Back to Blog

WARNING: Restaurant Culture In Crisis

brian duncan culture the restaurant coach Jun 13, 2022

Interview Series: Brian Duncan of Down To Earth Wine Concepts

Here is another interview from The CONQUER Online Restaurant Summit with my friend Brian Duncan. Brian always has a unique understanding and view of the world. The topic for this talk was how Restaurant Culture is in Crisis.

Donald Burns:    Hey, welcome to the Conquer Online Restaurant Summit. Today, I have the privilege and honor to speak with Brian Duncan, who is the founder of Down to Earth Wine Concepts based in Chicago, Illinois. Besides running a training and consulting company, Brian is also known for his groundbreaking concept called Bin 36. If you're from Chicago you know about Bin 36. It's famous. It was an incredible restaurant. It really actually reinvented the wine restaurant whole concept and formulation about how people looked at wine and restaurants together. He also started the first online wine resource website called Go Wine and it's And we'll talk about it a little bit later. Brian speaks to audiences all around the world about training culture and exactly how to build a solid beverage program that can enhance your bottom line. Brian, welcome to the Conquer Online Summit. I'm so honored and privileged to have you here, my friend.

Brian Duncan:    Thank you for the invitation. I've always enjoy working with and collaborating with you.

Donald Burns:    Yeah, it's always awesome. I put out some questions to my restaurant mastermind group because I said, "Hey, I got Brian Duncan for the Conquer Summit. Any questions anybody want to ask?" I have to say they helped out and they gave me quite a few.

Brian Duncan:    Good.

Donald Burns:    Let's just jump right into them. COVID-19 has really shaken up our industry to its core. How have you been dealing with this pandemic?

Brian Duncan:    Well, when I think about it, the last memory, really solid memory that I have is you and our group, having an incredible evening in Madrid, Spain at Hospitality Innovation Planet. I left on the 27th and while we were there, I remember our last night and how we were walking around the Plaza at Mercado San Miguel and the world could not be more exciting. When I got back, well first of all in the airport, I realized people had masks on and the security seemed more intense and more layers. Italy had just exploded with cases while we were in Madrid, but nothing really happening in Spain. When I got back, it began to be so surreal. I had a couple of events, private events, corporate dining events, and there were two more left on the book.

                And with each passing day, things looked more grim. My last two dinner events went really well. As a matter of fact, one was on March 5th and it was a room full of 50 doctors, which was interesting. So it was this real time appreciation for how the medical community was looking at it, which was a very rare opportunity for me to really get a sense of where we were going in the next days. they had very, very strong opinions. The following week, my last event was on the 12th and we had originally had 50 people sign up for this event. The night of it, we were down to 35.

Donald Burns:    Wow.

Brian Duncan:    That was March 12th.

Donald Burns:    That's crazy.

Brian Duncan:    Then before you know it, by the end of the month, everything, all the restaurants and hospitality hotels were closed. It was, my jaw dropped because it didn't seem possible that you could shut down an industry that size.

Donald Burns:    Exactly.

Brian Duncan:    When is this going to happen? And those were where all the questions began. [00:04:00] I had a restaurant client I was doing wine training for. That came to immediate halt because they shut down. In the interim, I've been still consulting. Some of it's free, trying to help people hold on and give them recommendations on how to reset, how to rethink and how to breathe.

Donald Burns:    Right. Yeah, that's all you can do right now.

Brian Duncan:    Yeah and it's interesting. I haven't been fearful as much. Initially, I think most recently I've become angry with all the misinformation and the confusion, and that's not helpful.

Donald Burns:    No.

Brian Duncan:    And all the speculation. But in the meantime, what I realized very early on was that in the middle of chaos, in the middle of crisis, there are opportunities.

Donald Burns:    Yes, yes, yes.

Brian Duncan:    If you can keep a level of peace ... Look, this industry has been in me, my dream to own and run restaurants has been in me since I was a small child. My dreams all came true. I say that with a lot of humility. I can't imagine what it would be like. I had four restaurants operating simultaneously, some years, a few years back. How people dealt with the initial shock of having to make decisions of whether to lay off, furlough, stay open, how to regroup. Those that didn't have the revenue or the savings to do anything other than close. There's so many different levels of this and stories. I just read a Bloomberg article about 11 Madison Park, one of my favorite restaurants in the world, saying that they may not reopen.

