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Why Do So Many Restaurants STILL Suck? It’s Their Culture

culture leadership operations Apr 16, 2021

Go sit in your restaurant for an hour with your eyes closed and just listen. What do you hear?

Does it sound like the smooth cadence of a well-oiled machine or more like a clunky old car engine that backfires every minute?

When I am coaching a client, I love to sit in the dining room and just listen. Sometimes I heard the team complaining about the kitchen, the manager, or even the guests.

Sometimes I hear compliments to each other and thank you.

Which one do you think has higher profits and less stress for the owner?

What would I hear if I sat down in your dining room for an hour on a busy night and just listened?

Would you be surprised or shocked as to what toxic things your team says to each other or about the guests?

Or would you say that it didn’t surprise you?

If the negative energy from your team doesn’t shock you then you are an accomplice to this crime. You didn’t say anything and so you unknowingly gave it approval.

Don’t feel too bad.

80% of restaurants in your market operate like this and they don’t realize it. They just think that’s the way “things are”. Which honestly is the biggest bunch of bullshit out there. We have become so desensitized to negativity in our restaurants that we think it belongs.

It only exists if you allow it.

Sit down and reread that.

      "Negativity in your restaurant only exists because you allow it."

That’s why most restaurant cultures suck. Not because they are that way. It’s because they choose to stay that way.

That is both sad and liberating.

So What Are You Prepared To Do

There is an epic scene in the movie The Untouchables with Kevin Costner and Sean Connery. Connery character takes Costner’s character (Elliot Ness) across the street from the police station to do a liquor raid on one of Al Capone's bootleg warehouses.

Costner is shocked that it’s so close to the police station and questions Connery, “Here?!”

Connery replies, “Everyone knows where the liquor is. The question is who’s willing to cross Capone?”

That negativity that is eating away at your culture and making it hard for you to get control of your restaurant is just like that.

You know it there and so does everyone else on your team.

It’s what are you prepared to do to get the restaurant you want?

Are you willing to let a few bad apples go and run short-staffed?

Are you willing to tell the chef with a bad attitude to please leave your restaurant?

Are you willing to look in the mirror and admit you might be the one holding your restaurant back because you are burned out?

Until you face these demons head-on. They will keep you stuck in a perpetual loop like in the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray.

*Yes, I make a lot of movie references! Deal with it. LOL

Culture is the Holy Grail

I’ve had magazines and industry reporters ask me what I think is the secret to a successful restaurant.

I always give the same answer even after 12 years as The Restaurant’s the culture.

The downside to this is that most restaurants have no clue what their culture is!

Think about it for a second and see if you could tell me in a few sentences...what is the culture at your restaurant?

Culture is hard to put into words because it’s a feeling. It’s how your team feels about your brand.

I get this question a lot as well...

What’s the difference between “brand” and “culture”?

I’ll sum it up in a very straightforward definition:

The brand is what your guests say about you. Culture is what your team says about you.

We see what people think about our brand all the time in social media posts and online reviews. Culture on the other hand seems to be hiding in the background.

As the leader, you must be asking your team constantly about how they feel about your restaurant.

Just like we get the pulse of our guest’s expletive from online reviews, we get the pulse of our culture by talking with our team daily and occasionally sending our anonymous surveys that they can voice concerns.

The most successful restaurants I have ever seen focus just as much on the team experience as they do on the guest experience.

What Comes First, The Team or The Guest

I would bet that if I had a room with 100 independent restaurant owners and I asked the question, “What is more important the team experience or the guest experience?”

Here’s how they would answer:

20% would not even know that “team experience” is a thing.

70% would say the guest experience is most important.

8% would say they are equally important.

And only 2% would say that the team experience is everything.

That 2% would also be the restaurants with the lowest turnover and highest profit margins of the group.

I see it play out in reality when a restaurant shifts its focus from the guest experience to the team experience.

When you take care of the team and invest in making them better...constant training, growth, and opportunities...that trickles down to create a culture of true hospitality.

That’s where a lot of restaurants today miss the mark. They forget that restaurants are not in the service industry, we are in the hospitality industry.

To be a “host” is the highest level of service you can deliver to another human being. It’s about being selfless and committed to making them feel like they are the focus of your undivided attention.

Why not embody that spirit of hospitality into your relationships with your team?


Be a host to their well-being and growth. If you do that, I promise your days of running short-staffed and low profits will disappear.

You can take that advice to the bank.

* This is a special excerpt from my third book coming out Summer 2021 titled: Your Restaurant Culture Sucks!

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