Restaurant Masters: The Formula to Create a Badass Brand

In today’s crowded restaurant industry, most brands focus more on year-to-year survival than mastering their particular market. To compete, companies lower prices, offer promotions, and do everything they can price-wise to get customers in the door—and while rewarding at first, these techniques tend to do little to engender consumer loyalty.

This episode of Restaurant Masters features restaurant coach and former restaurant owner Donald Burns. In part three of his series on building a successful restaurant brand, he offers his best tips for creating a “badass” brand that dominates—rather than competes in—your chosen market. He has written the acclaimed books 2017 Your Restaurant Sucks! and the 2019 Your Restaurant STILL Sucks! and was featured in restaurant software company Toast’s Top Restaurant Experts to Follow in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

“A badass brand is created from core values, emotions, your mission, and your culture,” says Burns. “If you are confused about your brand, your guests are confused too.”

For Burns, truly successful restaurants “disrupt the status quo.” Rather than inventing a new market or type of meal, they simply offer a different approach to a common concept that raises the bar in terms of customer service and consumer experience.

So what are the steps to becoming a badass brand? Successful brands have three key elements: a coherent, concise understanding of your core values and brand promise, a brand kit composed of your restaurant’s image, logo, colors, and fonts, and the ability to consistently convey and execute your brand story.

“All houses need a solid foundation—and for a brand, that’s your culture,” adds Burns. “Core values are what separate the average from the outstanding. If you cannot strive to be an example of the core values your brand has, then they’re not core values, they’re just wishful thinking.”

Check out the episode above to learn more about developing a strong tagline and strategically engaging in social media and traditional market channels!

Produced by:

Darisha Beresford

Darisha Beresford

Production Manager / Sr. Producer

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The Core Four Elements of a Successful Restaurant Brand

A restaurant’s brand identity is more than a logo, color scheme, aesthetic, or type of food. Your brand is your foundation: successful restaurants are built on clear, concise, and comprehensive brands.

This episode of Restaurant Masters features restaurant coach and former restaurant owner Donald Burns. In part two of his series on building your restaurant brand, he offers his best tips for cultivating a successful vision and company culture for your business. He has written the acclaimed books 2017 Your Restaurant Sucks! and the 2019 Your Restaurant STILL Sucks! and was featured in restaurant software company Toast’s Top Restaurant Experts to Follow in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” says Burns. “That’s where most restaurants fail: their vision is to make money. That will never sustain you in the long term. The act of making money is the result of having a sound vision and planning practices.”

Successful restaurant brands have a clear, cohesive set of core values and vision of success, prioritize consistency over creativity, perceive the restaurant the same way their guests do, and use emotion to inspire—rather than manipulate—guests.

“People buy brands they trust,” adds Burns. “Trust is a very sacred pact between the brand and the guest. Once it’s broken, it’s a long hard road to rebuild.”

Many young chefs and business owners make the mistake of prioritizing creative products and fail to consistently provide the same quality taste. “Your brand is not what you think it is, it’s what your guests think it is,” notes Burns. “You want to make sure you’re tapping into those emotions that stimulate loyalty and inspiration and not just manipulation.” Having a novelty product is not the same as innovation, and attracting a slew of customers with a unique product does not automatically create a following.

Check out the episode above to learn more about branding for the long-term and how to design your brand identity and brand story!

Produced by:

Darisha Beresford

Darisha Beresford

Production Manager / Sr. Producer

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3 Brand Blunders You are Making and How to Fix Them

Company culture can make or break a restaurant. Having a clear vision and a well-crafted set of core values is essential for ensuring the longevity of your business.

On the latest episode of Restaurant Masters, restaurant coach and former restaurant owner Donald Burns shares his best tips for creating a brand that keeps your restaurant thriving. He has written the acclaimed books 2017 Your Restaurant Sucks! and the 2019 Your Restaurant STILL Sucks! and was featured in restaurant software company Toast’s Top Restaurant Experts to Follow in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

“All business problems are really people problems in disguise,” says Burns. “Leadership makes all the difference. Culture flows down.”