Donald Burns:    Yeah, I saw that.

Brian Duncan:    Some profound individuals stories. But, today we can roll up our sleeves a little bit. And while there's no one pill answer, I do think that there's some opportunities that I hope we can flesh out. That's what I wanted to contribute. I'm listening every day, because we pour out, but we want to be poured into as well. And collaboration is a powerful tool.

Donald Burns:    That is so true. That is so true. Collaboration, I think that's the one thing that's going to help us get through this.

Brian Duncan:    I do too.

Donald Burns:    All of us pitching in and helping out and just, and you said, it's not spreading disinformation. Not spreading fear, not spreading panic. But spreading hope and actually solid advice.

Brian Duncan:    Yeah, yeah. Some of the great examples, this is probably a good jumping off point, is that people like Jose Andres and Daniel Humm, he found a way to feed hungry and homeless people in New York. Jose Andres is probably the model, the standard by which all of us can begin to draw from. Who are we? Who are we? We're hospitality industry, are at the foundation. You and I have had these conversations many times amongst ourselves. But we're at the foundation of our beginnings, is the care of other people. And so, the fact that so many people with World Kitchen and some of these other organizations have pivoted into the work of feeding people who are really in trouble. I won't go into it deeply, but I live in an urban city and you don't have to walk very far to see people that are not doing very well.

                We think about people that we talk about, "Well, I hope there are people that have an emergency fund or a rainy day fund, or that you've saved enough to survive another six months, or so." There's people that are not even making it barely day to day before any of this happened. One of the things that really I thought about because of what I'm seeing is that there are needs in the streets. We see homeless people, and I hope that we're able to speak to that and address that, because we're growing that population at a huge rate.

Donald Burns:    Exactly.

Brian Duncan:    It's very troubling. You can imagine the people that were living check to check. I know servers and industry people are notorious [00:09:00] for that.

Donald Burns:    Yes.

Brian Duncan:    We have a lot of people right now, right on the edge of, we talk about the straw that broke the camel's back. That was another camel that dropped down and just dropped. Seriously, it just is beyond wrapping their mind around it.

Donald Burns:    The camel, that was a big ass camel.

Brian Duncan:    You can't really wrap your mind around it. But I can see it. I'm encountering it on a daily basis. I still have a retail client. And now I know that wine shops and liquor stores are considered essential, when our education, our schools are all shut down.

Donald Burns:    Schools are not essential, but man, liquor stores are.

Brian Duncan:    Right. I'm glad, at least that it's essential for my client to still have revenue in the people that work there. But I also see the toll that it's taking on people self-medicating and watching the stimulus checks drop and be spent in a weekend and things like that. Anyway.

Donald Burns:    Yeah, so let's talk about that, about your clients and stuff like that. Being able to change and pivot your concept is real paramount. What are some ways that you've been recommending to your clients about shifting their beverage programs?

Brian Duncan:    On the retail side, we saw the delivery revenue jump, exponentially. So there's that, that's low hanging fruit. I also, we've had this discussion and nationally about how third party delivery is not as profitable and as helpful for us, certainly restaurants. I would say it's worth your time and energy to have your own delivery service that doesn't cost a lot of extra money. But an individual or individuals that are an extension of your brand, who are responsible, who are congenial, and that represents your brand and deliver the sentiment that you want associated with your brand. You don't get that with a third party delivery service.

Donald Burns:    No.

Brian Duncan:    And you're certainly not being able to control the identity of your brand in a meaningful way. You're putting yourself at risk because there's all kinds of nightmare stories. We don't have to go into them about bad customer service, tampering with a product and things like that. It would be, you could see your business grow if you are able to present the additional items that you're either adding or what base product that offering and services that you're offering. But controlling the whole thing is best.

Donald Burns:    Exactly.

Brian Duncan:    Not signing that off into somebody's hands in the ether somewhere.

Donald Burns:    Definitely. You've owned quite a few restaurants. In leadership, and you and I both agree on this, leadership is critical, especially right now in restaurants. What do you do when you don't feel like leading?

Brian Duncan:    When I don't feel like leading the smartest thing for me to do is to first delegate, which is empowering to other people. It builds a level of trust because you still are able to mentor at the same time. The other thing is to roll your sleeves up and go back into the trenches and relearn your positions and your operations, and do it. Seriously do it. There's another skillset you could working on the line or you could work in another support staff position. Get out of your role and move around your business. It's one of the wisest things that you can actually do.

