Rikin Lakhani, Assistant Vice President, is a well-rounded hospitality executive with experience ranging from large Fortune 500 corporate environments to smaller, entrepreneurial driven operations. His past accomplishments include being the President of Marcus Samuelsson’s chef inspired Streetbird Rotisserie, Vice President of Operations for Barcelona Wine Bar, a polished casual Spanish tapas concept based in Connecticut and under the Darden Specialty Restaurant Group umbrella overseeing the growth of Seasons 52 in the West Coast opening six locations in California. Rikin joined The Elliot Group in January 2018.

We interviewed Rikin about his career path and got his take on current industry trends.

How did you get your start in the hospitality industry?    
I was studying Hotel and Restaurant Management at Florida International  University in Miami, and had to have hands on experience ‘in the field’ for 15 credit hours. I applied at a place called 15th St Fisheries in Fort Lauderdale, which at the time was owned and operated by one of my professors in school that had also been the president of the National Restaurant Association at one point. I realized immediately that I had found my calling.   Being from Kenya, I was in awe of the variety of food and flavors in the U.S. and wanted to constantly learn more. I loved the fact that no two days were the same and the challenge of multi-tasking. I learned more about how to read people, the working-class culture in Miami, and how to navigate my way through the hierarchy of management better than any course in college could ever teach me. Most importantly, I learned that I genuinely enjoyed making people happy.

How has the restaurant/hospitality world evolved since you started working in the industry?    
For me, there are several milestones:

Career path and compensation: Although the Darden and the Yum! Brands of the world have been around for decades, a restaurant career was not always looked at as a respectable career path, or even one at all. That perception has changed. The global fascination with food, chefs, and restaurants amplified through documentaries and television shows have made it a more attractive and accepted profession. The average income levels, from hourly wages all the way up to executive levels, have closed the gap with other professions. I believe that this is the golden age for restaurants.

Technology: From social media, to delivery apps, to online training, to having robots make your food, the next couple of years will be defining moments for the industry. Technology is starting to infiltrate every component of the restaurant industry and the question of how to ensure hospitality is still prevalent whilst leveraging technology will be key.

What is one quality you look for in a candidate? 

Name one industry trend from the last five years that surprises you?
The stronger, collective, and responsible focus by the industry leaders on using their talents and influence as a platform to focus on our environment including using sustainable materials and reducing waste.

What is the most rewarding aspect about being part of the Associates team?
Every day is an education. It’s a privilege to not only work with some of the smartest people in the industry, but also to be able to talk to candidates who we have a collaborative relationship with and learn so much from.

Why Elliot?
An old friend, industry executive, and mentor introduced me to the Elliot team and used the phrase ‘they are the gold standard of their world’ to describe The Elliot Group. Having worked with Elliot from a candidate perspective, client perspective, and now being part of the team, I believe it.  Amidst all my interactions with Elliot throughout the years, everyone from Alice to the rest of the team, have always made time to have meaningful conversations. As I segued out of my restaurant career due to family circumstances, I had a desire to still stay connected to the industry but on a deeper, more meaningful level. When conversations arose with Elliot around embarking on a different career path, I knew the only way I would be successful would be working with and learning from the best at Elliot.

I believe that this is the golden age for restaurants.
Rikin Lakhani, Vice President