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A day in the life of Kelly Ough, GM of East Side Mario’s® Guelph

How the General Manager spends her time and talents
Kelly Ough started her career at East Side Mario’s® in September of 1994 (supplied photo)

The General Manager at a restaurant has a hand in everything. They literally know—from hard-won experience—how to do it all.

Take Kelly Ough as a case study. She has worked in hospitality for decades after starting her career at East Side Mario’s® in September of 1994. She began as a Pizza Salad cook, became a line cook, worked as a Host and a server. 

As she worked full-time for owners Sue and Jerry Auger, she also studied Culinary Management at George Brown College. Later, she would finish her Cook Apprenticeship studies at Humber College. Ough continued working part-time at East Side Mario’s® while she worked her way through her apprenticeship—long after too. 

She gained valuable experience at a number of well-respected establishments while completing those apprenticeship hours, including the Holiday Inn in Cambridge and the Westmount Golf and Country Club in Waterloo. In October 2000 she received her Red Seal Certification. In 2001 she was hired as Sous Chef at The Other Brother’s Restaurant in Guelph, where she stayed for four years. She then spent 11 years working for Aramark as Food Service Director at Wilfrid Laurier University and one and a half years as Hospitality Director at the Village of Arbour Trails in Schlegel Villages.

It’s quite the culinary pedigree. In November 2019, she began as General Manager of ESM Guelph. 

There is no typical day, Ough insists. She works about 45-55 hours a week, depending on the time of year and flow of business. Opening shifts start at 8 am and finish around 5 pm, while closing shifts start at 3 pm and end anywhere between 11 pm and 1 am, depending on the day of the week and how busy it is.

Every day the GM is up early, getting her kids off to school. Then she reads emails and checks the restaurant’s digital shift log for the night before. No matter which shift she is working that day, when she arrives she checks in with the staff who are working and goes through the management log book checklists. 

The digital log and these checklists are key to ensuring efficient communication for the entire management team. That’s critical because there are six full-time managers and three part-time supervisors that are also servers at the restaurant; it can be challenging to get consistent messaging across to that many people. These resources are also so important because ESM Guelph follows strict protocols for Covid safety, food safety and guest excellence. “We want to make sure that we are providing a safe environment for our guests in every possible way,” she says.

The majority of Ough’s shift is spent out front on the floor, assisting the team with anything they might need to provide good service. This could include helping the servers out by running food, pre-bussing tables or assisting with any guest-impacting issues. She assists hosts by helping to bus and clean tables, check guests for proof of vaccination, do Covid screening and contact tracing, and manage wait times on busier nights. She pitches in at the bar, pouring drinks, making cocktails and changing kegs. She helps with takeout too, taking orders, running curbside orders outside and packing bags.

“I’m sometimes needed in the kitchen if we are short-staffed and will do prep or portion. I work where I am needed,” explains Ough. “I and all of our managers work this way; it is a hands-on job in every respect. I would never ask anyone to do something that I wouldn’t do myself.”

There are still more duties that Ough and her fellow GMs perform, though not always daily. They help with scheduling, hiring and training employees, reviewing and following up on Guest Experience Reviews—positive and negative—and dealing with any HR-related issues that may arise.

“Every day is so different, there is nothing more consistent than my coffee when I first arrive!” she says. “I love that it never gets boring. I like the people that I work with and seeing the regular guests; some of our regulars have been coming since we opened in 1993 and are still coming in.”

Ough oversees approximately 75 staff currently, though that number does fluctuate and is down about 20 since pre-Covid times. The restaurant is still looking to add to their team as restrictions are relaxed and capacity increased.

They’re an admittedly tight-knit group. “Many friendships have grown here over the years—people who have met, married and had children together all because they met while working at ESM Guelph. Even Sue and Jerry’s daughter met her husband working here. I’m not sure if this is something that happens at other places, but it is definitely something that makes it a special place that feels like family.”

When Ough first started, she had no idea she would be meeting people who would end up being lifelong friends. She met her best friend Kirstie and her husband Matt on her very first shift.

The restaurant industry has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. It has a long road to recovery ahead, she predicts, and Ough thinks it will be forced to change—which is not necessarily a bad thing. 

“At the moment, the labour shortage is our biggest challenge. We are lucky to have a core group of staff; some of them have been here for over twenty-eight years and they are the backbone of our team,” she says. “The value that they bring with their tenure, knowledge and emotional investment is infinite. It makes for a strong culture that will hopefully draw new people to us who want to work with good people in a great atmosphere.”

The other big challenge she anticipates will be commodities pricing. The price of food is going to continue to climb, which will cause price increases across every type of restaurant—from fast-food chains to quick service restaurants like Swiss Chalet and ESM, up to higher-end establishments. “It’s going to be an interesting time,” she says.

Ough recognizes that a GM is only as good as the people they work with. “The team at ESM Guelph is top-notch. I am fortunate to have such a strong team where everyone is invested in the success of the restaurant. Sue and Jerry as franchise owners are so supportive. I could not have gotten through the pandemic without everyone’s support,” she says.

“I could never have anticipated how things would turn out when I stepped into this role in November 2019, but I am glad that I did it. And I’m thankful every day for my job.”

Visit East Side Mario's Guelph or call 519-763-7861.