                It also serves to connect you with other team members and vendors in a more meaningful way. You get to see how your operation is really running in a much more poignant way. Things that you might've missed in the corporate chair, or floating around the room, being the visible presence for the CEO, if you will. But your team at large, will take notice that you can step in at any capacity and that builds respect and cooperation. It's much easier to give people instructions, when they see that you're able to do what they do and do it as well or better. And to be able to really compliment people in their roles on the way, as you're doing it.

Donald Burns:    Yeah. Leadership again, what's your feeling or belief on, do you believe in self care for leaders?

Brian Duncan:    Oh, absolutely. That's one of the things that has been so sorely neglected in our industry. That's everything from the Me Too Movement, hostile work environments, excessive nightlife. Not really taking care of your body, your mind, and your emotions and medicating your way through shifts. There's been all those really sad stories. Some people survive and some people really don't. Family quality, or family life. This is one of the things that I look at this period as a gift, if you could use those words. We got the gift of time. When in your lifetime, are you ever going to have this pause where you don't have anywhere to go, really, or you're not supposed to, and you can be feeding yourself and nurturing yourself?

Donald Burns:    Definitely.

Brian Duncan:    Mentally, spiritually, emotionally. There's a lot of ... I've heard on a continuum, one side you have because of the, I'm using my hands. On one end you hear the stories about increased domestic abuse. And then on the other hand, you hear about reconciliation and being able to really spend quality time. What we're getting out of this, or what things were, moving away from what the government calls essential businesses. What's been essential in our lives? What really is meaningful? What's worth having? What, what can money really not buy that you discovered?

                All of these things are gifts. When we have challenges, challenges and chaos and crisis, are always have an ability to be a jumping off point for creativity.

Donald Burns:    Yes.

Brian Duncan:    My two favorite words, well I have a lot of favorite words that you use. One of those, the set of two is, what next?

Donald Burns:    That's it.

Brian Duncan:    And this is a what next moment. I've been spending an awful lot of time thinking about concepts. I'm a born concept developer, and I'm always constantly thinking that there's a new approach to wine, food entertainment. I think about that a lot. And then I think about there's the government element about regulations, about what we're going to be allowed to do and what things that they're going to implement that we have to work with and around. You've seen all the plexiglass ploy. Have we put any money in plexiglass?

Donald Burns:    I should. Should have bought some stock in the plexiglass company, I'm telling you. Should've saw that coming.

Brian Duncan:    Put all my money in plexiglass to help fund your next-

Donald Burns:    Or plastic shower curtains, clear plastic shower curtains.

Brian Duncan:    Yeah, right. I don't think anybody's looking forward to sitting in between. It looks like a prison visit.

Donald Burns:    It does. It looks like, I call it the prison call system. Yeah, you're like at prison on that call.

Brian Duncan:    Only what, only parties of two. We've killed the larger party aspect. If somebody can come up with something else. It's interesting. I would just love for the science and the medical community to really nail down how these things are being transmitted. If there's something clothing-wise from a service standpoint that could be done. I wouldn't mind if people were walking around with something that was fashionable and even if not even humorous, has a sense of humor attached to it. People are hungry for coming together. I know we're going to figure this out. You know I'm a positive person to begin.

Donald Burns:    Oh, yeah.

Brian Duncan:    But if you stay that way, I think that's the garden that grows really, really healthy fruit.

Donald Burns:    That's the truth. Hey, do you have any problems sleeping at night, especially recently?

Brian Duncan:    I don't. I don't. I do wake up in the middle of the night, but that's usually, you know I have a prayer time. That's my self-care.

Donald Burns:    Great.

Brian Duncan:    It's one of the things that keeps me grounded and I'm very protective of my peace. I really am thankful for that because the fear factor, this is what I hear no one talking about Donald. You understand the placebo effect?

Donald Burns:    Yeah.

Brian Duncan:    When you listen to the 24 hour news cycle and we're being bombarded with symptoms and potential symptoms and you start to ingest every single one of these possibilities and then you memorize them. You've actually consumed it. this is you hear people talk about being hypochondriacs, or psychosomatic illnesses. I've seen things and heard things about how people have contracted cancers, because they became obsessed with certain diseases, heart failure, all those things. I don't do it. I don't ingest that stuff. As a matter of fact, when I go to prayer for someone who's sick, I don't ask them for the medical terminology or details. I'll say, "Where is it? What's the gist?" And I pray into that. I think it's a dangerous thing to begin to absorbing like a sponge every single day, everything. And what I've learned is they don't know what they're talking about.

