Darden Digest

No result found!




Read More

Heart of the House: Setting a High Bar

March 31, 2014

By: Ray Doakes, General Manager, Olive Garden

Heart of the House: Setting a High Bar

Photo Credit:

When I was a young kid growing up in The Woodlands, Texas, I remember sitting in front of the TV with my cousin watching the 1976 Summer Olympics and locking in on the high jump event. I became obsessed with watching and imitating the sport. My cousin and I would try to replicate the high jumpers’ forms and techniques by taking turns holding out a broomstick and diving over it. Finally, in junior high, I attended a school that offered the sport, and I was excited to be able to join their track and field team. The love of the sport kept me participating all through college at the University of Arkansas.

In my first meet at the school, I broke the school’s high jump record. I still hold the Southeastern Conference record for high jump. My collegiate best was clearing 7 feet and 7 ½ inches, and my personal best was 7 feet and 9 ¼ inches. I have eight National Championship rings and was an Olympic trials finalist three times. Despite all these personal accomplishments, I consider my greatest achievements the victories we experienced as a team at Arkansas. In the four years I was there, our track and field team never lost a home meet, conference championship or national championship. The team victories were really the best to me.

After college, I went into the restaurant industry and then stopped working to pursue my Master’s degree. I eventually decided I would take on a job while finishing up my degree and knew that if I was going to go back to the restaurant industry, I wanted to work for Darden Restaurants. I got hired as a server at the Fayetteville, Arkansas, Olive Garden and ended up becoming a manager then going through the Manager-in-Training program to eventually get to the role I’m in now as a General Manager.

Now leading my own Olive Garden team in North Little Rock, Arkansas, I try to instill the same sense of teamwork with some friendly competition thrown in to keep the team motivated. My favorite quote is “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right” by Henry Ford. When I first started as a General Manager, I shared this quote to try to instill positive attitudes across the team. I want them to believe in themselves and in our restaurant team. I believe that our biggest obstacles are ourselves and we need to get out of own way and stop saying that we cannot achieve something. I set challenging and specific goals that I want us to accomplish as a team, such as guest satisfaction levels, and they always rise to the challenge and recognize what we can achieve together.

To motivate my team every day, I try to stay calm and approachable. I’m 6’9” so sometimes people can find me intimidating. I celebrate accomplishments and provide positive reassurance when people are doing a good job. I like to post individual accomplishments and standings, which energizes the team to also create friendly competition among them. I have 10 employees currently interested in management roles, and I’m excited to help them build their dreams.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to join the Darden family. It has lived up to all my expectations. I love the company and the fact that we truly value both the guest experience and the team member experience.

General Topics:
Brand Categories: