Leadership Skills for the New-Age Operator

As an operator in today’s climate, there are new challenges when it comes to management at your restaurant.

There are new populations like Gen Y and millennials to understand. There’s new technology to learn and then train your staff with. There’s the high turnover, so you are consistently looking for reliable team members. There’s the challenge of retention and creating a culture that staff members want to be a part of.

The most successful operators are new-age leaders who aim to develop new leaders and build a culture that stands out.

But the first step to being a great leader is understanding motives.

We sat down with Rudy Miick, founder of Miick Companies on the recent IOChangeMakers live stream to see what it takes to be a leader today as the restaurant industry experiences a profound shift. As Miick points out, there are two types of workers today. Ones that have to work to make a living and others that are inspired to work.

So the goal is to inspire your team. But that is easier said than done. It all starts with defining the “why” or as Miick calls it “your purpose.”

“If I don’t have a sense of purpose or what some people now call the why, if I don’t know why we’re in business besides making money, then I end up being that rudderless leader,” says Miick.

Once you define the why and then establish values that support the why this is how you create or build a culture that resonates. Understanding the why also inspires new leaders within your team.

Want more leadership tips from Miick? Check out the clip above. The full interview is also now exclusively available on Foodable On-Demand here.

If These 5 Things are in Place You MIGHT Have a Restaurant Business

You have a location. You have a menu. You open the doors and guests are coming in and eating at your establishment.

But do you have a business? Don’t answer so fast. There are certain things that must be in place to have a real business.

Not to burst your bubble, but without these 5 things, you actually have more of what would be classified as a hobby. An expensive hobby.

The restaurant industry has a horrendous reputation for being tough and with especially high failure statistics. Perhaps the reason is due to the fact that most don’t run their restaurant like a business? Restaurant success is not a game of luck. It is a business and there are rules that those that find long term success follow.

The good news for you? You just need to follow the rules.

Now, some might cringe at the ideas of following “the rules.” You started your own restaurant because you didn’t want to follow the rules. Rules allow you to instill some discipline in your business. You need discipline to reach high levels of success. You can’t get there without it.

Know Your Numbers

Least we forget that the restaurant business is a business. For that, you must know your financial numbers. This is not a luxury, it is a necessity! There is a fiduciary duty you have as an owner or a leader in a restaurant to protect the brand assets. Those assets are the bottom line. There is an overflow of creative culinary talent in the market, I would wager that only 10% know how to make money with that talent.



How many top chefs have you heard of lately either going bankrupt or being kicked out of their own company for malicious behavior? And those are the ones that make the headlines. There are countless more that just slowly fade away without being noticed.

Economic responsibility starts and ends with the small business owner in a local community. You make money and spend money within your community. When that cycle breaks down, towns become vacant and are left as remnants of once prosperous so-called boom towns that became ghost towns (think Tombstone, Arizona; Calico, California; Rhyolite, Nevada).

So where to start? How about knowing the exact cost of every item on your menu? You might be shocked that this is a major area that most restaurant operators fail to implement. If you don’t like numbers or you don’t know how to calculate this, then hire someone! You can’t go any longer without getting on top of your numbers. Stop saying you “should” and start saying you “must”.

Know Your Market

If you are going into a market it is far better to disrupt the status quo than to create it. Starbucks didn’t invent the coffee market, they disrupted how we thought about coffee by transforming it from diners to its own cozy shop people would want to spend time at. Chipotle did not invent the burrito, they disrupted the way we order a burrito with the customization model. Chick-fil-A did not invent the chicken sandwich, they disrupted the service associated with getting a chicken sandwich!

Are you trying to create a market or are you disrupting your market? This is where so many go astray. They look at the market and think that Ethiopian BBQ Sushi would be great! There is nothing else like that currently in their area...and there might be a very good reason why.

Creating a market takes a lot of money, marketing, and a brilliant brand positioning strategy to make it work. While you might have one or even two of those three things, you’re going to need all three to make it work. Many a restaurant has gone under thinking that they were going to change the restaurant world with an unproven business model.

Know Your Team

When you look around at your team, what do you see? Friends? Family? Co-workers? Strangers? Professionals? The way you answer that says a lot about you as a leader and is a reflection of your culture.