Donald Burns:    Exactly.

Brian Duncan:    Mask, no mask. Gloves, no gloves. Wash, which things to use. When I hear that kind of confusion, I go back to my piece. I do things that are nurturing for me, mentally and physically as well.

Donald Burns:    Speaking about masks, no masks. Gloves, no gloves. What do you see as the new normal for restaurants or also What would you like to see as the new?

Brian Duncan:    I think I touched on it in that getting the medical community, the science community to come with better definitions and directives. That would be huge. We can't, the problem with the question is we're confined to the directives that they give us. We have to work within the confines of that. If you look at what's happening, it looks like it's going to be a state driven approach. Because we already have places opening in different parts of the country, and everybody is doing it as they go. That's what's very, very, excuse me, frustrating for most of us, because there's no standards. There's some really, well, we can get into that the other later. But the directives are going to come to us. We're going to have to contour what we're doing to that. And within that, I guess that's where we become creative. But until we get the directives, you know?

Donald Burns:    How do you think ... Are there anything that restaurants did before that you don't think they're able to do now that COVID-19 changed the game?

Brian Duncan:    Yeah. I mean, the festivals.

Donald Burns:    Oh, yeah.

Brian Duncan:    Doing events with large numbers of people. Can you imagine doing-

Donald Burns:    Face of Chicago.

Brian Duncan:    Yeah, if they're doing street events. They decide to limit these different numbers. Isn't it interesting that what is it, Costco or some of these big box stores they'll allow 105, 100 people in the store, but you can't go to church.

Donald Burns:    Yeah, I know. I know, yeah.

Brian Duncan:    We've got to get through some of this. These things, there's no equity or no sense to. That's going to take the edge out, I think for a lot of people. There's a lot of resentment, I think with the lines and everything. It feels like encroachment and the rules are being changed on you on almost a daily basis. what we're dealing with is a lot of anxiety, fragile emotions.

Donald Burns:    Yes.

Brian Duncan:    People are on edge. And the only thing that's going to soothe that is things that begin to make sense and clear information.

Donald Burns:    How do you think restaurants should shift their marketing message right now?

Brian Duncan:    I think that, well, this is a layered cake. I think what people are going to have to do is to look at their business different, and I want to circle back. When I opened Bin 36 in 1999, the concept, what I came up with was a way to fix all the things I hated about the restaurant dining and wine experience. What I ended up doing was I looked at the restaurant model, which was unsatisfying to me and frustrating to me because it limited me on the number of choices that I could present and offer. What I did was I took the restaurant model. I pulled it apart. I stretched it and then I stretched it in other directions. I created a hybrid. It was a restaurant, a wine bar and a market. We were so far ahead, like all these restaurants are trying to pivot into retail and all of these other offerings. Look how many restaurants are cooking food that has nothing to do with their identity.

Donald Burns:    Oh, yeah.

Brian Duncan:    My whole thing is when I said to someone after I opened Bin 36, it ruined me for opening any other concepts, because I had so much freedom. I could serve any wine that I wanted from anywhere in the world. I could serve whatever food that I wanted. People would taste what they like, and it was available at retail. We could do cheese packets. We could do catering. We could deliver to your office. We were doing the stuff that people are scrambling to do now, back then. And we were situated in a place, in more than one location, where people could just drive up and do the pickup. I would say, take what your concept is, what do you love doing, and make it organic, create things out of what you're good at. Create retail of multiple revenue and streams out of the things that you could send out your door that people don't have to come in and dine.

                I don't know what ... our restaurant would have never lasted as long as it did if we were just a restaurant. It just wouldn't have made it. And people were able to come to us and use us and interact with us on so many different levels. We did classes. We did cooking classes. Now people are doing them on virtual classes.

Donald Burns:    Doing them virtual now. Yeah, yeah.

