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One-on-one with the 2020 chair of the National Restaurant Association

Melvin Rodrigue, president and CEO of New Orleans-based Galatoire's Restaurants, is ready to get to work.

At Galatoire’s Restaurants, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., President and CEO Melvin Rodrigue is committed to continuing the traditions of one of America's most revered fine-dining institutions. Under his leadership, the flagship restaurant founded in 1905 has received some of the industry’s highest culinary distinctions, including the James Beard Award in 2005 for Most Outstanding Restaurant in the U.S.

Melvin Rodrigue

Melvin Rodrigue

Rodrigue brings that same passion for excellence to his role as 2020 chair of the National Restaurant Association. He recently talked about the future of the Association and the industry.

As the new chair of the Association, what are your main goals?

To welcome the new CEO to the National Restaurant Association family and help that individual transition successfully into this new role. I plan to act as a bridge to our membership and to our fellow board members so that the foundation we build is firm and our new CEO feels supported.

With our members, we are positioning the Association for an even stronger future. This includes a heightened focus on advocacy and our industry’s positive image among customers. A recent Gallup poll ranked us as the No. 1 most popular industry nationally—for the dining experiences we provide—and we’re respected for the opportunities we offer to everyone.

What do you think will be the “next big thing” in the industry?

Technology in general, but I also see it, potentially, as one of the biggest disrupters in the industry, particularly where third-party delivery is concerned. Specifically, I’m talking about third-party companies’ technology platforms, with whom restaurants share clients, as well as table management/reservation and food delivery systems.

What’s your favorite part of your job and why?

Two things: First is the rush that comes when you know you’ve worked hard to prepare for a meal period that results in a great experience for your customer. Second is mentoring team members and watching them grow in their careers. No industry provides opportunity for growth as quickly as ours does. If you have passion for what you do, commitment, discipline and a good work ethic, you can go far. It doesn’t matter if you have a high school education or a master’s degree. This industry embraces the entrepreneurial spirit and embodies the American dream.

Were you in leadership roles early on? Why?

I got involved in leadership early on in my restaurant life. It happened for several reasons. First, I enjoyed it! I was eager to learn and caught on quickly. Also, my eagerness caught the eye of a mentor who coached me into one opportunity after the next.

What was your best management lesson early on?

Ask questions and listen. Don’t talk.

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