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7 Rules for a Kick Ass Restaurant

mindset operations Oct 15, 2017

Do you want a better restaurant? Now, don't answer so fast. I really want you to thinking about the deep implications of the answer. A lot of people want more, few are willing to go past their comfort zone to get more and be more. Your comfort zone is easy and let's be's comfortable.

Nothing great ever happened from being in your comfort zone. Eating Doritos in a bean bag chair drinking a soda while watching Top Chef might be the good life for some. For others that is just the slow death of dreams and potential.

So, if you want your restaurant to kick ass then you have to be willing to go for it and go all in. Over the years I have seen the patterns of success and the traits that lead to failure. I myself have had struggles when I deviate from the path. The following seven rules are tested and proven to give you the groundwork needed to escape the cult of average and blast into the realm of outstanding.

I love that word. Outstanding. To me it means to stand out from the crowd to surpass the ordinary and chart your own path. Everyone can become outstanding. Everyone. You just have to be committed to these seven rules, do the work, make adjustments, and you'll get the results.

Now if you have not been pushing yourself very hard please do not expect overnight results. Even when you are doing the right things there will be a little "lag time" for the new habits and change in thoughts to catch up and bypass the old habitual habits that are holding you where you are now. It's kinda like updating the operating system on your computer. Be patient. Keep at it and whatever you do...don't quit.

Here are my 7 Rules for a Kick Ass Restaurant:

1. Culture flows down, not up and culture starts with you. 

This is my number one rule and for the simple reason...all business problems are really people problems in disguise. Your restaurant's culture is not a make believe thing. It's real, tangible, and it is the life blood of outstanding restaurants. Culture is created and it's fueled by the actions you take every day. Culture cannot be left to chance because it is a reflection of you.

Think of culture like a pipe of energy flowing down to the team. The pipe runs straight up and down. You as the energy source is at the top and you control the flow. The energy runs down. Along the way there are gates that have the potential to slow down the flow. These are the managers on your team. They can either add to the flow of culture or they can slow it down. The more clogs along the way the less energy of culture will feed the team at the end of the pipe.

One of my primary tools to understand exactly where the flow of culture is clogged is to conduct my 360 Leadership Evaluation™. I need to see how much of the culture you talk about actually really disseminates to the team. It's that energy that makes it to your guests. You might have the best intentions and vision, however if it does not flow down to the team that interacts with your guests, you're in trouble.

2. Always manage the state or energy of your restaurant.

State management is the primary divider between the outstanding and the average. State is energy and energy is everything. Let me repeat that: Energy is everything.

Energy creates atmosphere and is that hidden "it" factor that makes a great guest experience and transforms it to exceptional! Here's the secret: people are energy. You are in control of the energy you bring into your restaurant. You.

How can you manage your state better? Here are a few tips:

A. Be Aware - your world changes when you are aware of your habits and patterns. Sadly, most people go through life like the walking dead never aware of the things holding them back. Awareness precedes choice and choice precedes change...if you are willing to take action.

B. Thought Become Things - there is an epic quote by William Shakespeare that if you can understand this one sentence will change your life, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Nothing has meaning until you attach one to it. A member of your team shows up 15 minutes late. Do you attach the meaning that they are irresponsible or disrespectful to you? Maybe the just were just honestly late and it has nothing to do with you? Hmmm. Life takes on a different view when we disassociate from the negative viewpoints and become more open to other possibilities.

C. Watch Your Social Orbit - water seeks its own level and we do become like those we associate with. You hang out with losers, guess what? Hang out with highly driven, focused, and successful people and who would you guess you would become like? Your social orbit or peer group is more important than you realize. You will need to rise to the level of the peer group to stay. Now, you might have some conflict around this is you want to become better and reach a higher orbit while still keeping a foot in your current one. Sometime you have to let go of things holding you down. That includes relationships that no longer serve you and your vision.