Brian Duncan:    Which is fun, do that. But that leads to my next step, being connected to the community. And now your community can expand. Not only doing the multimedia thing, but the collaborations in your neighborhood. Maybe all of a sudden you have a flower shop in your neighborhood and you partner with the flower shop, or you have a bread shop, or you don't think about who your neighbors really are and do some community-based things like reaching out to larger corporations, who would be interested in donating product to you to feed people that are in your neighborhoods, or schools. Connecting to people, it's teaching us how to treat one another.

                It really used to bug me when I had the revelation that there's more of us who have roofs over our heads, than there are homeless people. The math should be working in the homeless population's favor. How is it possible that there's more of us with homes and more of us that are eating, than there are the, who's not. So that means we are our brother's keeper, and there are ways that we can do other than passing them on the street, or just dropping in some change. There are some real meaningful things. And that's why I say the World Kitchen and many of these other wonderful projects are meeting needs that were long overdue, in some cases.

Donald Burns:    Yeah. Whatever people can do, I think it's incredible. I have a client in New York, in Tribeca area, hit hard by this thing. Actually it's Andrea's at Tribeca's Kitchen and he's got a surplus of N95 masks and he's actually handing out, giving out to people. I mean, yeah.

Brian Duncan:    It's wonderful.  One of the things that came to my mind on the last few days was I was thinking about, you know they're starting already talking about food shortages across the country.

Donald Burns:    Oh, yeah, yeah.

Brian Duncan:    The meat processing plants and stuff and that there's farmers dumping out milk and slaughtering livestock, produce rotting in the fields. We need to be supporting these farmers, just like the restaurants we're doing. Now that the restaurants are still in hold, what about bringing some of those farmers and creating a farm stand in your restaurant that could be used onsite, plus used to help support people in the community? Looking at different kinds of spaces, warehouse spaces, where it's larger spaces that could be multi use. The food court idea, or a food hall has to be reworked. It could work in something like that, where you would have a vegetable market or even a fishmonger there. You could use all of the safety implements and safeguards, in terms of clothing and equipment.

                Then you have some eating areas that are maybe a little more intimate, where it becomes a multi use facility. Talk about a hybrid. That's helpful for people who cannot reopen on their own, but could on a collaborative level. We keep coming back to that word, but I think something like that would be an exciting thing to support. Think about the opportunities for doing cooking sessions recorded, or live. Events that could be broadcast and there's just so many things I think that could come out of ... Wine tastings, beer tastings, cocktail demonstrations, teaching children, education. I have a friend who has an incredible charity and she ministers to children in food deserts in urban environments.

Donald Burns:    Oh, wow.

Brian Duncan:    She teaches them how to prepare healthier foods with what they have in their community. Gratefully she's had, thankfully she's had some corporations come alongside her, so that she could continue her work. The stuff that these kids are producing at the age of five, eight, 10, 12 and 13, making their own pastry doughs, empanadas and multi-course meals. It's the most incredible thing I've ever seen.

Donald Burns:    Wow, that's really cool.

Brian Duncan:    Attaching yourself with people who have got something started. Sometimes they just need someone else to come alongside, and then you create something much more impactful and powerful and far reaching. I really think it's going to bring, you talked about self-care, community care.

Donald Burns:    Oh, yeah.

Brian Duncan:    Yeah and then there's so many educational institutions, universities, high schools, places where we could really be doing some humanity education and take the [00:31:30] focus off of duck lips and selfies and kids running wild, into becoming really connected with people and impacting lives at that age. So that we aren't scrambling like we've been lately, that it becomes part of who they are. Working with food banks and things like that.

Donald Burns:    Let me shift a little bit here. I know you and I are, and especially I know you and I've talked about this a lot. How important is culture to restaurant success, and what would you say is the key to creating culture?

Brian Duncan:    Culture is everything. It's your identity, it's your brand, it's the ingredients that you seed in your soil of your business. It's going to take root. I like to say you have a culture in your business, whether you like it or not.

Donald Burns:    That's true.

Brian Duncan:    And you have a culture in your business and it may be good or not. What I've been doing the last few years is helping people define their culture before they ever open and create a pathway to creating a vineyard or a garden full of good fruit, or I have to come in and fix a toxic culture. If you've neglected it, later along the way, or you weren't aware of it. It's important that the people that are in your business, part of your vision, that they're able to articulate what your vision, what your purpose is. Purpose is the most powerful thing you have. Any business that you go in, everybody there that's under that roof, or part of that business, should be able to very succinctly articulate why you're open, what it is that you do and what you're special at. And they need to be able to do that without struggling.

