It’s no secret that the restaurant industry has so many moving parts – the numbers, staff, inventory, customer service/interactions, ordering, menus, specials, weather, equipment and the list goes on. One of the real challenges (which is also one of the reasons why we love this industry so much, is that every day is different and unique – the challenge with that is there is no precise formula for working through all of the challenges we could potentially face on any given day. At the same time, there are certain things we all know that point to a restaurant’s success. These include:

  • Product Offering: What do you have to offer your customers and what makes you unique from anyone else? Is your product consistent?
  • Inventory Management: Are you able to order effectively – not too much sitting on the shelves, not too little to get through the weekend, and are you able to minimize waste?
  • Labor Management: One of the biggest costs of any restaurant, but there’s a delicate balance between cutting employees from a shift when there are too many people standing around or just keeping the staff lean in general, while also not spreading your staff too thin and running into overtime issues?
  • Financial Management: The margins are so thin in restaurants, so are you able to project sales, organize and pay bills in a timely manner, and understand how to decrease costs, while increasing sales if things start to go awry?
  • Marketing & Branding: Now, more than ever marketing and branding are huge, because there are so many options out there, whether it’s quick service, fast casual, casual full-service, or high end – there are so many options out there and it’s absolutely critical that you strategically market yourself to your ideal customers. The good news it couldn’t be cheaper.
  • Systems & Processes: Part of what keeps things consistent (not just the product, but the operations themselves) is the management’s ability to create and implement systems and processes. This means recipes for the kitchen…. A consistent training/onboarding program…. Excel spreadsheets with ordering guides, food costs and labor costs…. The usage of past sales to help project future sales… and much, much more…

Understanding and implementing the above functions and disciplines within a restaurant is in many ways the cornerstone of what it takes to create success in this industry… BUT…. All of those pieces can be learned in a book, on YouTube or even in school (which is a vacuum of sorts) – none of these mean anything until put into practice in the ever-changing and unpredictable environment of a restaurant.

So how do you go about implementing all of these key pieces?


Well, you do it with people – right? Unless you want to do it alone, which is virtually impossible and even if it is – it’s not a whole lot of fun.


The number one thing that separates the best restaurants from the rest are the people.

It’s not about talent – it’s about culture and creating an environment that fosters creativity, trust, and respect. I say it’s not about the talent because skills are trainable and finding someone with the right physical skills to fill a role in your company probably isn’t that hard. What’s hard is finding the right person with the right skills and the right character who is willing to invest as much as they can into the organization at an agreed upon salary or pay-rate. Paying employees what they are worth seems as hard as ever, as margins as razor thing in the restaurant industry, but one to get beyond this is to build a strong company culture, which will do a couple things:

  • It will minimize stress – if you feel safe in your work environment you are going to be able to perform your job better.
  • A by-product of eliminating stress is happier employees which in turn creates better customer experiences, higher guest counts, higher ticket prices, more repeat visits and a whole new picture of what sales could look like.
  • This leads to a greater ability to take care of staff financially, which leads to less staff churn and less money spent on training replacements.

If we build the right staff in our restaurants, many of the problems we deal with can become less of an issue, because we can train these individuals to take care of the other important issues that lead to a restaurant’s success or failure that are outlined near the beginning of this article. Notice how I started the last sentence with the phrase “build the right staff”. That is one of the keys. Building something implies an extended period of time, which sounds an awful like an investment. When we invest in something, we give something we have (money, time, resources), with the expectation of getting a return for a greater amount in the future. This is how we need to approach the relationships we have with our staff.

As Coach Nick Saban says, “leadership is getting someone to do something for their benefit, not yours” and I think he hits the nail on the head. Sure, having your staff do the work your train them to do will inevitably help benefit you, but if you can first get them to understand how it will benefit them by tapping into the selfish part of their brain that we all have, it makes things so much easier. They will do things out of selfish motivation, but at the same time, they will see that their boss or manager has their best interest in mind.

Another person’s best interest In mind – this is the foundation for any healthy relationship – co-workers, customers, relationships. Think about a couple scenarios – if you go in to eat somewhere and have a server that just doesn’t seem to care about you as a customer; they forget your order, you’re waiting ten minutes for your beer, doesn’t check back after dropping off your food which was overcooked, just seems to not really care – how are you going to feel about them? You’ll probably be upset and if not upset, at least a bit annoyed and frustrated. On the other hand, if you have a server who still takes takes a while to bring you a drink, check on your order, etc., but every step along the way is apologetic and you can tell they are making their best effort to give you the best service possible, however, they are understaffed and she just simply can’t do any better. In this situation how are you going to feel? You might feel frustrated, but you also might feel empathetic and a little more forgiving, because you think this individual has your best interest in mind and I would argue that you would leave them a higher tip, than if you had to suffer through the first experience.

Is it not the same with the relationships we have with our bosses and co-workers? If someone is late for brunch every Saturday morning because they are hungover from the night before, that is very different than if someone is late because they are dealing with a personal crisis, but is still making every attempt to be there on time. This doesn’t excuse someone’s tardiness and that is something that might need to be addressed internally, but for me, that second person who is working through some personal stuff – I would much rather be stuck in the foxhole with him or her versus the other individual because I know they have my back.

And when you have my back, that means I have your back. And that’s how restaurants win. But taking care of each other, by mentoring each other, sacrificing for one another and for putting the good of the team of one’s self. The only way to get here though is to invest in the people around you and to trust them to get it right – allow them to fail and fail again and somewhere along the way they will figure it out, but only if you give them the space and the confidence for them to figure it out on their own – only when they know you have their best interest in mind.

So, if you want to have a good restaurant, set up your systems and processes, have a stellar and consistent menu, the best talent, solid marketing and know your numbers, but if you want a great restaurant – empower the people around you to walk into battle with you, in order to tackle those very things.

As I always say – it’s about the people it’s that easy, but it’s that hard.

If you liked this Post, you should read these other ones about Leadership & Company Culture:


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