Olive Garden General Manager Theresa Hutt has two words of advice for women hoping to advance their careers in the foodservice industry: Be confident.
During her nine years leading the Olive Garden restaurant in Sioux City, IA, and mentoring her team, she has noticed that women sometimes sell themselves short. “Women may find themselves sitting back and letting the more powerful people — who often are men — take the lead. They wait for their time to shine or speak, and sometimes it doesn’t come and they get passed over.”
Her advice tends to be different for men. “In my experience, men speak up and aren’t afraid to jump right in. Sometimes you have to ask them to slow down and take time to listen to others.”
Everyone listened when Theresa recently spoke to a classroom of general managers and managing partners during training at Darden’s Restaurant Support Center in Orlando. She told the new restaurant leaders not to be afraid to make mistakes as long as they learn from them and suggested they reach out to leaders they meet during training if they need guidance.
Mentoring plays a big role in helping team members and managers develop and achieve their dreams, she said, and she’s grateful to her most important mentor, Director of Operations Bruce Robeson. “When I interact with him, I can be myself and I know it’s a protected environment. He’ll be honest and forthright.” She said Director of Operations Lisa McDowell and HR Business Partner Amy Agamez also have aided in her development.
She tries to mirror the guidance she receives from her mentors when she’s mentoring others by listening well, being honest about job performance and helping set goals. “I ask my team members and managers to describe their key strengths and give examples. Then we work on the gaps so they gain the knowledge they need — and confidence.” One of the best ways for people to grow, Theresa said, is through new experiences that might be uncomfortable at first. She might encourage someone to give a presentation or lead a meeting, for example, and then provide them with feedback.
During her 18 years at Olive Garden, where she started as a server, Theresa said her gender never hindered her career. “I always had the same opportunities the men had,” she said. “Everyone at Darden has a fair and equal chance of advancement.” She’s inspired by women in leadership roles such as Theresa Willings, senior vice president of human resources for Olive Garden, and Laurie Casler, senior vice president of operations for Seasons 52.
She said she is excited to be alive during a time of growing opportunities for women. “When I boarded the plane to Orlando for this talk, the six seats in front of me were all occupied by women who were obviously traveling for business. It made me feel so proud. Women are more educated than ever, and we are making great strides in the workforce.”