Behind the Bar

A Conversation on Management with Ace Hotel's Katie Darling

A headshot of a woman with blonde hair.
Katie Darling, the Food and Beverage Director at Ace Hotel in New Orleans, believes the most important part of her job is the people she works with. "I do my best to look out for their well-being, support them and help energize them so they come to work ready to contribute," she tells us.

When it comes to learning how to manage a team, members of the corporate world often have endless tools and resources at their disposal: post-graduate programs, seminars, workshops, and often, plenty of workplace training. Managers in the service industry? Not so much. Yet, as any restaurant or bar GM can attest, learning how to lead a team and keep operations running smoothly is no easy feat—especially when there's little training to be had. So, we're sitting down with managers across the industry to see how they approach their jobs, how they learned to lead, and what they consider to be the biggest challenges they encounter each day. Our first subject is Katie Darling, who formerly oversaw brands like Old New Orleans Rum in her post as CEO of Celebration Distillation, and is now the Food and Beverage Director at the soon-to-open Ace Hotel New Orleans.

Introduce yourself, your position, and your present place of employment.

Katie Darling, Food and Beverage Director, Ace Hotel New Orleans.

How many years have you been in the business, and what was your first job?

I've been working in the food and beverage industry for 16 years. My first job was back home in Folsom, CA, working as a busser at Black Angus Steakhouse when I was in high school.

At what point did you start managing other people?

My leadership training began early when I was a Girl Scout!

Was it a natural progression for you or did it take some trial and error? Did you have any training?

My father is a small business owner. My brothers and I grew up helping him and performed some managerial duties for his company. With that business owner mentality in the household, we kind of all thought we were the boss!

I fell in love with the food and beverage industry, and pursued that instead of continuing the family tradition. I'm really appreciative of the experiences I had working with my family, though, and they've given me the confidence to strike out and do my own thing.

How would you describe your management style? How do you approach running your team?

The most important part of my job is the people I work with. They're everything. I do my best to look out for their well-being, support them and help energize them so they come to work ready to contribute.

One of the most important things I've learned over the years is to be transparent with my team. I share with them everything I can, and do my best to give them insights into the bigger picture of what we're all trying to do. This way everyone understands their part, and how it all contributes to our overall success.

What do you love most about management?

It's deeply rewarding to watch your team evolve, push themselves to accomplish their goals and achieve what they want in life. I always want to do my best to help those I work with grow as individuals, whether it's professionally or personally.

What about the biggest challenges?

In the food and beverage industry there are so many moving parts, and no two days are exactly the same. It can be challenging sometimes to make sure everyone's on the same page and headed in the same direction. I work closely with my team leaders on training, and to help strike that balance of getting the job done correctly, and enjoying it along the way.

Any mentors that have shaped your management philosophy along the way? Who was your best manager?

I have worked with the most talented people in our industry and the list is long, but I'd start with Neal Bodenheimer of the Cure Collective, and Tal Nadari of Lucas Bols B.V. They taught me the importance of investing in people for the long-term results.

Best piece of advice that's been shared with you?

Be nice. It's that simple. When you treat people with respect and kindness, you'll usually get the same in return.

Biggest lessons learned along the way?

Move to New Orleans sooner rather than later! I've always loved this city, and I'm not sure why it took me so long to finally get here.

Finally, any advice you would share with someone who wants to be a successful manager one day?

Be kind to others and to yourself. Don't be afraid ask questions. Study the numbers, and don't lose sight of the fact that no matter how much fun you're having, you're still running a business.

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