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The 11 Habits of Outstanding Restaurants

branding culture guest journey hospitality operations Apr 18, 2022

The restaurant world will never be the same after what we have been through over the past few years.

Things have changed rapidly for restaurants around the globe and many look to the USA for trends and insight into which direction the industry is headed.

I can tell you from working with over 2200 independent restaurants over the last 12 years that in any market regardless of current economic conditions…a lot of restaurants struggle (20%), and some just survive (60%). There are also some that thrive (15%) and the elite few that drive their market (5%)….these top two categories came out of the pandemic stronger because they focused on the right things.

Here’s where restaurant owners get off track. They focus on the wrong things. 

What are some of the wrong things?


Sales is a vanity metric. It makes your ego feel good. Remember that it’s more important how much you keep than how much you make. Many of my clients when they first start my coaching program do a big sales number. I’ve had restaurants making $3M in sales and yet only making 2% profit.

Would you rather have a $3M dollar restaurant doing 2% profit or a $1M dollar restaurant making 20% profit? I don’t know about you…but I’ll take that 20% profit restaurant model every time! 

#WTSD: If everything is important, then nothing is.

As I helped restaurants recover from the pandemic I found that there were only a handful of things that separated those good, from great, from outstanding. In fact, there are 11 habits that the most successful restaurant brand in the USA all have in common.

#WTSD: Your restaurant is a reflection of your habits. Period.

If your restaurant is running smooth and you are making a lot of profits. Then you have more good habits than bad habits. Now, if your restaurant is running a little rough…then you have some habits that have to be changed. The good news is that habits are learned behavior so that means if you can learn a habit, you can unlearn it, and then learn a better habit.

The 11 Habits

1. They have a compelling why or vision!

Why do you do what you do? What gets you up in the morning to go to your restaurant and work all day and night? Simon Sinek in his best-selling book titled Start With Why says that “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” 

It’s so true and yet so many have NO IDEA what their why is. And that is the reason their marketing sucks.

Sinek also talks about a concept called The Golden Circle and if you can learn the correct way to communicate it will change the course of your restaurant in a very positive way.


You see it’s just three rings. What. How. And Why. Every restaurant knows what they do. You’re a pizza shop, a tapas bar, a gastropub. Most restaurants know how they are different and that’s the how. We have a Josper Wood-burning Oven. We use family recipes. Marketing pros call this your USP or Unique Selling Proposition. Very few restaurants know why they do what they do and that’s a HUGE mistake.

Here’s something you need to be aware of: What and how do not inspire people to take action. Only the why gets people to come to your restaurant.

The number one thing you can do starting today to improve your marketing is to learn which direction you want to communicate from…

90% of restaurants communicate from the outside in because it’s logical.

#WTSD: we buy for emotional reasons and justify it with logical ones.

So, let me give you an example of how a typical restaurant communicates: “We’re a local family taco restaurant. We follow family recipes and we make everything fresh each day. Wanna buy a taco?”

Boring, right?

Let’s flip that and start with why. "We believe that your food should be prepared in front of you so you can see our commitment to freshness and quality. We believe that your food shouldn’t contain chemicals of GMO’s. We believe that gathering around the table to share life with family and friends is what our restaurant is all about. We follow recipes handed down from our family in Barcelona. We also make damn good tacos!"

See the difference?

 Example: Chipotle

2. They have high standards.

Each week I have someone call me and ask me “What’s something I could do today to have a better restaurant?”

My response is always the same…

The number one thing that will change your restaurant or your life is you MUST raise your standards.

Raise your standards? That sounds so basic that it can’t be that easy? It sounds easy, but it’ll be the hardest thing you do.

#WTD: We don’t get what we want, we get what we tolerate…in ourselves and others. When you’re no longer willing to tolerate something, THAT’S when your life changes. The difference in restaurants is their standards. Period.

The main reason your standards have dropped is that you started giving yourself excuses not to do the things you KNOW deep down you need to do.

You see, most restaurant owners have a list of things they “should” do. I should market more. I should get on online ordering. I should recruit more talent. I should cost out my menu. They should and should and should through the day. Basically, they just “should” themselves into mediocrity.

You can stop this today by changing one word. Change the word “should” into MUST. I must market more. I must get on online ordering. I must recruit more talent. I must cost out my menu.

If want to take the island, take a play out of explorer Hernan Cortez’s playbook and BURN THE BOATS. When you give yourself no way to go back, it is amazing what happens when that SHOULD becomes a MUST! That’s what makes human beings succeed.

What holds most people back in life is that they want guarantees from others but they don’t ask for guarantees from themselves. Stop doing that!

Example: The French Laundry

3. They attract A-players.  

You can’t make a great soup out of rotten ingredients.

The best understand that constantly recruiting and attracting top talent isn’t something they do when they need to fill an empty spot on the team.

They are always attracting top talent by the message they send out through their guest experience and their marketing.

The restaurant world has a horrible reputation for treating people poorly. So much so that many of the younger generations does not see the hospitality industry as a good career choice.

The so-called “labor crisis” in the USA is a self-inflicted wound caused by decades of mental and physical transgressions between restaurant managers and restaurant workers.

We have to do a better job and promote the right things…

Instead, we praise the “celebrity chef” who works 16 hours a day and sacrifices their life for their craft. The restaurant owner becomes a martyr because hasn’t taken a vacation in seven years because they HAVE to be at their restaurant.

These younger generations look at this and think…”That’s crazy”.

The best celebrate their culture, their team, and diversity. They don’t just post on social media they MARKET the energy of their brand and not just pictures of their food.

#WTSD: Your vibe attracts your tribe.

The question you need to ask yourself is this: What am I promoting to the world?

 Example: Chick-fil-A

 4. They live their core values.

Your words tell me what you say you are, your action tells me the truth.

