8 Lessons For Innovation And Success From Chef Mario Batali

We boil down the be-Croc'd restaurateur's wisdom on everything from retaining top talent to retweeting Twitter trolls.

Famed restaurateur and chef Mario Batali took the stage with Fast Company Editorial Director Tyler Gray at our Innovation Uncensored event last week in New York. As he expands his restaurant Babbo in the east, his Mozza Restaurant Group in the west, and his Italian market Eataly in Chicago, London, and other cities, Batali shared some of the business lessons he's learned over the years. Listen to the audio of the full interview above and read the big ideas below.

On Nurturing Talent: "We don't hire executive chefs ever. We hire line cooks and prep cooks and wine waiters and busboys and waiters—and they become chefs and sous chefs and sommeliers and general managers and service directors."

On Keeping Top Talent: "It wasn't ever our manifest destiny to create 20 restaurants; it was more that after two years at Babbo, one of the great chefs, who was a sous chef at that time, Mark Ladner, needed somewhere to go, and if we didn't do something with him, he would go work with Danny Meyer, which is not a bad place to go, but why take all of that talent and just let it slip away? So we opened Lupa...We created a place for him to go because we didn't want to lose his talent."

On Twitter Trolls: "I find that it's quite delightful just to retweet the snark untouched."

On Online Complaints: "If they say, 'I had a shitty experience at X restaurant,' my first response is, 'Did you tell anybody at the restaurant?'... Your best bet to modify an experience as it's happening is to tell someone you're not satisfied with what's happening right now, and that you want something else."

On What His Approach To Italian Cooking & Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco Have In Common: "Sometimes renovation is innovation."

On Thinking Like A Startup: "When we opened Babbo, we were an indie band. Now we're kinda Apple. We have 19 restaurants and 2,800 employees, we are no longer perceived as the indie band although we think of ourselves as the indie band, and we operate our restaurants as individual indie bands."

On Insects As An Ingredient: "I'm pretty sure that until we run out of oil, we're not going to come up with a new source of sustainable energy; in that same sense, until we run out of chicken, we're probably not going for the bugs yet."

On Success: "If I were going to whisper something into my younger self, I would just say, 'Keep your head down, work hard, and listen to whosever is ahead of you because you're going to learn something from them.' And that's kinda what I did.'"

[Photos by Nicky Digital]

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  • anita772

    Actually, Tuija, it is the customer's responsibility to give the restaurant a chance to correct the mistake. Most mistakes are not made intentionally, and any good restaurant will be happy to correct the problem at that time. Bitching on a review site doesn't do anything.

  • BruceTheBlog

    Thank you for setting the other poster straight, Anita772. I have nothing to do with the ownership or management of any restaurant or any other retail business, but I also am well aware that the biggest canard known to humankind is "The customer is always right." It's a quaint notion that can be taken under advisement when dealing with the public, but, as with anything else in this life, there are notable exceptions to the rule, as in "I want to complain as a customer but I'm not interested in helping improve somebody's business, so I'll just vent instead of offering constructive criticism to management." Great attitude that. And it's by no means the right thing to do. What you never know when reading those nasty reviews online is how the customer's behavior influenced the unpleasantries: it takes two to tangle. Hence, certain (not all) of the online trash talking by disgruntled patrons is worth the paper it's written on ;-)

  • Tuija Seipell

    Interesting that his reaction to an online complaint is a flippant "did you tell anyone at the restaurant?" That is turning the responsibility back to the customer. It is not the customer's job to educate the restaurant.