3. Managers manage the shift, while leaders lead the vision. Be the leader they want. 

Let's be brutally honest. There are very few true leaders in this industry. People love the title leader, yet few are. The reality is that most are not developed into leaders. Yes, there are natural leadership traits that help. Michael Jordan had incredible natural talent. What made him iconic was the work he put in before the game that made him stand so far out that won him 6 NBA Championships. Managers come to work and just do the job to get by. Leaders learn to become better leaders. They read, take online course (shameless plug here for my online courses at The Restaurant Coach™ University), they listen to audio books (I use Audible and it shows that I have listened to 497 books which is around 10,800 hours), they seek out a mentor or coach, they are constantly improving their game.

Most manager cling to outdated management theories from the 70's! They still use carrots and sticks to get staff to comply. They abuse the power they have and create a culture of fear and intimidation. They have the belief they are not replaceable. Now, let me assure you that EVERYONE is replaceable, the replacement might not be the same however they could actually become better. It's that fear of being replaced due to lack of real leadership skills that causes most managers to overcompensate and be basically.... assholes. Humility is a sign of true leadership. 

Managers run the shift like a game of checkers...pure reaction. Leaders lead through strategic vision like chess. They have figured out the variables for a variety of scenarios and play best case and worse case in their head to mitigate the downside. Special Operations Teams like the Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and Air Force Pararescue spend more time training then they do performing missions. They keep their skills constantly honed like a razor.

If you want to become a real leader than get out in front of your team and lead. It's that simple.

4. You either control time or it will control you.

Time is a construct of the human mind. We created time and yet time controls so many of us. Time is always on our minds. Every day you are given 14,400 minutes to spend and the big difference between those that get what they want in life to those who don't is how they invest that time.

The secret to time management is this: there is no such thing as time management! You can't control or manage time because it does not stop. There is no way you can stop time or press a pause button. What you can manage is your focus and that is the secret! People say that "time is money". It's not. Money is money. Focus is the real currency you have. Where you put your energy and focus is critical to long term success.

So how can you manage your focus better?

A. Set Yourself Reminders - if have a smartphone you have one of the best tools available to help's your alarm feature. Sometimes just having a gentle nudge throughout the day is all you might need to get back on the "focus track". I personally use this technique that I teach in my LevelUP!™ Peak Performance System. I set my alarm for 6 reminders during the day at 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm, 5 pm, and 8 pm (yeah I tend to work late). This really is a great way to help me pull my focus back on task and target.

B. Put a price on distractions - here is another tool taught in my LevelUP!™ System you need to put a dollar amount to your time per hour. If you want to be worth $400 an hour you need to act like it. Your words must be in congruence with your actions. Now I don't have a problem with watching a movie, favorite TV show or some leisure time on social media. Just be aware that these platforms can become a black hole that will suck you in if you allow it. The best way to control that is think about how much an hour you are worth and imagine having to write a real check at the end of the week for the time you spent on those activities. 8 hours watching TV, 8 hours on social media* can add up to a lot rather quickly. If you are worth the mentioned $400 an hour, then you would be writing a check for $6,400 for the week in distractions. Ouch!

*Research says that the average person spends about 2 hours a day total on social media. That is scary! 

5. It's not the person you fail to hire that destroys your restaurant, it's the person you fail to fire.

Who you allow on your team is probably one of the most important jobs an owner or leader has. Vetting people to join your team is critical to long term success. It's not just is the person a good fit for the job. It's also are they a good fit with the current team dynamics. Skills are important however personality is everything!

The other side of the hiring coin is letting go of bad fits to the team. Listen, even if you ask all the right questions, do background checks, and even have them take a behavioral survey (which I do recommend) and they seem like a great fit for the team, they might not work out due to team dynamics. Some people are very good at interviewing. They know what to say to get the job. It only when you throw them in the mix and they work with your current team that the real person shows up. Most people will be on their best behavior for about 2 weeks, then their little quirks will start to appear. Now, everyone has quirks because that is what makes us unique. You just need to decide when they start to come out if they are going to be acceptable to the overall team dynamic.