                If they're not, your guest is confused too. This thing has aftershocks that you may not feel that you don't see it, but you feel it. People, it's an intangible that people can pick up on. If you say that you're hospitable and your team is not, and they don't greet guests well, or when they come in contact with you, you haven't looked at the language that's used in your business, how you speak to one another, how you treat your vendors. All of that is part of your culture. You've heard the terminology living a lie. People can see through it. You only have one chance, that first meeting encounter to make that impression and people keep moving. They need to feel appreciated. That's that care aspect that's so essential to hospitality.

Donald Burns:    It is. It's a requirement, I think.

Brian Duncan:    Yeah, we got to be too cool, I think for awhile.

Donald Burns:    That's a good way to put it actually.

Brian Duncan:    Yeah, I think one of the things after leaving day-to-day restaurant operations, one of the things, I've been dining out, I have noticed how cool everybody is. That's also another word for phony. When you think about the posture and the way people, almost even really pose and they speak, you know they don't talk like that, or they don't carry themselves that way once the uniform comes off. It's sad to me, because they're not being allowed to be themselves, a better themselves. Everybody that came to work with us, my goal and commitment to them was that they be better than when they came to me, in terms of enrichment, in terms of skill level, in terms of knowledge and whatever they were pursuing. If they came in with their own idea for their career aspirations and it wasn't to be in hospitality, that they were nurtured and supported in their vision for where they were going. But to create opportunities for them to grow within the industry as well.

                I've lost count of the number of people that worked with us that have their own distributor, wine distributor ships, their own restaurants. Some of them are wine makers. Some of them manage hotels and any number of things. That's one, that's a goal that you don't ... with your nails into the holding onto the challenge and get jealous because they move. You encourage them along the way and hopefully there's a legacy after they leave you. And they always point back and say, "They really planted a lot in us and enriched my life."

Donald Burns:    That's awesome. What's one thing that you would suggest that restaurants do right now to get ready for the new economy?

Brian Duncan:    Finance is a big deal. I think that you have to have a real, brand new business plan. You need multiple revenue streams. The mom and pop family owned restaurant with the 50 seats, just serving lunch and dinner or one of the other, or both-

Donald Burns:    Not going to work.

Brian Duncan:    The math doesn't work anymore.

Donald Burns:    Nope.

Brian Duncan:    So this was the problem. Before this ever happened, you and I have been talking about the blood bath that was coming. Labor costs and the combination of that and leases were the straws that were breaking the back. The profit margins completely went through the floor and I don't know how many of them have been able to sink. The only people that were looking healthy prior to this were the multiple restaurant groups, where they have multiple units and they have something to lean on. And certainly the larger corporate restaurants, because we were seeing independence disappear. Some of them were Michelin Star recipients, closed six months after they received it, or a year. And so that's really sad to me. Multiple revenue streams, that's your big deal.

Donald Burns:    Yeah, you have to.

Brian Duncan:    Look at what it is you're wanting to do and see how you can expand on that. One of the things that we did was we carried wine books and did wine related items and food stuffs from other chefs that were in the marketplace. We sold those. And that said that we put our stamp of approval on that. It doesn't diminish my brand to support someone else's. And that selfish attitude should be history now. We should be able to celebrate what other people are doing and not feel like it's somehow going to encroach on my business and my revenue. I really applaud people who are comfortable doing that. It means they're secure in their own identity. We sold huge golf umbrellas with our logo on it.

Donald Burns:    Oh, yeah?

Brian Duncan:    Nothing I love more than walking down Michigan Avenue or State Street, seeing my logo being free advertising for myself. Branding your stuff, branding yourselves is a really cool thing. I did produce wine under my own label and that was a natural, organic extension of our brand that people connected to. Every once in a while, I still get emails and stuff on social media, somebody that's still opening wines that I don't even have any more of myself. That's a way to stay connected with your audience. The stories that I have with people who made traditions out of doing events with us, it's a powerful thing. It's a really, really powerful thing.

