Zena Dater, FE&S’ 2008 DSR of the Year, has been with Oswalt Restaurant Supply in Oklahoma City, Okla., for 16 years. A restaurant industry lifer, Dater spent 23 years on the operations side, moving up through the ranks from waitress and bartender to general manager and, later, area director with El Chico Corp. and La Roca-La Luna. As a result, Dater strikes a chord with her chain and mom and pop restaurant customers in her home state and across the country — knowing exactly what they need and being able to see the business from their shoes.
FE&S: What keeps you working in the foodservice industry?
Zena Dater: The people. Definitely the people. The energy level and passion of the people keeps us youthful.
FE&S: Would you encourage your children to work in this business?
Zena Dater: Absolutely. I think it’s such a learning experience to be able to read people and interact. I think the foodservice industry is such a people business that it is a stepping stone for anything anyone wants to do in life, whether you’re a server or manager or selling something.
FE&S: What was your first job in the industry?
Zena Dater: I was a car hop on roller skates. Oh my gosh.
FE&S: Who was the person that influenced your career most?
Zena Dater: It was Chris Hart, who I worked for at El Chico. His style of management was the kind where I knew that’s what I wanted to do when I got to that level. He was all about the people and he had a philosophy that there was a minimum level of acceptable performance that every employee needed to achieve, and if you tried to exceed that, you would go far in whatever career you would decide to do. He was all about taking care of the people who worked for him because he knew that would mean his guests would be taken care of.
FE&S: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Zena Dater: You only have your name so make sure that whatever you do you’re protecting your name. And to be honest. Honesty will take you as far as you want to go.