Sean Mohammed, Director of Operations for Elliot Advantage, has over 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry, with extensive training and knowledge in all aspects of food and beverage operations, both in freestanding restaurants and in hotels. Sean’s experience covers the spectrum from fine dining to quick service outlets.
We spoke to Sean about his career and the ever-changing hospitality industry.
With over 25 years in the industry, you identified your interest in hospitality early on in your career. What drew you to hotel and restaurant management after graduating from Boston University with an Economics degree?
I started cooking in Boston, and everyone who knows Boston knows that it is a college town, so I cooked with men and women who were going to Harvard, MIT, BU, BC, etc. Cooking with people like this wasn’t simply executing a dish; there was a lot of asking “why” and striving to make everything better. It fed into my innate curiosity. On top of that, you add the game day intensity and precise chaos of service at Boston’s best restaurant. Executing flawlessly to me was no different than being part of a team playing a championship game, so that craving to create, learn and belong to a winning team has only ever been filled by the hospitality industry. With the never-ending change in the business, that need to adapt and reinvent to remain competitive never goes away. Being in hospitality gives direction and meaning to my need to compete and belong.
How has the restaurant/hospitality world evolved since you started working in the industry?
The hospitality business always comes down to customers. You measure how successful you are by the size of your customer base and how satisfied they are. The sheer volume of knowledge out there through Internet, TV shows, etc. means that the customer is vastly more informed than they were 25 years ago. Not only is the client more informed, but there is much more competition for the client’s dollar. This has resulted in the market becoming more segmented and businesses having to micro-target their customers.
You have worked alongside incredible chefs at prestigious restaurants. What was the best nugget of wisdom you gained from those experiences?
The best nugget of wisdom I gained was from Sotha Kuhn at Le Cirque when I was a young cook and he was coaching me: ‘Cooking is a discipline and you have to treat it like that. You cannot approach it as a hobby or a game. You must focus, focus, focus. To be successful, you must always learn, work hard, and struggle.’ As my career evolved, I have always held on to that advice and built habits based on discipline.
Do you have one piece of advice for a founder or manager opening a new restaurant?
With all the clutter of information out there today, it still comes down to the customer and two questions: 1) will the customer return and 2) would they recommend you. If you are not growing your customer base, you must make changes.
What is the one industry trend from the last five years that you see as having the most impact?
The growth of data analytics and being able to better target your customer wants and needs. It’s about creating, knowing, and growing your customer base, and analytics gives us the advantage of being better at it than our competitor.
If you are not playing with the best, you are not playing in the game. Working with Elliot and Elliot Advantage allows me to contribute, utilizing my years of experience in the industry while at the same continuing to learn from industry leaders.