You might think of a restaurant as merely a brick-and-mortar store. In actuality, it’s a living thing that is shaped everyday by the owners, operators, and chefs that work relentlessly in the pursuit of their dream. Day in and day out. Day after day.
Honestly, it can start to wear on you after a while. Confidence can wane. Doubt creeps in. You might even start to second-guess yourself. There is a natural ebb and flow to life and a business. All restaurants go through peaks and valleys. Successful restaurant operators understand this and prepare their mental game to deal with these naturally occurring low points.
When those slower and lower times come to visit your restaurant (and they will,) there are a few critical elements that you must avoid at all cost. Failure to do so will send you down a path that will be extremely difficult to come back from. When you invite this negativity into your restaurant, it’s like inviting evil spirits to take over your brand and that could require an exorcism to dispel them. It’s much easier to avoid them, then to vanquish them.
Most people really like a solid routine. There are six human needs that all of us have at our core. One of these needs is for certainty. We take great comfort in knowing that the sun will rise and set at certain times of the day. Routines are nice because they are comfortable.
But, the problem with getting comfortable in your restaurant is that it leads to complacency. Complacency is like living at the dead end of a one-way street. It doesn’t go anywhere.
Complacency leads to being stuck and to stop pushing yourself to grow and develop because you have the consistent mindset that “everything is good”.
Let’s be clear that good enough, is not great. In fact, it’s average at best. Being average is a failing formula in an industry that is constantly growing with more and more competition entering the market each year. Complacency leads to mediocrity and mediocrity is the slow death of your restaurant.
When you fall into the trap of complacency, you stop growing, developing, and innovating. There are basically four types of restaurants:
Bad - these restaurants don’t last long in any market.
Good - these restaurants are basically in the middle of the market. They are average in their execution of food and service. They also have the most competition and tend to be drawn into “price wars.”
Great - these restaurants strive to be evolutionary. They might have a cool new proprietary system or technique that allows them to stand out slightly ahead of those restaurants in the “good” category. Some experts would refer to this as their brand differential.
Outstanding - these restaurants are revolutionary. They don’t just think outside the box; they reinvent the box. These brands completely understand that complacency is a death sentence. So, they are constantly innovating. They do this through implementing new technology, building learning cultures, and engagement through multiple social media platforms. They also tend to be brands that are copied the most in the industry. Their secret is that it’s not the systems or products that set them apart… It’s their culture. It’s easy to knock off a sandwich or pizza, or to add delivery to your business model, but it’s very hard to replicate culture.
While complacency will slowly kill your brand, inconsistency will get your restaurant into the emergency room much faster. Take a look at some random average online reviews and the common thread is one of inconsistency. This common problem can impact both food or service.
The sad thing about a restaurant with inconsistency issues is that it is so easily fixable. It all comes down to two elements: standards and accountability.
Standards - If you don’t set the standards for your team and tell them exactly what the expectations are, then you tend to get what they think they should be.
While Democracy is a great ideology for countries, it’s not so good for running a restaurant. While it’s okay to have input from your team, the final decision should always fall upon you as the leader. Once that final decision or standard is set, then it needs to be carved in stone and treated as if Moses himself brought the tablets down from the mountain.
You need to start thinking of your standards as non-negotiable. Your standards need to be extremely clear, concise, and documented. That means getting those things out of your head and onto paper where you have a document that can be used for training and accountability.
Accountability - You can have clear standards for your brand, however, without accountability… it is all for nothing. Accountability is an element you must nurture in your culture. It develops other successful and critical values like integrity and trust. No brand can experience long-term success without integrity. No restaurant can build a high performance team without trust. Accountability is the glue that keeps outstanding restaurants out in front of their competition.
Holding your team accountable to the standards that you create is not something you should do, it’s something you must do.
The popular saying “fake it until you make it” is very bad advice for restaurants. Your guests and your team definitely know when you’re not being sincere. When you are just going through the motions, putting on a fake smile, and saying words that don’t come from the heart– they know. Being authentic, being real, being human is the new expectation. Guests want to know the people behind the brand. Connection is the new currency.
For example, It doesn’t resonate when you just say you’re a local business, when you do not show any connections to the community. Or if you say you only buy the very best product, and yet your team knows you by the cheapest cuts of meat and charge a premium price. Or if you say your people are your most valuable asset, yet you don’t invest in training or pay them much more than minimum wage. Basically, you’re all talk.
Words are meaningless without action and intent. When a guest has a complaint and you walk up to discuss the issue, are your words sincere? Are you just apologizing or are you sincerely empathetic to their situation?
How about your team? Do you compliment them sincerely or just give them the standard “pat on the back” with the standard words, “nice job”? Have you ever really looked into the eyes of one of your team and said from the heart, “thank you”? A little gratitude goes a long way with your team, your vendors, and your guests.
Brands that not only survive, yet thrive do so because they tap into being authentic and sincerely grateful.
For example, there was a restaurant in a small Colorado mountain town a few years back that had an owner who lived around the corner from his restaurant. This operator was obsessed with the new restaurant across the street which happened to be owned by a company out of California (keep in mind that they hired local people, purchased product from a local vendor, and pay rent to an owner who was local). It would drive him absolutely crazy to see locals going into the competition to have lunch or dinner. It aggravated him so much that he actually would walk up and verbally accost the local guest leaving that restaurant for not dining in his establishment.
Soon, even the loyal local patrons of his restaurant avoided walking by his restaurant out of fear of being shamed for visiting other local businesses. If this owner could have adopted an attitude of gratitude and been grateful that people were spending money in the community, he might have been able to save the damage done to his reputation. But in the end by turning his back on the local community, the local community turned their back on him and his business. He was eventually forced to sell his restaurant at a bargain price.
So, your restaurant is a living reflection of you. Your words. Your actions. Your intentions. If you line these three up and they are congruent with each other, you can build a successful long-term brand.
You cannot have sunshine every single day. Those that appreciate and welcome the rain for what it is (an opportunity for growth) use that as a chance to regroup, innovate, and challenge themselves to push past being just “good” or even “great” to that rare spot reserved for a select few called “outstanding.”