for setting her on a path to success.
“Kendall gave me everything from a trained palate to business essentials,” she says. Not only can she provide Jimmy Jr. with specific feedback about the balance of acid, salt and texture in a new dish, she also relies on what she learned about cost control to manage the books in partnership with the CPA. “I couldn’t have done this without the knowledge I gained from Kendall.”
Here, the self-described jack-of-all-trades shares how she meets and exceeds the challenges in her role to inspire students and alumni alike:
Show Compassion. “You work so hard to guide your team, to be a fearless leader, but you can never stop learning about them,” she explains. When there isn’t transparent, clear back-and-forth communication about everything from professional to personal accomplishments, you will stop learning about your team, which may lead to intimidation or mistakes. “You have to know when to push and also when to stop and say, ‘Great job, guys.’ If you’re always pushing, you’ll lose that personal touch with your team.”
Don’t be afraid to show tough love. “Sometimes you have to make decisions that might not be popular with the team, but are the right decision for the business. The irony, she says, is that those decisions may also be best for the team, but they may not immediately recognize it.
Never stop training your staff. “We spend a lot of time with training, because it is so important. I tell managers you’re not training for six months to a year—you’re always learning,” she explains. Ensure your employees buy into this concept and realize all they will gain as a result, despite the hundreds of tasks they are responsible for completing each day. “Lifelong learning requires time and attention.”