One thing that the restaurant industry is lacking is real leadership. We have plenty of managers, but a few leaders. My definition is fairly straightforward: a manager manages the shift, while a leader, leads the vision. Managers tend to have a style that can best be described as a firefighter. You’ve surely seen these managers in action. They rush around all day busy putting out fires (problems). In fact, they pride themselves on the number of fires they can put out each shift. The firefighter manager lives to be a problem solver.



The leader has a totally opposite mindset. Their drive is to empower their team to be solution seekers. When the fire (problem) pops up at the restaurant, they ask the team for solutions. They also talk to their team to understand them on a deeper level than the traditional employee-employer relationship.

If you want to build a successful team around you that can solve complex issues (that will arise in the restaurant industry), you need to know what each team member can and cannot do. If a team member doesn’t like or is not proficient in spreadsheets, why make them in charge of accounting? You have a shy and reserved person yet you put them in front as a host because you think it will help them grow. At what cost? A poor first impression for your guests when they walk in and are greeted with a lack of enthusiasm.

Know Your Strengths

Knowing your team is one side of the equation. The other side is you have to know yourself. Awareness precedes choice and choice precedes change. You must become self-aware of who you are as a person and as a leader. No, that does not mean you need to sit in meditation for 3 hours a day (however 20 minutes is good for you). This is about knowing what you are good at. Knowing what you are okay at. And, knowing what you just suck at.

Trying to develop your weaknesses is a waste of time. You will grow stronger as a team when you focus in on what you are amazing at. Oh, and allow me to digress on the topic of having passion. The gurus out there say if you're passionate about what you do, you’ll be fine. Not exactly. Passion is nice and it amplifies your skills. It won’t replace skills and being damn awesome at what you do. Screw passion, become a badass with your skill sets!

So, what are you so damn great at that people cannot ignore you? That’s your strength right there! Focus on what you excel at and build a team around you for the areas you are not so good at (or perhaps you suck at). When you do have your dream team in place, step back and allow them to do what they do best.

Remember that you hired them for their skills and there is a big difference between training and taming a person. When you train your team, you harness and focus their natural strengths to higher levels. When you tame your team, you suppress those natural strengths and make them less.

Have a Solid Plan

Without a crystal clear plan, you will not get very far in the restaurant world. Sure, you might have some initial success without a plan. Hey, even a broken watch is right twice a day! Long term success requires a long term vision and a plan to get there.



Look at it this way: you could drive from Los Angeles to New York City without a map. Chances are without a clear route or even a vague plan, your chances are very slim you’ll get there. Hey, it could happen. So could getting hit by lightning twice in the same day!

Proper planning allows you to make adjustments when you get off track. Think of a plan like having a map. In fact, I use the analogy of a map as having a Massive Action Plan (M.A.P.).

  • What is your plan to develop yourself?

  • What is your plan to develop your team?

  • What is your plan for marketing?

  • What is your plan for growing sales?

  • What is your plan to increase profits?

  • What is your plan for recruiting?

  • What is your plan for improving your systems?

  • What is your plan for improving the guest experience?

  • What is your plan for your menu?

These questions above are a great place to start if you don’t already have a plan in action. The bottom line is that successful restaurants always have a plan. They know precisely where they are and where they want to be (1 year, 3, years, and 5 years) down the road. Once you have a plan in place, you just need to map out your journey with action steps that will take you there.

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.

Why You Should Forget About Improving Your Restaurant

Your restaurant is a composition of thousands of details. All those details contribute to what your restaurant is today. The good and the bad.

Here’s the problem: With the New Year comes new plans to improve your restaurant. Usually, it's the same plan. You start off strong and around March the best designed plans start to fall to the wayside.

By June, those plans are pretty much forgotten. In November, you start to make plans for next year and the cycle goes over and over, again and again, year after year.

Perhaps it time to get off this masochistic treadmill and get some real results?

The first thing to do is stop trying to improve your restaurant. Wait? Did that last sentence say stop trying to improve my restaurant? Yes. It’s not a typo. Improvement to a thing is like throwing new paint on a rusted out car. It looks nice on the surface, but underneath is still a rusted out piece of junk. Instead of trying to fix temporary issues, how about we dig down to inspire real lasting change. That starts with you as the leader.

