The One Thing All Restaurant Owners Want

Day in and day out you are dedicated to the grind. You breathe in stress and breathe out hospitality. You get knocked down one day and get back up the next. Welcome to the world of restaurants and bars. It can be a brutal lifestyle if (and it’s a very big if) you allow it to control you.

You probably can fondly remember your first job in the industry. Looking back on all that you have been through, would you offer your younger self the same path that you are on now or would you talk them into going to medical school as your parents suggested years ago?

Well, you can’t go back in time, so stop the whining and make a resolution to step up! It’s time to kiss Toto goodbye and let’s get down to business.

First off, if you are a restaurant owner, operator, or chef, you most likely want one thing: more time.

It’s understandable. When you started your restaurant, you had this dream of being the boss. You were getting away from the rat race and declared you were now a business owner. You were going to call the shots. You were going to have the life you wanted. Then your restaurant took control.

That once, precious thing called time started to evaporate as your restaurant or bar became an unruly création. Time now is that elusive creature that lurks in the shadows like Bigfoot. You don’t ever get to capture it, and it just seems to be always slightly out of reach.

Here’s the bad news...

You will not get the time you crave running your restaurant or bar the way you do now. Every level of growth requires a new version of yourself. This is natural law and trust me that you do NOT want to challenge that one. The stakes are too high, and the price can end up costing you everything!

Instead, most run around like the chicken with its head cut off and claim they are “managing.” No. You’re just running around like a chicken with their head cut off. Eventually, they keel over and die. We call that stress and burnout in our industry. Let’s stop that from happening to you!

To reach the land of time and freedom, you will need to build a team around you that can elevate your brand to a high level of competency and maintain the standards you have set. *Side note: please say that you have clear, concise, and written standards for your brand.

Step One: Up Your Leadership Impact

To get people to follow you, it requires you step up to becoming the leader you know you must be. Most likely, you have been holding back on setting the tone around your restaurant or bar. Granted, you started probably ready to take on the world, and when the team pushed, again you did what most do, you stopped pushing back, and you settled.

Time to pull up your big boy (or girl) leadership pants and get down to business. If you don’t want to be the leader than step aside and give the job to someone who wants it, you say you can’t because you are the owner? Bullshit. You can be the owner and not the operator. Very few can be the owner and the operator. If leadership is outside your skill sets, better to step down, then bring it all down on top of yourself. Yes, it very noble for the captain to go down with the ship. It’s even better if the captain can admit they shouldn’t be the captain.

Now if you decide to be the leader, then stop your whining and complaining and make some changes! That means getting back to fundamentals. John Wooden (the famous UCLA Men’s Basketball Coach) was notorious for having his team drill on the fundamentals. That started with him showing the team how to put on socks properly.

For you, as the leader, your fundamental is core values. You’re going to need to dig down to uncover them. You have to know who you are and what you stand for! Your core values become your compass for how you show up in the world. If respect is not a core value of yours, do you think your team is going to respect the others on the staff or the guests? Good luck if you think they will. Your restaurant is a reflection of your culture. Your culture is a reflection of your core values.

Write out your core values or better yet make a poster of them that hang in your office and around your restaurant. Be known as the leader who walks their talk and lives their core values. To get a team behind you that will take responsibility and accountability to the level you need, you must be a leader that they want to follow. Lead by example and not as a lesson for being a shitty human being.

Step Two: Hire the Right People

In a tight labor market, like we have today, it’s very seductive to take the first warm body that applies for your job opening. You need to resist this urge to hire quickly. Remember that sometimes it’s not the person you fail to hire that ruins your business, it the only you fail to fire that you allowed being on your team in the first place.

People are pretty suave today when it comes to interviews. They know the right words to say to get their foot in the door. Once they get in, it can become like a squatter tenant. Trying to get them evicted (think of the 1990 movie Pacific Heights with Michael Keaton and Matthew Modine) can become a nightmare.

So how do you safeguard against a bad hire? Behavioral assessment. People can fool you; it’s much harder to deceive a survey created to root out how you’re wired. For restaurant and bar professionals, I recommend either the DiSC®️, Predictive Index®️, or the ProScan®️ survey. Any of these three will be able to tell you a person’s primary or strongest behavior trait.

There are four cornerstone behavioral traits, and while we have all four, we have them in different amounts, which creates a kind of personality recipe.

Dominance is your take charge trait. People high dominance are results driven, short on small talk, and can get a little short when communicating.

Extroversion is your people trait. Those with high extroversion tend to get energy from people, they can start up conversations quickly, and they love the social aspect of work.

Pace is your rate of motion trait. People with high pace like routines and consistency. They don’t like rapid change and avoid confrontations.

Conformity is your systems or rules trait. To people with high conformity that see the world as black and white. Rules are made to be followed, and they love systems (spreadsheets and details).

As you can see, that specific jobs within your business require certain behavioral traits to run them. That’s why author Jim Collins of Good to Great is famous for saying, “Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”

Having a behavioral survey (and a consultant trained in interpreting them for restaurants and bars) is critical to getting the right team built around you. Without the right people in the right positions, you will always be in battle mode, and getting your restaurant under control will always be a distant dream on the horizon.

Step Three: Protect Your Culture

The last step is to make sure you have a culture that can get you what you want. Not many think about having an active hand in the cultivation of their brand culture, and as a result, they get one more by default. That hands off the wheel approach will get you a culture that might not be in alignment with your long term vision for your brand. That is the Achilles Heel that takes down a promising concept.

Culture is the secret sauce of legendary brands. Think of Chick-fil-A, Shake Shack, and Commander’s Place in New Orleans. All known for creating an outstanding culture that exceeds expectations and elevates the guest experience.

Once you step up to become the leader they want and start to get the right people on your team, it’s time to get your culture under control. Look out for warning signs that your culture is a monster that needs to be killed before it eats your brand.

What are the warning signs:
• Entitlement (I deserve it)
• Complaining (The guests/my co-workers suck)
• Complacency (I’m not doing extra)
• Lack of effort (It’s good enough)
• Disengaged staff (I don’t feel like working)
• People that don’t follow the rules (I don’t need to do that)
• Lack of empathy (I don’t care)
• Low productivity (I’ll milk the clock)
• Lack of responsibility (It’s not my job)

Any of these that show up in your restaurant or bar is a warning sign that a toxic culture is brewing. Eliminate those responsible for this toxicity as soon as possible. The soul of your culture depends upon you protecting it all the time.

That’s the secret to getting your business back under control so you can have more time for what matters. Culture is the cure.

With the right culture in place, you’ll have a brand that people respect (both guests and staff), a brand that people admire (both guests and staff), and a brand that people are loyal to (both guests and staff).

When you get here, you will get your restaurant and your life back.

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