Eric Martino is the Director of Operations at M Street Entertainment Group. He is obsessed with creating great company culture, and measures his success based on how well his teammates do. As someone who has seen his work ethic firsthand, I can attest that this man is unafraid of being in the trenches. His ego never gets in the way of getting the job done.
What was your first job in the service industry?
Making pizzas, calzones and strombolis at a local pizza place where I am from in South Florida. I got my front of the house start at Carrabba’s at 14 years old and was there for 18 years. I started as a busboy and worked my way up to a managing partner.
What was the day you fell in love with the industry?
The day I decided, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life was when I waited on a table with two ladies and a little deaf boy. The boy wanted a hamburger, which we didn’t serve at Carrabba’s and I thought, Here this kid has been cheated out of life. Why can’t I make a truly positive memory for him? I went up to my manager and said, “There is a McDonald’s across the street. Even if I get fired, I’m going over there to grab that kid a hamburger and make his night.” When I returned with it, the kid’s face lit up, and the mom started crying. If I could make a difference in a three-table section, what could I do for my community if I had the ability to run an entire restaurant?
Where does that innate desire to take care of others come from?
I think that passion is innate. When I was a little kid, I remember making a cake for my mom at six years old on Mother’s Day. All I wanted to do was make her smile. Even though I messed up the recipe and put to much salt into it she saw past that and was happy. Even then I wanted to just make people happy and feel good. Guests expect you to guide them through the menu and refill their water glasses, but it’s how you make them feel and anticipate their needs that is the great differentiating factor. Service is doing something to somebody. Hospitality is doing something for someone. It’s about delivering the unexpected. Even then I wanted to just make people happy and feel good.
Was there a particular moment where you thought, not only do I love this industry but I’m great at this as well?
There have been many times that this business has brought me to my knees, but it also, in so many ways, fills my buckets. I think it’s a smile on someone’s face or empowering those around me that I work with. This business is made up of a million little things gone right or wrong. I think even when there is adversity, that is our opportunity to step up and prove how well we can turn around a negative situation and make it memorable. That is how you build trust and loyalty with your guests.
What was it like transitioning from Carrabba’s, where you stayed for 18 years to M Street?
When I came on-board I had explained to M Street owner Chris Hyndman, “If I’m going to be the Director of Operations I want to understand everything that is under the umbrella.” I went on to train as an hourly employee on every station. I worked the sushi line for eight weeks at Virago, followed the bartenders, and worked alongside the hosts and servers. I wanted to build that credibility and understand every moving part of every concept. Seek to understand, then be understood. Through that process, I was able to co-create our culture statement, which is essentially our values and core beliefs. When you have six unique concepts, you need one unifying idea to believe in.
What qualities do you look for in a new hire?
A great personality, conscientiousness, excellent eye contact, and a genuine desire to be around people. I look for happy people because they will make others feel great. Product knowledge is key but I also want them to know about current events and have opinions about food, drinks and the industry in general. One question I ask is, “If I were to ask ten different people, how would they describe your work ethic and you as a person?” I think those are good measurable tangibles to know if I want to bring someone onboard.
What do you think they would say about you?
High-energy, passionate, and a relentless go-getter. I strongly believe in servant leadership. My mantra is “to the top.” I think those key words and phrase composes my identity. You never arrive at the top but you always strive to get there. There is beauty in the struggle and the journey is the best education you can receive.
No one is above anything.
Do you think that humility has been lost on the millennial generation?
In a lot of ways, I do. A lot of people think, what’s in it for me when it’s really about, how does this affect the team first and foremost? You have to lead by example. I have two daughters, nine and five, and try to instill that work ethic in them. I want them to be self-sufficient and the best at whatever they do, even if it’s just sweeping the floor.
Can you describe the dance that occurs when everything is in sync in a restaurant?
It starts from clear direction and having the right butts in the right bus seats. You have to know when to lead and when to follow. Every day I have to put my ego on the shelf and do whatever it takes for the betterment of the guest. In this industry, chemistry is also really important because you are working in such close contact with people. There’s so much strategy, beauty and artistry even when it comes to something that seems simple like booking reservations. It’s all about creating a great flow and execution, which ultimately results in creating great experiences for our guests and our employees.
What is one thing you think would surprise people about the service industry?
I think that the people who work in our industry are some of the most passionate people out there. Yes, you may have some that are just going through the motions but some of the most dedicated and dynamic people I know are in this business. It takes a special type of individual to do what we do but if you have what it takes it can open up many doors in and out of their industry.
Did you ever have a mentor who showed you the ropes?
My dad is a blue-collar type of guy— a furniture refinisher. I used to work summers with him in his shop, and the ideology that he instilled in me was to say “yes” and figure it out. He taught me that if I gave something the green light, it would eventually lead to something else. He is the hardest working person I know.
What gets you going in the morning?
It’s the opportunity to inspire others and watch them achieve greatness. Next of course, it’s the guest experience. If I can give someone the best two hours of their entire week or help them celebrate a special occasion, then that’s the greatest gift.
Do you have some advice I can take home with me?
Always be the best version of yourself so that others will be inspired to be as well. If you can lay in bed at night and think I made a difference in something or someone today, than you made the world a better place that you found it when you woke up.