One of my favorite motto's is to be slow to hire and quick to fire. When you see behavior or patterns that are a warning sign, cut them loose. Trust me, the behavior will only get worse as time goes by. Too many owners are afraid to discipline or let go of poor performers so, they allow them to stay. It just wreaks havoc on the team and eventually will affect the guest experience.

If you have anyone on your team that you know you should let go, just do it. If someone is not happy on your team you are actually holding them back from maybe finding a restaurant that they could be happy at. Not every restaurant is a good fit for everyone. Just like your restaurant cannot be the right fit to a certain market demographic, well you might not be a good fit for some employees. Don't be selfish and hold onto people who are not thriving in your organization, allow them the chance to find happiness...just somewhere else.

6. Restaurants get better when the people in them become better.

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 the market. If you are a leader, the more you learn about communications, management theory, marketing, service, operations, team dynamics, and personal development, the more you are worth. Now if you think that can all happen during your 40-50 work week then I have some sad news for's not going to happen.

Write these words down: Learn It, Train It, Apply It! 

You have to push past your comfort zone if you want to grow. Now pushing past your comfort zone is not as easy as people think. But hey, if it was easy than everyone would do it. There are basically 5 keys challenges you must contend with to break free of your comfort zone: authenticity, competence, resentment, likability, and morality. Sometimes you only hit a few of these challenges and you might be able to work through them. Other times you are going to get slapped upside the head by all 5 and that feels like running into a brick wall. Coaching is an effective tool to get people through the comfort zone they tend to stay close to. To learn you need to get beyond your comfort zone. 

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. They train the team when they are brought on and maybe (just maybe) train them once in a while. Few restaurants make the effort to really become world class at training. Whatever you think is a good amount of training, honestly probably is far below the level you need to be at. The best way to make this change into more training is to shift your culture from a training culture to a learning culture!

Training cultures just do the normal training curriculum that focuses on job skills. You train at the on-boarding phase and maybe a class every six months. Maybe you hand out a book for people to read however, there is no discussion or agenda to extract the information and apply it to the business. Training cultures do the minimum needed. They are average. 

Learning cultures focus on developing not just skills, they go beyond to enhance people skills. Restaurants truly get better when you have better people working in them. Work on the real skill sets that hold people back: communications, social skills, body language, building rapport, organization, focus, and personal accountability. These are the skills that transcends restaurants to the legendary level. Make an investment in developing you people and they will build your business. Most restaurants focus too much on build business and sales. People often are an afterthought. Change that equation and you'll change your business for the better. 

7. Awareness precedes choice and choice precedes change. 

Know that you are your biggest problem and also your best solution. That starts with self-awareness. You might not know that you don't know. Awareness is freeing once you come to grips with it. The truth will set you free, right after it first pisses you off. It's okay. You'll need to lean in an embrace this, that will set you on the path to become more.

After reading all of this, do you feel uncomfortable? Good. Being uncomfortable is a great place to start. Nothing will get better for you until you feel uncomfortable. Now if you really want to push it to the point where you take action is you have to really become upset. 

Upset? Hey, that's not very positive coach! I know, I know, stay with me here. 
Your comfort zone can be a blind spot for you and even when you start to realize something might not be right and you feel uncomfortable...that is not enough to make changes. You are going to need to dig deep and write down what it will really cost you if you don't change. That can be a dark and brutal exercise. However you need to use that pain to move you towards taking action. You need to turn your "shoulds" into a must. You should fire that poor performer, you should train you team, you should be marketing more on social media, you should take better care of yourself..."shoulds" don't happen very often. Only when they become a must do they happen and you'll take action.

You are your biggest obstacle to getting more from your restaurant and yourself. Now you have some ways to make that happen...if you make it a must and take action, NOW.

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