If Your Restaurant Were a Movie, Would it be a Tragedy?

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

High-rise restaurant dining

Every year, thousands of new restaurants open and thousands of existing restaurants close. Welcome to the cycle of business.

So how can you tell if your restaurant is equipped to  stay in the game for the long term?

Success leaves clues, and so does failure. The restaurants that thrive and do well follow a certain pattern. The same is true for the restaurants that do not make it. In fact, it can be said that most failing restaurants follow the same plot as some pretty famous movies.

Is your restaurant running the same storyline as these classic movies?

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

This is a classic story where the staff runs the restaurant. Management might think it runs the restaurant; however, the staff knows they have power, and they use it. So, do you run your restaurant or does it run you? When you really look for the truth, you might be shocked by the answer.

In many cases, this is also known as “handcuff management.” You are afraid to make changes because the staff does not like them. Let’s say you think that the floor sections are too big for the service team and you want to focus on better service standards. You decide that you want each server to have only four tables, instead of the seven they have been serving. The servers throw a fit and threaten to walk if you cut their sections, so you don’t make the change that would give better service to your guests. Welcome to handcuff management. When the staff runs your business, you have lost control. When you lose control, it’s very difficult to get it back without making major staffing changes.

This can also be seen with those few, yet extremely demanding guests. You change one thing on the menu and they threaten they will never come back. Sometimes, losing a guest like this is better for your brand and can be summed up by a line from another movie, Star Trek The Wrath of Khan (1982). Spock enters a highly radioactive chamber in order to fix the ship’s drive so the crew can escape danger. Spock quickly perishes, and, with his final breath, says to Kirk, “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh . . .” Kirk finishes for him, “The needs of the few.” Spock replies, “Or the one.”

The Godfather

Marlon Brando in The Godfather

This is the classic with the over-controlling owner or manager who knows only one way to do things: their way. Cross them and you are as good as gone in their eyes. They forgive very little, and forget nothing. Every time you make a mistake, they love to mention the other times you have dropped the ball or let them down.

These owners run their businesses with an iron fist. There is little room for error. Here’s the thing, human beings are prone to make mistakes. Did you try walking as a toddler, fall a few times, and your parents just said, “Well, that’s it they are just going to have to crawl for the rest of their life!” Of course not.

Your team needs to know that is it safe to make mistakes as long as they learn from them. Now, if too many of the same mistakes occur, you have to address if whether that person is right for the job. If not, better to let them make those repeated mistakes somewhere else on someone else’s dime. Always be fair and give them an opportunity. However, you have to draw the line in the sand for improvement.

When your team does make mistakes, talk about them and give them the support they need to fix them. It is your responsibility to provide your team with the tools they need to succeed. That also means not bringing up every transgression they have ever made when they make a new mistake.

Groundhog Day

This restaurant in this plot line just does the same thing over and over and over and over again and again, day after day, and wonder why things never improve. No training plan. No marketing plan. No growth plan. Just open the doors, and hope for a good day. The problem is, hope is not a strategy for running a successful restaurant.

Great restaurants have a solid plan for every aspect of their business. Do you have a yearly budget? Do you have a plan on how you are going to increase sales? Do you have a training plan for the team? A succession plan? Do you have a recruiting plan or just place help wanted ads when you have an opening? Do you have a consistent marketing plan or just post a few things here and there when you have time?

As Alan Lakein said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”  Planning gives you control. Planning and putting into action the items in your plan allow you to better weather the storm of economic turmoil. While all business cycles go up and down through the hills and valleys, having a plan turns them into the gently rolling hills of Kentucky compared to the peaks and crevasses of the Alps!

The Titanic

Sinking of The Titanic

This is the classic story of ego over substance. The designers of the Titanic boasted that the ship was unsinkable. How did that turn out for them?

The plot features the owner or manager who thinks they know it all. They know more than the guest. They know what the market wants. They know more than the staff. They know more than everyone.

No one knows it all. There is a great quote by Shakespeare that sums up this person, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool." These people think they are wise.

Typically, they are recognized by throwing around the phrase, “I know that.” But even while they might “know”, few ever follow through on what they know. Knowing what to do and doing what you know are quite different. These people price their menu based on what their gut tells them. Far better to base your menu prices on real cost formulas and doing research as to what your market will bear. These know it alls are most likely are leaving money on the table.

If you are brave enough to admit that you don’t know it all, congratulations. There is a chance you can miss the iceberg in your business path and save your brand the fate of the legendary ship. Get a mentor, get a coach, read blog posts, subscribe to business magazines, listen to audio books if you don’t like to read, join a mastermind group — just do something to increase your knowledge base.

Your restaurant and your brand can weather the storm better if you are prepared for whatever the storm throws at you. Don’t suffer the same fate as some of the characters mentioned in the movies above. They say knowledge is power. It’s actually just potential. Applied knowledge is the real power.