When Burns opened his first restaurant, he made the same three mistakes he often sees with business owners today: (1) failing to understand what makes a brand a brand, (2) not identifying and pursuing your market, and (3) being inconsistent.

Fully cultivating a brand is a “three ingredient recipe” according to Burns: foundation, framework, and functionality. Your employees and your company culture form the foundation. The framework is your menu and particular restaurant processes, while functionality is rooted in your drive to innovate, market your product, and increase your profit.

“People are loyal to the brands they trust and like,” notes Burns. “You don’t have to be the best.” You just have to be consistent with your niche market.

Check out the episode above to learn about avoiding these brand blunders and recognizing and addressing your restaurant’s blind spots!

Produced by:

Darisha Beresford

Darisha Beresford

Production Manager / Sr. Producer

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The Combination to Restaurant Success

If there was a three-number combination lock sitting in front of you and you did not know any of the numbers, how confident would you be that you could open the lock? Granted, the possible combinations is easily over one thousand. How do you feel about being able to open it?

Most would say not very confident not knowing any of the numbers. Even if you had just one number, it still would take a lot of work and patience to finally crack the code. That is a lot of how most restaurants operate. They have one piece of the code and they struggle each day to try and open the lock to success.

So, for the first time (this month...), I am going to give you the code to restaurant success! Are you interested? I’ll give you a second to get a notebook out.

Restaurant success is a triad of three elements. Many have one or two of these working well, however without all three working in synergy, your restaurant will never reach the peak of performance. It’s like placing a governor set at 75 mph in a race car that has the potential of going 200 mph. As long as that governor is on the engine it will never reach its top speed.

The keys to restaurant success can be broken down into three elements: People, Product, and Process. Let’s break each down.

People

Think of this as the foundation of a house. How stable would your house be with a poor foundation? Would you allow your family to live in a house with a bad foundation? Of course not. Yet, everyday restaurants open without having set up the most critical element of their brand, the foundation. The cement that holds your foundation solid is your core values and your mission. These elements are what keep you and your brand held together when the market goes up and down. When economic conditions shift. Your values and your mission must be securely a part of your foundation before you start to build on top of it.

Once the core value cement has been set it is now time to gather the right people to your team. How do you attract the right people? By using those core values as a guide. People that do not align with your brand core values are just not a good fit for your restaurant.

Another valuable tool is you explore behavioral assessments like ProScan®️, DiSC®️, and the Predictive Index®️. Each measures the four cornerstone behavioral strengths that we all have (just in different combinations): Dominance, Extroversion, Patience, and Formality. Certain behavioral types work well together and are needed for harmony. Some are drivers that push for results. Some get energy from people. Others prefer spreadsheets and data. You need some of each to build a balanced team. Think of it as a tire on a car. You need all four wheels balanced or you are not going to get peak performance from the vehicle.

Product

For most this is the first key they focus on and that is a major mistake. Yes, your menu and what you sell is important. However, when you place it before people, you end up with a menu that cannot be executed consistently. Product is the low hanging fruit and it’s easy because most think that is what makes a restaurant. A restaurant is more than the menu. It’s a complex blend of service, ambiance, culture, beverages, and food. To isolate a restaurant to just it’s menu is like trying to play piano with just two fingers. Yeah, you can do it, it just sounds like shit!

The other thing to consider when discussing product is the elements that support it like those mentioned above: the style of service, ambiance, energy, brand identity, and the thousand other details that create a unique value proposition (UVP.) If you don’t stand out in a crowded market you will just blend in. The trick is not to stand too far out that your potential guests can’t relate to your brand. It’s far easier to be on the edge and disrupt the market. Then to be way out all alone trying to create a market. Many failing concepts learned this lesson the hard way.

Process

The last of the keys is the least glamorous of them and it secures and stabilizes the first two. Without systems in place that can be followed and implemented by the team, it’s going to be a hard journey. Peter Drucker the famous business consultant once said “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” He’s right. Systems by themselves are worthless without three components: key metrics, strategy, and accountability.