Your restaurant is a direct reflection of who you are as a leader, owner, operator, or chef. When you’re the one who is driving the brand you have to know where you want to go!

Too many leaders focus on temporary solutions that just compound the real problem lurking under the surface...you might just suck at running your restaurant.



But here are a few things that lead to this situation of mediocrity:

You Focus on the Wrong Things

There are probably days when you think that your restaurant would be awesome if it wasn’t for those other people just messing things up day after day. You know it’s all their fault. Let’s just invite a few more people to this pity party and turn it into a total bitch fest! Get a bunch of unhappy people together and it ramps up pretty quick.

There was a restaurant owner who said to me the other day, “My cashiers are a bunch of idiots!” My reply was rather calm, “Well, who hired them?”

“I did”, he said.

“Well, maybe the real issue is who allowed them to work here in the first place?”, I said.

Yes, the truth will set you free. Yes, it’s going to piss you off. After a minute of silence, the owner replied, “Yeah, I haven’t done a very good job of screening people. I get desperate and hire anybody with a pulse!”

I said, “When you panic hire you only solve a temporary issue and create a long term problem in the growth of your culture.”

What are you doing to improve yourself to become a better leader?

What are you doing each week to recruits and search for better people to join your team?

The answer to these questions will lead you to start focusing on the one thing you truly have control over and that is you. Restaurants get better when the people in them become better people. You don’t tolerate mediocrity in others, so why do you accept it for yourself?

You Don’t Schedule Time to Work on Your Plan

Let’s talk about being busy. You’re busy, I get that. The question is what are you busy with? Are you blocking time out of your day to move your brand forward? It’s easy in the restaurant world to fill a day up with minutia tasks that have little long term impact on growth.



Growth is not just about increasing sales. It’s about becoming better. Better at marketing. Better at guest relations. Better at cultivating a team that lives your mission. Better at being a better person.

Time has the ultimate “I don’t care what you do” attitude. Seriously. Time does not care what you do with the 14,400 minutes you get gifted with each day. Waste it or invest it, it’s always your choice.

Remember that...you choose all day what is important by where you place your attention. So, the "I’m too busy excuse" is really a bunch of BS. You should be honest and say that it’s not important to you.

Taking small blocks of time and putting them on your calendar is the one sure way to ensure your agenda (your life) moves forward. Take a tip from the most successful people on the planet...use your calendar to schedule EVERYTHING! Don’t take random meetings. Don’t allow people to control your day by not having your calendar booked. White space on your calendar is the lazy person’s life. Multimillionaire Grant Cardone is found of saying, “If you want to meet the devil, have white space on your calendar.” Your productivity will come to a halt when you have too much idle time on your hands.

So, what do you scheduled? Everything! Gym time, breakfast, time with family, meetings, phone calls, pre-shifts, computer time, reading time, meditation, and whatever else is important to you. I do block off open time for things that might need my attention. I tell clients to contact me during this scheduled blocks of time. If you want to really improve the quality of your restaurant and your life, then take control of your calendar and schedule everything!

You Get Discouraged and Give Up

Life loves to throw curve balls at you. Persistence and perseverance are required if you want massive success. Hey, things are not going to work all the time. Even if your restaurant started out with a Big Bang, as the time goes by (and more restaurants move into your market) you’ll start to become a little less appealing to the shiny new restaurant brands popping up.



You’ll try something new to get your brand back on top. Maybe some video marketing on social media. You’ll get a few likes and then it seems to die off. You throw in the towel and throw out the excuse that your guests don’t want that. You could be so wrong.

Marketing is not a one time thing. It’s a consistency thing. Throwing out that video and then not really promoting it is your downfall. You made a half-ass commitment and the results show. If you want to play the social media marketing game, you will need to put in the energy and effort to get the results you want. Is everything you put out there going to stick? Of course not! Then you try something else. If that doesn’t work, you try something else. If that doesn’t work, you try something else. If that doesn’t work, you try something else. If that doesn’t work, you try something else. If that doesn’t work, you try something else. If that doesn’t work, you try something else. Get the hint?