                Be as creative as you possibly can. Don't limit yourself to the typical things that you might do, and I think those are fine. But think, literally outside the box. Think outside the wine bottle, if you will. Think about outside of your ... what is your team? What gifts are your team bringing into your business every single day that you're not aware of? In store, in restaurant collaboration and meeting where you celebrate one another and your acting abilities and people that paint and artists that you have. So much talent out there. It's just really a shame that you don't tap into that. Otherwise it's like you have these zombies or robots that come into your business that you don't even really know. You don't know what actually is inside there, that they could be contributing. One of the last things I should say this, [00:41:00] the team that I was working with doing wine training, just before this all happened. One of the things that I charged them to do was to begin doing wine descriptions.

Donald Burns:    Oh, wow.

Brian Duncan:    When I was doing wine tastings and beginning to build the library, talking about the wines. Because I want them to own the information, not just serving this slot off of my list and this one here and pointing to it and not really any experience. But, to own the experience of the wine so that they can enthusiastically [00:41:30] come and recommend these products at the table. But, that they could begin to write about them and start to use that, even in social media.

Donald Burns:    That's awesome.

Brian Duncan:    It brings the personality of the team. It engages them and it celebrates who they are. And they talk about it with profound confidence.

Donald Burns:    Very cool. How long do you see this, see the restaurant world is going to take to recover from this pandemic?

Brian Duncan:    Still depends on how the government treats us. They're the ones that are laying the groundwork. There's some disturbing things that I've been hearing. Sometimes we don't really listen with our ears. This whole thing about contact tracing is very, very disturbing. This collecting of information. If our medical information is supposed to be private, not even shared with our families, the fact that there's apps that can spot you. I don't know if you've been hearing what's been going on in China, but this social crediting and their surveillance. People are being watched, literally everywhere they go. And they're being prohibited from traveling or purchasing.

Donald Burns:    Wow.

Brian Duncan:    If certain behaviors, that the government doesn't deem, well, I don't know what the word is, but palatable. I'll use that word. But, it's already being ... They're hiring people to do this sort of thing here in California.

Donald Burns:    Wow.

Brian Duncan:    I know it's going on. I was just starting to hear Governor Cuomo talk about it, heard our own mayor and governor here in the state of Illinois, where they're actually recruiting people to track social distancing and people are tracking people who actually have tested positive. The government's in the driver's seat on this one in terms of how encroached on our liberties, our privacy we're going to experience. So, I really don't have a crystal ball for that. It's all really dependent on regulations.

Donald Burns:    How do you deal with stress?

Brian Duncan:    I'm a praying man. That's key. I spend a lot of time talking to other people. I think there's ... I've had a gift that to encourage people. When I hear anxiety, I spend time talking with a lot of people. I've spent an awful lot of time on the phone. I'd much rather do that than text.

Donald Burns:    Yes.

Brian Duncan:    I've had three texts back and forth to me that it's now time to move into a conversation.

Donald Burns:    A call.

Brian Duncan:    Since that's what all we have really left. We don't really ... I had a gentleman, friend of mine. We just used to meet once a week to catch up and we can't really do that. We're face timing. Those kinds of things. I limit myself to news. There's only so much I think you can adjust and I actually read more than I listen to. It allows me my peace. Taking walks.

Donald Burns:    Oh, yes.

Brian Duncan:    I'm a sky watcher. I've seen some amazing, this spring has really been beautiful here in Chicago. We don't spend an awful lot of time outside, but I encourage people to go outside. I think that-

Donald Burns:    I have to give you a shout out that you put up some amazing photos on your social media, on Facebook and on Instagram.

Brian Duncan:    Yeah, yeah. It's one of my favorite things to do. I'm a real sky watcher. Some of the cloud formations are breathtaking and spring has sprung here. It's really, really beautiful. That's been really good. I'm going to get back to doing a lot more of that kind of thing. I used to do the food holidays and I got away from it when this thing got started. But I'm going to start doing that stuff again. People love the sharing of recipes. You know what we've done? One of the other things that I think that we're going to find out is people learned to be better cooks during this thing.

Donald Burns:    Oh yeah.

Brian Duncan:    I think a lot of people have mastered some stuff that they didn't realize they were ever going to get to master. We have to think about that too, in terms of restaurants. We've been teaching people how to cook for a long time. You said it earlier, it's expensive to go out to eat.

Donald Burns:    It is.

Brian Duncan:    I think people with this downtime, are going to be weighing those things. I heard some of the hiring restaurant tours even saying we can't open at the same price point, that there's a smaller audience for that. It's instructive, I think, in terms of what your next concept might be, in terms of the kinds of food that are going to make sense for people. What are people going to be willing to pay for?