Most restaurants have clipboards that sit idle on the wall and rarely get used. Why? Because they were not designed with expectations or used properly. A lazy manager decided to download a template from the internet, printed it out, put in on a clipboard and told the team to do it. You must always clarify your expectations when rolling out a new system to the team. What it is, how to use it, and why it matters. That last one might be the most important. Without a reason why the team will never buy into using it to its proper use. Sure, they’ll go down the list and check it off. When the leadership team doesn’t check their work and give them feedback, they just brush it off as not that important. You must always inspect what you expect. That is how you hold the team accountable to the brand standards.

Systems also are not valuable if you do not have a strategy for them. So, you have a yearly budget. What are you doing with it? Are you breaking it down into quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily key metrics that are constantly monitored? Do you have a plan for when things get off track (and they will)? What is your recruiting strategy? Just throw up a help wanted as when someone gives notice? That’s not a recruiting strategy, that’s a Hail Mary! Do you have a market calendar and a plan? Or are you just posting a couple of times a week thinking you’re making an impact on social media?

Finally, accountability is the crucible that becomes the Achilles heel for most. Everyone wants to be the leader until it’s time to step up and do what real leaders do...they take accountability for everything that happens inside their life and restaurant. Don’t think for one second that you can be one way at work with accountability and another way in your personal life. Sorry, it doesn’t work like that for true leaders. Accountability in your personal life will impact your professional life.

When you don’t have a clear, concise, and actionable strategy in front of your processes (with accountability thrown in there,) you’re playing to survive and not to thrive. If survival is your goal, then, by all means, keep doing that. If you want to break free from the roller coaster profit and loss experience that most have, then time to put the right pieces in the right order.

Here’s the formula for restaurant success:

Pe + CV = C * Pr + Br + E = UVP * Pro + KM + St/Ac = Sc

People plus core values equals culture, times product plus brand identity plus energy equals unique value proposition times processes plus key metrics plus strategy divided by accountability equals success.

Now you have the combination to restaurant success. The next question is what are you going to do with it? It’s your move.

Is Your Restaurant Losing the War for Talent? Here’s Why!

Now hiring. Looking for line cooks. And servers. And dishwashers too. Apply now.

Does this look familiar? Ads like these blanket the market every single day on the internet as restaurants embark on an inner war. The war for talent.

This struggle may not be as horrific as real warfare on the battlefield in a foreign country, but this battle is closer to you and the impact can be crushing to a business. You are fighting a war that you can’t win playing by traditional rules. If you want to win, you are going to need to attack this problem where the competition can’t touch you...inside your culture.

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Shutterstock

You’re Hiring for Skill Over Personality

When you get desperate to fill a position, you take short cuts and you compromise your standards. Don’t feel bad about it, because we all have done it as inexperienced leaders. The logical move would be to look for someone with experience. You need a line cook so you filter through the application and find someone who has experience. You interview them and they say all the right things, so you hire them. They start and it all goes to hell on the line.

Why?

Because you didn’t see the big emotional baggage they brought in with them. Sure, no one breaks out their emotional baggage on day one. They wait until they get settled in and then they unpack all that drama and bad habits. By then the damage is already set into motion. You could fire them, yet the thought of confrontation or placing a new help wanted ad up just makes you not say anything.

This is commonly known as silent approval and it is a silent culture killer as well. By not saying anything you have given the “silent approval” that below par standards are now the new standard. When this happens it’s like the crew has mutinied and now runs the ship. Good luck trying to get it back into your control.

Your Culture Sucks

You will always lose the war for talent if your culture is not A level. Culture is the deciding factor when it comes to winning the war for the best talent in your market. I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but if you’re not getting A talent coming in to apply to join your team then you have a C level culture. They don’t find your culture attractive.

How can you fix that? Make sure your cores values known. Most restaurants do not understand the intense power that solid core values offer for recruiting and attracting top talent. People are drawn to people who are like themselves. If your culture core values are all about parties and having a good time, then look around and you’ll see your team is a reflection of that.

