I was very honored to be interviewed by Tony Chapman at the recent Restaurants Canada Leadership Conference in Toronto.
Tony is a super dynamic speaker and host across mainstream media. His knapsack is filled with thirty years of experience, as an entrepreneur whose agencies developed award winning go to market and branding strategies across all industry sectors. This combined with his curious mind to stay current, and a work ethic to create customized talks packed with actionable insights and strategies for each audience is what earns him the recommendations and reputation you will find on the internet.
Tony: With me is Donald Burns, The Restaurant Coach™, named one of The Top 50 Restaurant Experts to Follow and one of 23 Inspiring Hospitality Experts to Follow on Twitter. You have worked across the restaurant industry - including as an Executive Chef with Wolfgang Puck, a restauranteur, a consultant today to multibillion dollar company, and if that isn’t enough a former USAF Pararescue! You wrote a book that I have to confess ranks as one of my all time favourite titles - Your Restaurant Sucks, and a sequel that is coming off the presses as we speak - Your Restaurant STILL Sucks. Let’s get to it! What made you fall in love with the restaurant business?
Donald: My father was a chef. A very talented chef, however, he was very old school in his leadership style. It was that break then down and build them up mentally. Here’s the problem with that. Have you ever taken something apart and ended up with an extra piece when you put it back together? We are really great at breaking people down, we’re not good at putting them back together. So, when you break people down you end up with broken people in you business. That’s not smart. So, when I was 18 my father told me “it was in my blood”, my reply, “I want a transfusion!” So, I went into the military and was very lucky to have made it through a selection process for the USAF Pararescue Teams which is combat search and rescue. After my military service, I started working back in restaurants while in college and a funny thing happened..I fell in love with it. I started working with the right chefs and have become obsessed with what makes a restaurant successful! I often say that success leaves clues and I became a detective in finding out the WHY behind restaurant success!
Tony: A lot of people get focused, sometimes trapped in their job. What made you continuously look beyond the event to ways in which the event could be improved?
Donald: At an early age I wanted to prove myself to my father. The problem with that is when you seek outside validation, it might not ever come. Then what? You’re stuck on a never ending treadmill of seeking approval. When I understood that the only approval I needed was from myself, it changed my life. Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to grow and become the best version of yourself you can be. In fact, humans have a hardwired trait to adapt and evolve. We crave it. We need it. The sad thing is that when most don’t get the success or approval they seek as fast as they want, they give up and settle for mediocrity. Once you do that, it’s pretty much game over!
Tony: You wrote a book - that is certainly attention worthy, but could offend some. What was the inspiration behind the title Your Restaurant Sucks, and how do you turn it from an insult to a smile and a business opportunity?
Donald: It’s a cool story. The original title was Restaurant Unleashed. My editor, Doug Crowe called me and said he didn’t like it. He said it was too average. The word average got me fired up. Who wants to be average? So he asked me to talk about some experiences I have had with clients. Now, I do private executive coaching with high achievers in the restaurant industry (CEO’s, Presidents, Founders, Owners) and I was talking to an owner one day who was basically just bitching about everything. “The market sucks. My team sucks. My guests suck. My restaurant sucks!” I let him get it all out and then I said to him, “You know if your restaurant sucks, it’s because you suck running it.” Then I just sat there silent. I could see him getting angry, and then a surprised look came over him like a lightbulb went off and he said to me, “You’re right. This is my fault as a leader.” It changed his business and it changed the title of my book. Let me add one more thing, if you are offended by a book title and don’t have the courage to look past that and read a few chapters to see what the book is really about which is human potential, then your restaurant might suck!
Tony: If I was in an elevator with you - and we had ten floors - what advice could you give me to make my restaurant better?
Donald: Stop looking outward for solutions and start looking inward. You can change your menu. You can change the decor. You can change your staff. You can even change locations. However, if you don’t change you, your mindset as the leader none of it matters. Your restaurant is a reflection of you as a leader. Your habits. Your passion. Your beliefs. That’s the thing most restaurant consultants don’t talk about and mostly because they’re not qualified and that is about mindset. Instead they distract you and try to sell you a software system, a new POS, or tell you that you need a new checklist. That’s systems. 20% of restaurant success is systems and strategy. The 80% is the mental game it’s mindset. You have to know you. What are you good at, what are you marginal at, and what do you suck at. Then you must create a business strategy around those answers that can elevate your business to the level I call outstanding. Where you stand out in the market. You see there are 4 levels of restaurants: the bad, the good, the great, and the outstanding. Bad restaurants don’t last, good restaurant make up 60% of the market and they are a commodity where they fight each other for market share, great restaurants want to own their market, and outstanding restaurants want to dominate their market. When you dominate you are the brand of choice! The question is what level are you really at and how do you get to the next level?
Tony: What are the big bets for restaurants to pursue?
Donald: The guest dining preferences are changing. People want convenience, they want healthier options, they want customized options. The biggest area of growth is delivery and online ordering. Now be careful when you jump into delivery, because not everything on your menu travels well in a container for 29-30 minutes, so work your delivery menu to be a positive reflection of your brand. Because as you know everyone has a mobile phone and everyone is now an online food critic. Word of mouth has been replaced by world of mouth!
Tony: What are the headwinds and how do they overcome them.
Donald: Labor is problematic everywhere in the world. You need to invest and spend time developing your culture to attract better people. Culture flows down not up and that starts with you. Culture is a magnet and attracts people to your business. Start showing the human side of your brand on social media. Those food and beverage pictures are nice, however they don’t show me who you are and what you're really about besides pretty food and drink. Tell me a story and take me on a journey. All people, whether it’s your guests or potential staff, want to be taken on a journey. Become a tour guide to take them on that journey.
Tony: You created Off the Range Ventures - your Linkedin Page says you are obsessed with becoming outstanding and getting the most out of life. Drive towards peak performance and you use cutting edge programs combined with behavioural science. Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Tell me more...
Obsession gets a bad reputation. Sure an obsession can be bad if it controls you. However, if you control it that can evaluate you past ordinary to extraordinary. I understood early that all business problems are really people problems in disguise. Solve the people problems and the business problems start to disappear. To do that I have studied and been certified in NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming. If you break the word down it’s quite simple: Neuro is the brain. Linguistics is words. Programming is how the words and the brain work together to form your behavior. Your behavior predicts your level of performance.
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