You keep working and refining your message until you hit the nerve that gets a response from your guests. Then you market it relentlessly! Marketing is about keeping your brand in front (top of feed) to your market. If you don’t want to spend the time and invest in promoting your brand, your competition will.

I think it’s safe to say that almost everyone reading this know who McDonald’s is. Do you see them backing off on the amount they market? Hell no. They keep their foot on the marketing accelerator all the time! When you see McDonald’s slow down on marketing is the time you should slow down. Until then keep your brand at the top of social media feeds to keep your name top of mind.

Stop throwing caution to the wind. Stop playing it safe. Stop playing small in your market. Stop trying to improve things that won’t really improve your restaurant. Focus on becoming the best version of yourself. Control your calendar. Keep your marketing fresh and frequent. Refuse to surrender to complacency and mediocrity!

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.

5 Psychology Principles You Can Use to Create a Better Restaurant

Step into the office and have a seat on the couch. Let’s talk about what is going on in your restaurant. Actually, let’s talk about what’s going on within your own mind. The precipice of all business problems (at their foundation) are people problems.

Those people problems are generally self-inflicted from the perceptions we carry around. We can at times be our own worst enemy.

Don’t feel bad about this. You’re human and part of that is understanding all the flaws that make us human.

Every New Year, we make a long list of “resolutions” that we vow “this year” we are going to do! Then by the end of January, we’ve fallen back into old routines and excuses why we couldn’t make it happen.

If you want to stop that madness, then pay attention to the following 5 psychological principles that get in your way from building the restaurant and life you truly desire.

(Check out the video above to see host Paul Barron of The Barron Report discuss these principles in detail with The Restaurant Coach™ himself.)

1. The Habit Loop

Problem: You are a product of your habits.

Most of them operate under the surface like an old operating system on your computer that just keeps doing what it always has done for years. Even when you try to update your mental software, there it is running the same habits you have done for year after year.

You might say that it’s just the way you are... actually it's the way you choose to be. If not, you would have taken steps to change that. Your habits are like a warm blanket that calls to you on a cold night. “Just stay here with me”, it whispers. You stay and remain stuck on a never-ending habit loop. Cue (trigger), craving (want), response (habit), reward (result), repeat.

Now if your habit is a bad one, it does not give you a positive result and you just stay stuck in the same loop over and over. It’s like you’re on a giant hamster wheel. You keep spinning in circles day after day with no real progress or change in your life or your restaurant.

Solution: You need to interrupt the habit loop at the point of response.

The key is that the new response must be a positive one. Many people try each year to stop smoking. The problem is they substitute the reaching for a cigarette with a piece of candy. Soon, you find that the cigarette habit now had been replaced by a candy habit. We wonder why diabetes is an epidemic. You can’t solve a bad habit with another bad habit.



2. Identity

Problem: You are who you think you are.

That may sound simplistic, yet it’s very powerful in understanding most of your actions. You may have been born with some things that you did not choose like: family, race, and genetics. You do have a choice about how you show up in the world. That’s your identity and it controls you more than you think.

Just look at a common identity many can relate to political parties. On a basic level, there are Republicans and there are Democrats. You are not really born one or the other. You choose to identify with one party or the other. Once you say that is who you are (your identity) you act in the way that you feel you should to align with your identity. People can go to extremes to protect their identity. When you lose that you go through what psychologist call an identity crisis.

Solution: Pick your identity carefully. Very carefully.

Let’s look at a common restaurant position such as a manager versus a leader. What title you identify with plays a big part in your actions and behavior because it is your identity. A manager tends to “manage” the shift. They run from problem to problem putting out the fires. They use outdated management theories that “push” people to get results. A leader on the other hand truly steps out in front to lead their team. They elevate their team by being out in front and “pulling” the team in their direction through clear core values, respect, and appreciation.

3. Cognitive Biases

Problem: Your brain is bombarded with millions of bits of information every single minute.

There is so much coming into your senses simultaneously that you would not be able to handle it if it wasn’t for some shortcuts you’ve developed from evolution. These problems solving shortcuts are called heuristics. Inside these shortcuts are a group of codes called cognitive biases. Think of these biases like a math formula. A + B = C.

