Define Your Restaurant’s Vision — Or Be Destined to Fail

By Andrew Carlson, Foodable Industry Expert

What do companies like Chili’s, Chipotle, Mendocino Farms, and Starbucks all have in common? They all have a vision or a mission that is their sole focus with every decision their company has made.

  • Chili’s – “Our passion is making people feel special.”
  • Mendocino Farms – “We sell happy.”
  • Chipotle – “The business of good food.”
  • Starbucks – “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.”

 Their visions are greater than just selling food or coffee. They focus on more than just getting customers in the door. A vision is not just about finding that store with high foot traffic. It’s not just about making money.

These are companies that have stood the test of time because of their vision. When the going got tough, they didn’t throw in the towel. They decided that their vision was greater than the struggles they were experiencing and that they would be doing their communities a disservice by giving up.

But why is having a vision important? I’ll refer to my favorite quote to answer this question.

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Not having a vision for your brand is like trying to give a tourist in a major city directions, when you yourself have just arrived. It’s impossible to succeed besides referring to Google Maps!

It’s crucial to have a vision for your company and then for yourself, as the restaurant owner! Your vision is the road map to your success. How can I make such a bold statement by saying if there’s no vision, there’s only failure? Here are five areas that are influenced by your company’s vision.

1. Ownership

Think of your restaurant like a ship. You can just float on the water for an eternity, but wouldn’t you want to travel the world instead of just sitting there? Of course you would!

Having a vision will allow you to make smarter decisions from the menu, interior design, hiring and firing, policy creation, and growth and development.

If there are multiple owners, it allows you to find that common ground, in case of they are not able to see eye to eye. It allows you to leave your ego at the door and come together in a way that’s for the betterment of the company as a whole — not just as an individual.

2. Employees

Unless you want to greet customers, seat them, take their order, go ring in their order, go cook their order, keep up with their drink requests, and then clear everything, only to go back and wash all of the dishes at the end of the night...chances are you’ll be hiring a few employees.

How are they supposed to act or communicate to each other (or to ownership) if they don’t see what your goal is as a company? There ends up being no set guidelines and having a free-for-all mentality is a surefire way to lose control.

Have you ever watched “Bar Rescue”? Those bars are on the show because they lost their vision and their staff followed. It’s hard to get people to come together for a common goal when there isn’t one.

3. Community

A restaurant is only as strong as the community that it roots down into. That’s why I think it’s silly when restaurants move into a community or neighborhood and they are trying to change everything around it to fit its mold.

That’s not how this works in communities. They want to see restaurants come in that already know and understand the vision of the community as a collective.

I’m always impressed by restaurants that come into communities and embrace everything about the surrounding area. They welcome everyone in with open arms and find ways to grow within the community.

If your restaurant has a vision that the community can believe in and can see you walk your talk, you will have raving fans for life.

4. Leader in the Industry

You get to set the new standard for how other restaurants just starting out should look at their own business. The only way industries begin to change is because someone causes a ripple. A restaurant with a vision is that ripple, and it affects the whole industry.

Danny Meyer created a ripple by sharing his vision with his no-tipping policy and why he felt that was an extraordinary decision for his company. Then multiple restaurants followed after.

You get to create change. You get to change the industry and restaurant community for the better. You get the opportunity to set the new standard — if not in the industry — in the community your restaurant is currently in.

5. Passion

At the end of the day, you cannot get through on passion alone. So many more restaurants would be thriving if they were fueled solely on passion. Unfortunately, people lose sight of their goals if it’s not clearly defined in the beginning.

It is so easy to fall into the “shiny object” syndrome without a clearly defined vision.

You have to create something that’s bigger than yourself and bigger than the restaurant itself. That’s why I absolutely love Chili’s mission: to make people feel special. Every decision that’s going to be made, every customer interaction, or  every interaction with their employees  will focus on making them feel special.

Companies fail because of multiple reasons, but not having a vision is a surefire way to fail quickly.

Have companies with visions failed? Absolutely and it’s not because their vision wasn’t big enough. It was because they refused to shift their vision as the communities that they lived in shifted, eating habits shifted, and the customer’s that came through the doors have shifted.

If you don’t have a vision specific for your restaurant, I challenge you to come up with one and watch how it influences how you do business. I guarantee that it will change everything — for the better.