10 Common Mistakes Independent Restaurants Makes

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Awareness Precedes Change

All of these common mistakes are areas that can be easily improved upon through a commitment to change and consistent action. That’s up to you. My mission is to guide you, make you aware of common obstacles and to give you some tools that can allow you to implement change in your organization.


Mistake #1 - Head to Paper

Failing to capture all those little things. The details in your head. Putting them on paper will save you from the common excuse of “I have to do it all myself”. You must make a commitment to write down the standards that are floating around your brain. Without clear, concise, and a written process for everything in your restaurant you will never be able to maximize your true potential.

Solution: Scheduled time to do a review of all your current systems. Is there anything missing? Does your training really dive into the details or more just the mechanics? 

Mistake #2 - Everything to Everyone

This mistake is probably one of the most common ones. On the surface it might appear like a great idea to appeal to as many people as possible. The reality is that it is a long-term recipe for failure. 

Solution: There is an exercise that consultants take people through when developing a marketing strategy called an avatar workshop. You will want to come up with an ideal story about your ideal guest. This is also known as developing a "buyer persona." The more detail, the better.


Mistake #3 - Opportunity Costs

Sometimes, there are a lot of soft costs hidden behind what might seem an easy process. Example: it might seem like a good idea to have multiple vendors. You get each one competing against each other for the lowest price. You have lots of options. Good for business, right?

Not so fast. 

What appears as the easy route, actually is not very cost-effective. We tend to assess our organization from a cost standpoint and not an opportunity standpoint.

Solution: When you are presented with an opportunity, write down all the options that are associated with it. Like a massive brainstorming session. Look beyond the cost and try to dial in on long-term benefits.

Mistake #4 - Chasing the Savings

Let’s make this clear: you cannot save your way into profitability. It just can’t be done. There are so many dynamics in restaurant success and while financial sensibility is truly one of them, it cannot be the driving factor. Too many restaurants focus in on just trying to control their food cost through purchasing.

Solution: Take a look at other areas on your P&L like labor cost, linen, turnover rate, entertainment, credit card expenses, and others that might be off the radar. It’s always good to give them a review every quarter.

Mistake #5 - Making Busy Busier

If you don’t have an active plan for marketing your restaurant, then don’t be shocked by random results. Most restaurants that do not have a strategic marketing plan tend to unconsciously market on days that are generally busy anyway… Friday and Saturday. When they do this they just make busy times, busier.

Solution: Have a marketing plan that you follow to make sure to fill in those slower days. Keeping your brand what is known as “top of mind” requires consistent and steady marketing effort. Get creative on ways to drive traffic toward slower days, without compromising your brand.

Mistake #6 - Incomplete Guest Journey

There is a process to everything and knowing the precise journey your guest will take from first being introduced to your brand to leaving your restaurant after visiting is a multi-step process that many overlook.

Solution: It is important to constantly review and improve your guest's journey and steps of service. Once again going back to setting standards and expectations, do you have a clearly defined guest journey? Is each step detailed with what exactly is expected from every member on the team? Do you have timing standards in place? How long after a guest sits down should they be greeted by a member of the team? Remember, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Mistake #7 - Hiring on Demand

If you read any news about the restaurant industry you will surely see the topic that many describe as “the war for talent”. The problem is that this is a self-induced issue caused by hiring on-demand. When you are only hiring because you need to fill a position with a warm body, that’s what you tend to get. Panic hiring is never the answer to build a deep bench of superstars.

Solution: Learning how to interview better is key to selection. The other is to have a continuous recruiting plan in place. You should always be hiring. If you want to attract top talent, then you need to cast a wider net. Always be recruiting.

Mistake #8 - Employee as a Liability

In business when we look at balance sheets, there are two columns: assets and liabilities. A common mistake some restaurants make is that the owners and managers treat the staff as if they are if they are liabilities.

The mind is like a rudder in the sense that what you expect, you tend to get, much like a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think your staff is lazy, then you tend to have lazy staff. If you think your staff is a bunch of thieves, you probably will have a few in your business. Seek and you truly will find.

Solution: How would your team change if you changed your expectations of them? What if you commonly told people on your team that you believe in them and they had something amazing inside of them just waiting to rise up and shine in the world? What if you look for the good in people? Being a cynic is easy. Easy will never make your restaurant outstanding.

Mistake #9 - Lack of Brand Identity

Branding 101: Your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what your guests say it is.

Here is the major dilemma, if you’re confused about your brand, how do you think your guests feel?

Consistency sets expectations for the guests. Consistency molds your brand and reputation. Brand owners who set a high standard and diligently practice consistency in their brand delivery, from their food to service to communications, and add fuel to their brand tank make all other marketing efforts more effective.

Solution: Improve your consistency by implementing benchmarks (or standards). Whether you are a small or large operator, being on-brand every day is a doable task and can produce happier customers and fatter bottom lines. It just requires making decisions on what you stand for and having the discipline to execute your brand story.

Mistake #10 - Training vs Learning Culture

School is never out for professionals. The old saying that “learners are earners” is true. The more you learn and grow, the more value you can bring to your brand. There are basically 5 key challenges you must contend with to break free of your comfort zone: authenticity, competence, resentment, likability, and morality. 

Solution: After you learn it you need to train, train, and train some more to develop the new behavior or skills. Without enough training you will just slide back to your comfort zone. Here is where most restaurants fail. Not training enough. Few restaurants make the effort to really become world class at training. You must shift your culture from a training culture to a learning culture!

Training cultures do the minimum needed. They are average.


I think you’ll see the common thread among most of these mistakes is the inability to make adjustments and change. I will challenge you to look at your restaurant and yourself in new ways. If that makes you a little uncomfortable, good. That is a great place to start.

Remember: change the way you look your restaurant and your restaurant will change.

*NOTE: There is much more behind these 10 Common Mistakes and it was too much to put on this page. Click below and you can get the entire PDF with all the information! 

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With over 39 years of restaurant experience (as a restaurant owner and executive chef with Wolfgang Puck), I have seen A LOT and I have made my share of mistakes along my journey. Allow me to save you some of the pains I have had to go through and guide you to exactly what you need to do to get to what you want. You’re in good hands. No BS, just solutions. That's my promise.

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