By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert
The restaurant industry can easily be described as a lesson in chaos theory. Things can be going smooth as silk, but can change in a second. The dinner rush comes and goes along with the adrenaline that it provides. You get caught up in the day-to-day activities and it’s easy to become reactionary to the stimulus of our environment. It’s difficult to create change and to have a better restaurant when you live in reaction.
There are basically two types of managers out there. There are thermostats and there are thermometers. The difference? One controls the room and the other reacts. Before you read on about things that you can do for a better restaurant today, you need to think about how you show up in your restaurant. It does very little good if you cannot step up and be the leader.
To create change in a restaurant, it takes courage and conviction to implement the actions needed for real growth. You’ll have people test you, second guess you, and make you doubt yourself, which leads us right into the first things you can do to better your restaurant today…
1. Watch your coffee!
Let’s say you have a cup of coffee on the table and your worst enemy comes along and dumps a whole cup of sugar in there when you’re not looking. How would it taste? Probably pretty sweet, but it would not really harm you.
Now imagine that your best friend was walking by your coffee and by pure accident spilled a few drops of poison into your coffee. What would that do to you? It might kill you or make you very ill. The moral is that sometimes even those who are supposed to be our friends and say they want the very best for us might accidentally spill some poison into your coffee. The coffee is a great metaphor for your mindset. You need to always watch your coffee and stay guarded to know whether someone is putting sugar or poison in there!
When you want to create change in your restaurant, people will try to talk you into being realistic or reasonable. That negativity put into your mind is holding you back from making the changes your restaurant needs.
Negativity breeds complacency. Complacency invites mediocrity. Mediocrity is the slow death of a restaurant.
2. Invest in yourself.
Very few career fields have the physical demands of working in a restaurant. When you are young and full of energy you might not notice the wear and tear placed upon the body by long hours on your feet and working over equipment designed for a person around 5’2”. It takes it’s toll.
If you want to have a very long and enjoyable restaurant career, then you need to make self-care a priority. That is exactly what is means, taking care of yourself first! In the restaurant industry we want to take care of others, to nourish and provide service that creates memories around the table. That is what makes the restaurant industry so noble. However, if you give and give to others without giving to yourself first, you’ll eventually run out. That is the number one reason that people in our industry burn out or turn to alcohol or other means to self-medicate. It’s a brutal cycle that usually does not end well.
Taking time for yourself to exercise, eating a little better, and learning can be a game changer. Don’t have time to read? Get a few audiobooks! Don’t have time for the gym? Take a walk! Don’t have time to eat better? Make time! It is truly disappointing that we work in the industry that serves food and yet we don’t even take the time to nourish ourselves. Now that is just sad and stupid.
If you want a better restaurant remember this: Restaurants get better when the people in them become better people. Start here. Start with yourself.
3. Cut down your menu.
Okay, the first two were focused on areas that most restaurant owners, managers and chefs like to avoid… themselves. So here’s one that, on the surface, seems easy, yet it is also the one that few really ever put into action.
Cutting your menu down is scary. It’s that fear that stops most from pulling the trigger to make the change. Your menu probably swelled by all the “friendly advice” you received from friends and family over the years. See, you did not know you had to watch your coffee! So, when times got tough, you listened to the kind advice from someone close to you (granted, they probably never owned a restaurant which, of course, makes perfect sense to listen to them) to add this or that. They were sure that would help turn things around. Maybe it did… for a while. Then you were right back in the same situation. So you took in more advice and your menu got a little bigger once again.
Now you have a situation called brand drift. Brand drift is a very real problem in the restaurant industry and it would be fair to say that it effects 6 out of 10 restaurants. Your menu has drifted away so far from your original concept that your guests don’t even remember who you are anymore. Even more upsetting is you don’t know either.
If your restaurant suffers from brand drift, you need to focus on the things that made your brand unique in the first place. Look at your first menus. Talk to your best customers and ask what they loved about your restaurant when you first opened. Talk to a restaurant professional. Yes, a real one. Do not make the same mistake of asking for menu or restaurant advice from people who have never owned or operated a successful restaurant. There is an old saying, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Wise words.
It all comes down to the fact that most people want the easy fix. Most also like to look at outside sources for their problems with their restaurants. It’s the economy. It’s my staff. It’s the big chains moving into my market. The truth is, it’s you. When you get clarity on that fact, you make the move from being a thermometer and you’ll become a thermostat. Then, you’ll start to control your restaurant.