Restaurant Owner Nancy Laird on “Training for Life”

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The people who have made Restaurant Serenade in Chatham, New Jersey a success represent the different types of opportunities the service industry offers individuals at various points in their lives.

For owners James and Nancy Laird, the restaurant industry not only provided a career path, it is also what brought them together.  Nancy made a career change after working years on Wall Street.  James started out as a dishwasher, graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and moved up the ranks from assistant chef to head chef and owner.

The husband and wife team has been in business since 1996 and Nancy recently took a break from preparations to celebrate the restaurant’s 20th anniversary to share her story. With a Masters Degree from Columbia University and years of experience on Wall Street, Nancy applied her business skills to starting a successful restaurant in the competitive New Jersey market.  Like so many other Americans, Nancy’s first job was in the service industry working at a restaurant over summer breaks and during college. There she learned important skills to build upon, including how to multitask which she attributed to “training for life.”  When asked about her role now as an owner and what types of skills people learn in the restaurant business, Nancy stressed communications skills – being a good listener, being able to pick up on nonverbal cues, and discerning the needs of all types of customers. She noted the importance of knowing when a customer is looking for conversation and when they prefer to be left alone. 

Nancy also spoke about the types of challenges and opportunities the industry presents, and pointed to Restaurant Serenade employee John Jansma as a strong example of the ways individuals can grow and develop new skills on the job.  After working as an assistant manager at another restaurant in college, Nancy and James hired John as their general manager.  At 25, he not only keeps the award-winning business running smoothly, he is also the beverage director, sommelier, teaches a class for customers to learn the art of mixology, and writes the restaurant’s blog. Commenting on his personal experience in the service industry, John said it is “the most satisfying work you can do. Helping guests celebrate, surprising them, serving them something new and creative, not many other industries can give an employee the same sense of accomplishment or reward.”

Nancy and James take pride in working alongside their 35 employees who they have seen buy houses, have babies, and work hard to help Restaurant Serenade celebrate 20 years in business.