Donald Burns:    Exactly.

Brian Duncan:    And don't forget, it's an experience, it's not just product. It's all an experience. We've got to stop thinking narrowly and with blinders and think a little bit broader in those terms. Humanity, humanity, humanity.

Donald Burns:    Humanity is everything.

Brian Duncan:    Yeah.

Donald Burns:    Do you see any opportunities for restaurants in the new post COVID-19 world?

Brian Duncan:    I do. I'm encouraged by it. I just think that my vision of it, if I was doing something now, space planning is key.

Donald Burns:    Yes. Oh, it's huge.

Brian Duncan:    You have to do, if you're really smart in your business plan and you do the multiple revenue streams, I see compartmentalized options with some retail area. I'm going back to my hybrid event 36, that there could be a manipulation. There's a dining room set up that you're not just depending on the number of covers, but additional revenue items that could be online. We talked about delivery. We talked about creative of retail brands, other brands, and things like that. I see this idea of a mini store. Look at the restaurants that converted themselves into a mini retail store.

Donald Burns:    Oh, yeah.

Brian Duncan:    I think that's really cool. I think you can, with the proper amount of space, you can certainly have a few tables and guarantee that those tables will probably be filled every night, and that's exciting to me.

Donald Burns:    Exactly.

Brian Duncan:    Because then you can get back to the real hospitality experience, where you're pulling out all the stops and thinking of creative ways to make people's events and evenings special. Maybe you're just a birthday restaurant and you'll be getting known for some things like that. There's opportunities.

Donald Burns:    Very cool.

Brian Duncan:    People are still going to still get married, still get engaged, still graduate, still celebrate stuff. People want to take care of their clients and show them that they care and we appreciate their business. Those names are still there.

Donald Burns:    Any final words you want to leave to the attendees of the Conquer Summit?

Brian Duncan:    Let's get back to the two words, restaurant which at the core of it which is the French word to restore, which would be restorative. That should be a key tenant of your vision and the foundation of your brand. Hospitality, the care of others, concern, compassion, connection. I've said many times, if you're not connecting with your guests, you've made it easy for them to go someplace else.

Donald Burns:    That's true.

Brian Duncan:    You want to build lifelong connections, lifelong. I have guests from the first days of my opening that I still communicate with. I call them friends. This is a really great opportunity to start fresh and start authentically. Humility is a powerful tool. It's a superpower. When you are humble enough to let people know how much you appreciate [00:50:30] them repeatedly, repeatedly. You don't have anything to prove when you're humble because you do what it is you do. You don't have to prove anything. People appreciate and respect you for who you are, and humility makes you a good listener. It makes you empathetic. And it means that you're able to constantly improve.

Donald Burns:    Yes.

Brian Duncan:    When you lose that humility, you lose your ability to listen and you lose the ability to polish yourself and to get to the next level of excellence. Those are the things that keep me excited about where we're going and help me to encourage other people not give up. I like pulling ideas out of people, too. You talk to people long enough, it gives you] an opportunity to see the sparkle come out. Talk to people who ask good questions and instead of only talking about what they do.

Donald Burns:    That's true. Well, I want to say thank you so much, my friend. Thank you for sharing your insights today with the Conquer Summit tribe today. And anybody out there, if you want to take a look at Brian, his online wine focus website, I'm going to put up the link here. It's a wealth of resources and you can find Brian, he's all over social media, and you can find them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Please connect because he's not only a humble man, he is a wealth of knowledge and just like a lot of the other people I have invited to be speakers at the Conquer Summit, he lives to serve and help other people become better.

Brian Duncan:    Thank you for your generosity and your invitations to collaborate, Donald. we've had some incredible times together and I always learn-

Donald Burns:    Yeah, more to come.

Brian Duncan:    I always learn. The rest of the participants, I'll be on bated breath, listening for each one of them. What a group, what a lineup of people of expertise. Thank you for including me.

Donald Burns:    Yeah, it's awesome. Thank you. Thank you Brian.

Brian Duncan:    Yes, thank you. Cheers.

Join my tribe BEFORE your competition does!

Tips, tools, and the latest ways to help your restaurant break free from mediocrity delivered right into your inbox!

I hate SPAM too. I will never sell your information, for any reason.