Culture problems are not easy to fix, that’s not saying you shouldn’t try. At its essence, culture is a living thing that is co-created by the leader/owner and their leadership team. It does take a team effort to bend and shape culture. Many try to take this challenge on alone and it’s a losing battle. You need team synergy to craft an A level culture.

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Shutterstock

You Don’t Train Enough

Would you go to the gym for a week to get in the shape of your life and suddenly declare, “Well, that’s it! I’m in shape now, no need to go back.” Of course not. Then why do most restaurant treat their training program with that same attitude? They train their most precious resource (their team) a few days when they first start and expect them to maintain that level.

Physical conditioning dissipates over time without constant and never-ending training. You must continue to push yourself to the point where your body is placed under a little stress in order for it to repair and grow. Go to the gym and do the same routine with the same intensity and you’ll plateau fast! How’s your training program at your restaurant? Has your team become complacent? Have they plateaued? If your sales and reviews have flatlined chances are you have a training program that needs a swift kick in the ass!

Training is one area that you have total control over. You don’t control the weather, the economy, or other people (even if you think you can). What you can and do control is your actions that take place within the four walls of your restaurant. Anything inside is your world. You own it. You just need to start acting like it.

You want to make a pact with yourself and your team that from this day forward, you will not be out trained by another restaurant in your market!

It’s time to stand up and stand out as a brand that invests in developing their people. You hear it quite often in articles that quote restaurant owners who love to say, “our people are our most valuable asset”. They say the words and yet their actions fall way short of the goal. You can change that by changing your mindset and attitude about training.

You’re Not Appreciative

You can call them millennials, Gen Z, or even "snowflakes." Labels are the worst way to get people to come together and we use them all the time in our own restaurants to divide the team instead of pulling them together. How about the classic Front-of-House (FOH) and Back-of-House (BOH.) We create dissension in our own brand by casting people into labels.

The problem with labels is that they carry a preconceived notion behind them. How many of these sayings have you heard (or even may have said yourself)?

“Kids today don’t want to work.”

“I can’t find good help, so I just do it myself!”

“They just don’t care.”

Here’s the truth: seek and you shall find. Whether or not you are aware of this, you are always putting out one of three types of energy. Positive, neutral, or negative.

Negative energy is just that...is an energy vacuum that sucks the life out of whatever it comes in contact with.

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Shutterstock

Neutral energy is like a flat line on an EKG. Others might describe it as meh. When you are in neutral energy you are just being nothing.

Positive energy is the stuff that legendary brands are made of. These leaders are like human sparklers when they walk into a room. They command a great presence and people are drawn to them like the moth to the flame. You can’t help it, they are powerful at attracting others to their cause.

If your energy is 80% in the positive range, then you’re doing great. If you hover between negative and neutral, then you have a little soul searching to explore.

How can you correct the course on this one? Be a little humble and be a lot more grateful. Gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions you can tap into. Here’s the other part of that...you can always find something to be grateful for. Is it always easy? Hell no. Will you feel better living with a little more gratitude in your heart? Hell yeah!

Start by offering up a couple of words that perhaps your team is not used to you saying and that is “thank you”. Try it out. If you can, look in a mirror and tell that person staring back at you, “thank you.” Okay, it might feel a little weird to be talking to yourself in a mirror, but hey we’re talking about doing those things that average people won’t do! That’s how you become outstanding. You challenge yourself to do things that are just outside your comfort zone.

Making the changes required to win the war for talent all starts on the battlefield between your ears. Yes, you are your biggest problem and you are also your best solution. There is not a war for talent out there, there is a war with talent that we created within ourselves by the negative self-defeating talk that flies around in that brain of yours. Change your thoughts and you change your restaurant. It may not happen overnight, however, it’s a great start!

Want more tips from Donald Burns on how to create a better restaurant? Check out the recent episode of The Barron Report below where Burns breaks down some of the psychological principles that get in your way from building the restaurant and life you truly desire.