Over the last 12 years of being The Restaurant Coach™️, I can tell you with 100% accuracy that the very best not only have a crystal clear message of why they do what they do, but they also have a solid set of core values that they live by.

They also hold their leadership team accountable to be an example of these core values. They don’t talk a good game, they play the game with their actions.

The best restaurants in the USA use their core values as an ethical compass for everything they do.

I highly recommend that you create a core value/mission card that you talk about with your team and with your guests EVERY SINGLE DAY! 

Example: Sweetgreens, Union Square Hospitality

 5. They have multiple revenue streams

If you put all your eggs in one basket, don’t be upset when that basket gets stolen.

The pandemic taught a lot of restaurants that they needed to expand their revenue streams. When dining rooms shut down many scrambled to get the cash flow going again. For some, it was too much to change and they shut down. 

I am not saying that we will ever face a situation like the pandemic of 2020. I am saying is you don’t want to rely on just one revenue stream. 

So what have restaurants in the USA done to diversify their revenue streams? 

  • Ghost Kitchens
  • Virtual brands
  • Retail outlets
  • Pop-ups 

What could you do that could take off the pressure of filling your dining room?

#WTSD: It’s never the lack of resources that holds people back. It is the lack of resourcefulness that does. For any challenge, you tell me…I can give you at least three solutions to get through it.

Example: Dog Haus - Bad Mutha Clucka and Bad Ass Breakfast Burritos

 6. They are committed to training.

"We don't rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training." ~ Archilochus

The best make training a part of their culture. McDonald’s is known for its rapid growth, but that growth was only possible when they created a national training university called Hamburger U that allowed them to create consistency throughout their global brand which has given them success over the last 66 years!

Think about that…96% of restaurants won’t make it 10 years. McDonald's has not only lasted through multiple economic recessions they are still a predominant fast-food player around the world.

Love them or hate them…everyone reading this has heard of McDonald’s.

If you want to rise to the top of your market then you must commit to being known as the restaurant that trains its team more than any other. And here’s the thing you can all do that if you make it a must! 

Example: McDonald's, Chipotle, &Pizza

 7. They create raving fans.

You have two types of fans…internal and external. Don’t sacrifice one for the other.

The very best brand understands that they have two types of guests. There are external guests that come to their test and purchase goods and services. And they have internal guests that create the experience for the external guests.

Average restaurants focus on the guest experience and forget the team experience. Outstanding restaurants focus more on the team experience and trust that will enhance the guest experience.

There is an old saying that goes…”You don’t build a business, you build your people and your people build the business.”

It’s true.

Many people think that culture and brand are the same things. And while they are similar they are also very different. Here’s a simple definition:

Brand = what your guests say about you…online, to their friends, to their family.

Culture = what your team says about you…online, to their friends, to their family.

Culture and brand live in a symbiotic state like the Ying Yang symbol. One needs the other.

 Example: Chick-fil-A, In-n-Out Burger

 8. They are focused on market domination.

Life is way to short to play small in the world.

The very best USA Restaurant Brands don’t dabble in marketing. They go all in every day with content that tells their story and share their culture. They make a commitment to not just post, but rather take you on a journey.

Look at your social media feed when you get a minute. What does it say about you other than you sell food?

Do you invite me into a story?

Do you show me why you do what you do?

Do I feel you care more about me than yourself?

Domination occurs when you have a steady flow of content that lets the world know your why. If you are not sharing your story, your culture, your passion, your mission…you’re just making noise and there is too much noise on social media as there is.

#WTSD: Connect with people through emotions.

 Examples: Starbucks, Modern Market, Nékter Juice Bar, Sweetgreen

 9. They embrace the spirit of hospitality and use technology to keep connected.

The word hospitality comes from the Latin word Hospes…which means to be a host.

Memorable brands make you feel special. They make you feel like a guest in your home. Now, some brands have an easier time doing this if they have a lot of guest contact points. The few steps in your guest journey, the more you must ensure that every interaction is maximized.

The pandemic took away many of those connections for a while and some are having a hard time adapting to the new way that guests interact with your brand…online.

Technology is here and you’re going to need to embrace it even if you don’t like it. Your guests and your team not only embrace it, but they also want it.

What technology should you embrace?

  • Online ordering
  • Text messages
  • Loyalty programs

Example: Chick-fil-A One, Chipotle Rewards, Starbucks, MOD Pizza, Noodles & Company

 10. They constantly protect their brand.

They are deeply aware of “mediocrity creep”.

When you have worked so hard to create something amazing…you must protect it at all times. The famous athletic clothing line Under Armour has a saying that has become the foundation of their culture: Protect this house.

As you make your restaurant better by developing your mission, core values, and why. When you raise your standards to be the best version that you can become you will become a target and other people will want to see you fall. It’s a “crab mentality” of if I can’t have it, I won’t let you have it.

Now, something you need to be aware of. That crab mentality could come from your competition or it could come from someone working for you.

When I worked for Wolfgang Puck he always preached that we made decisions that would protect the brand.

How do you protect your brand?

  • Have written standards
  • Have written recipes
  • Have a multidimensional training system

Example: Wolfgang Puck

11. They practice Kaizen. 

If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.

All the outstanding restaurants in the USA and even around the world share this…they never settle for what was accomplished yesterday.

Kaizen is a Japanese term it’s more of a philosophy of “constant and never-ending improvement”. It’s a commitment each day to be better than you were yesterday.

When you adopt this into your life and culture…incredible things happen.

  • You enjoy the journey to success more.
  • You find you don’t get bored.
  • You seek to learn and understand the world around you.
  • You don’t worry about the competition, you make them worry about you.

These 11 Traits are what the most successful brand in the USA and they will take your brand to the top of your market….if you take them and apply them.

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