7 Excuses Mediocre Restaurants Hide Behind

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

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Excuses. We all make them and we all use them. The problem arises when we hide behind them to escape the reality around us. That’s all an excuse really is — an alteration of reality as you see. The issue becomes apparent when people become so drawn into the credibility of their own excuse that they fail to start looking for solutions.

Restaurant owners are fond of their excuses. Behind every failing or struggling restaurant is an owner or manager with a list of excuses why: Why they can’t make money, why they’re not busy. You could write a lengthy novel (think “War & Peace”) of all the excuses used by restaurant owners and operators. 

The three words that usually proceed an excuse are should’ve, would’ve, or could’ve. Have you used any of those words? Are you holding an excuse near and dear that could be keeping your restaurant from reaching its potential?

“Excuses are born out of negativity. Negativity breeds complacency. Complacency invites mediocrity. Mediocrity is the death of a restaurant.”

Here are seven common excuses used by owners and managers to delay taking action and turning things around:

1. Running to the store is cheaper than buying product from a food distributor.

Seriously? You think getting in your car and driving across town is saving you money? What about your time, or the time of your manager who is running the errand? What about the gas used up in your vehicle? What about the liability of having an employee out running an errand on the clock? What about the liability of breaking the cold chain and having product needlessly exposed to temperature danger zones?

That all seems like a lot of risk for very little reward. Smart operators limit their risk.

2. I don't have the time.

Excuses around time have plagued mankind as long as the concept of time itself. Time is an easy one to blame because it can’t argue back or defend itself. Time just is.

Look at some of the more successful people in our industry like Danny Meyer, Barbara Fairchild, Dana Cowin, and Daniel Boulud. Even people outside our industry like Elon Musk or the late Steve Jobs. The one thing in common? They all have the same 86,400 seconds each day.

You need to come to grips that you don’t own time, it owns you. We don’t have time; we make time for the things that are important. When an owner or operator gives the excuse that they don’t have time, what they really are saying is that it’s not a priority.

3. I can't find good help.

This is another classic excuse. It’s easy to blame outside circumstances for your inner turmoil. It’s easy to point your finger at others and say it’s their fault. It’s challenging and downright hard to admit it might be you.

If you are not getting quality applications from potential employees, then perhaps you have created a culture that attracts only the bottom of the employment barrel. If that statement makes you uncomfortable, good. Being uncomfortable will move you to make changes.

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4. I don't need to market on the Internet. My customers aren't on social media.

Denial is an excuse itself. We draw conclusions based on our own perceptions and translate those into a twisted version of reality. You may not think that your customers are on social media. You may not think that you need to have an online presence. You are just fooling yourself. Your customers are online. And the new generation coming up can be described as Internet dependent.

Stay offline if you like, just remember that your competition is online and they are marketing to that demographic you are ignoring.

5. That won't work in my market.

This is the classic, “I know my market better than you” excuse. Ego, pride, and denial issues have closed down more restaurants then a bad economy. Having a fixed mindset and not being open to discuss changes in your market is just stupid.

The truth is that the market changes. It changes often and sometimes can be quite volatile. It’s easy to go from being the golden child to a PR nightmare in the blink of an eye. Just ask Chipotle.

6. I need to have a big menu to have something for everyone.

No, you don’t. When you try to be everything to everyone, you never really stand out in the market. Customers today are quite savvy and have come to realize that large menus equate lower quality food. In neurolinguistic programming, there is a saying of “perception is projection.” It means that if you believe it (whether it’s true or not), it becomes your reality for you. So if a guest draws the conclusion that your large menu means lower quality food, guess what? To that guest it has become their reality.

7. My customers, staff, vendors (whatever you wish to insert there) are stupid, incompetent, a pain (use any of those).

Be careful what you ask for because you tend to get it. If you think your staff is incompetent and stupid, you will get exactly that. Like attracts like. If you think your customers are a pain, then don’t wonder why they have not been back. 

Think your vendors are all crooks and trying to rip you off? You think it’s better to change vendors often because you don’t trust them? Don’t be surprised that your prices are at a higher margin than the restaurant down the street who is loyal to his food distributor and gets locked in with fair margins on a prime vendor agreement.

Some may argue that an excuse is actually a reason. That is just a bunch of BS. Excuse is just an excuse. Nothing about an excuse will improve your situation and move you toward a solution. Drop the excuses. Take personal accountability. Your restaurant is where it is because of the actions you did or did not take. It’s on you and only you.