You are here

Interview With Margaret Perry, RAMMYS Manager of the Year Finalist

July 11, 2017

The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) presents Margaret Perry, manager of Kyirisan. She is nominated for the Manager of the Year award for the 2017 RAMMY Awards Gala on July 30. The Manager of the Year award usually goes to a non-owner manager or general manager in the food service industry who displays the highest level of professionalism and leadership. This person must be an inspiration and mentor to all his/her co-workers displaying outstanding service, an excellent work ethic and a positive image.​

What is the hardest part about being a general manager?
The hardest part of being a GM is being constantly "on." From a server calling out sick to a broken HVAC system, to coordinating a special birthday party, to spreadsheets and reports and payroll to mentoring and educating, not to mention greeting every guest and ensuring a smooth service -- all of those are demands of the job, and it takes a lot of focus to make sure you don't go crazy juggling all those demands. 

What is the most rewarding part about being a general manager?
It's such a
cliche but, serving people is by far the most rewarding part of being a general manager. By that I mean both the guests and my staff: if I can make an anniversary special, if I can help a server going through a rough spell: these are equally rewarding and sincerely an honor.

How did you get started in the business? 
The first time, or the second? Like every high school and college student, I had a restaurant job one summer. But I actually changed careers and officially joined the industry about 6 years ago, thanks to a friend who managed a wine bar, and encouraged me to pick up 1 shift a week, to try it out. At the end of those days, I was always so physically exhausted, but so emotionally thrilled to be doing the work. So, when the wine bar opened a second location, I joined them full time as their manager. I've never looked back!

What was your first industry job?
My first industry job, as I said, was as a deli clerk one summer in college. They were a big tourist destination and run by both corporate offices and day-to-day managers. My manager was Brenda, and she was a lifer in the industry, but had so much patience for us young idiots who came and went all summer long. Probably the lesson I am most embarrassed by now was the time I tried to call out sick because I had cut my palm the day before on a broken dish. It wasn't a bad cut, but I was feeling lazy, so I thought I'd use it as an excuse -- little did I know that that would open a whole can of worms about workers comp and getting a doctors note, etc. etc. -- because she was accountable to the corporate offices. But instead of being simply mad at me for being childish and lazy, she was patient and clued me in to the big picture. (I did end up working the shift.)

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully here: managing Kyirisan, serving this neighborhood, with a solid team that continues to push itself forward. This is a dynamic and changing industry, especially in DC, and a lot of great restaurants have a tragically short lifespan. I am not particularly interested in trends: I am interested in community, and in creating a place of welcome that serves the community in which it is based. 

What's the best piece of advice you've been given?
My first career was fundraising for education initiatives, and my very first boss told me on my very first day: "Take care of the people and the relationships, and the money will take care of itself." That is profoundly true in restaurants as well: take care of your guests and take care of your staff, and the money (sales, cogs, labor, etc.) will take care of itself. 
What other profession would you like to attempt?
A florist, or owning a bookstore. 

What is your favorite ingredient?
Toast? Can I say that? Is it an ingredient? I would (I have) put almost anything you can imagine on a piece of toasted bread. 

Do you have an insider foodie tip when you go out to dinner?
Dine early! Seriously: I love eating on the early side, because the servers are more relaxed and you can usually engage management or your server to tell you a little more about the restaurant or the back story of a dish, etc. (Plus you can finish early and go home and go to bed by 10, which, in this industry, feels like the ultimate luxury!)

Who are your dream dinner party guests? 
My grandmothers and my great aunt. I have a photo of the three of them from my parent's wedding, standing in the sunshine, happy, content, lovely. They were remarkable women, and I can't imagine anything better than sharing a meal and a bottle of scotch together. 

What would your last meal be?
Freshly picked tomatoes -- you know when they are still a little warm from the sun -- basil, ciabatta, olive oil, wine. 

What are your pet peeves?
Messy bathrooms -- especially the floors. 

What is your favorite way to give back to the community?
Well, my first career was in education, so education is very important to me, as it is to Tim & Joey (goodness, Kyirisan is named for their kids!) -- so I feel most passionate about the different charities that help child hunger, like No Kid Hungry and Share Our Strength. I also love DCCK -- we've hired some folks from their program before, and they are the best.

Why do you love working in restaurants? 
I love food, I love drink, I love conversation, I love energy and activity, I love people who are characters. Restaurants have all these, in spades! But most of all, I love to serve people: to be a part of their celebrations, to ease their heartaches, to feed, to nourish -- guests and staff alike. That's what I love about working in restaurants.