Sometimes these shortcuts help us to survive. See bear + fear bear = run from the bear. Sometimes these can also hold us stuck into stinking thinking. Here are a few of the 104 cognitive biases (named by Wikipedia) that can help us and also hold us back:

Confirmation Bias: we tend to look for evidence that supports our beliefs. If you walk into the restroom when you first arrive at a restaurant and if it’s a total mess, your brain could easily draw the conclusion that the kitchen must be dirty too! Is it true? Most likely not. However, your biases start looking for evidence to support your new found belief system. If you think there are no good people in the labor pool to hire, you’ll tend to see only the bad traits of the ones that come to apply. The old saying of seek and you shall find is dead on accurate.

Blind Spot Bias: failing to recognize your own cognitive biases is actually a bias itself. People tend to see the faults in another way more than they do in themselves.

Planning Fallacy: The planning fallacy is a phenomenon in which predictions about how much time will be needed to complete a future task display an optimistic bias and underestimate the time needed. Basically, we tend to think we can get a project done far sooner than it really takes!

Solution: Just be open to the idea that your brain plays tricks on you.

Being aware is always the first step to a better life. Awareness precedes choice and choice precedes change. The best way to unravel a cognitive bias is to question it. Ask yourself a question that breaks your thinking patterns.

An easy one is, “What would I have to believe for this to be true?” Or “What else could this mean?” Now the trick is you search for positive answers, don’t be lured into the negative, gloom, and doom mindset. There is always a positive angle if you look for it. Sometimes you’re just going to need to look really hard for the positive!



4. Locus of Control

Problem: Here’s the million dollar question: Do you feel you control the outcomes in your life or are you just at the whims of the universe?

This at its essence is called the locus of control. If you have an external locus of control, you feel events are mostly out of your control and life happens to you. When you have an internal locus of control, you feel that the actions you take have an impact on your life.

Solution: If you truly want to get control of your life it all starts here by taking control of your mindset!

Stop the blame game and step up to the reality that you are in charge of how you respond to life events. Notice in the last sentence mentioned the word “respond”. Here is where the power of words comes into play. If you go to the doctor and they say you are having a “reaction” to the medication...that’s bad. If they say you are “responding” to the medication...that’s great! Every day when things happen you have a choice to either react or respond.

You will never control events, people, or the weather (no matter how hard you try). What you do control is how you interpret the events. To give you a clear understanding of this let’s explore a famous Shakespeare quote: “Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Nothing has meaning until you attach one to it. If you react, you get emotional and lose control of your mindset. If you choose to respond, you have your mind under control.

The other way you can gain an internal locus of control is to change the meaning of the event. If nothing has meaning until you attach one to it, then by changing the meaning will conversely change the way you look at it.

Now, this is easy to see on the surface. It’s a major challenge to implement it. Once again you have some bad habits up in the grey matter atop your body. Your brain and your habits really like things they way they are and they will put up a resistance. Deal with that and just be committed to making better choices.

5. Motivation

Problem: You were probably told many times as a manager you need to motivate your staff.

Here’s why that never quite works out the way you want. You’re motivating them by what motivates you! Now if they share your goals, values, and personality then you might have a good connection and your chances of motivating them are pretty good. People like people who are like themselves. The reality is that most people on your team are diverse and not motivated by the things that motivate you.

The other key thing to know is the difference between compliance and commitment. Compliance is the default mode of the average worker. They do just enough work to keep their job. They do things based on your reasons. Their heart isn’t into their job and most just go through the motions. No heart. No passion. Just working for that paycheck.



When you can get your team to find a reason that resonates with their values and it personal, then you get the commitment. Now they do things based on their reasons and not just yours. This leads us to see that true motivation is an inside job. Looking back at our compliance versus commitment discussion...what those two really are in psychology-speak is extrinsic motivation (compliance) and intrinsic motivation (commitment).

Solution: Stop trying to motivate others by what motivates you!

This requires a technique that is not commonly practiced in average restaurants...you need to talk to your team. I never said it was rocket science! Motivation is more human science. You must talk to your team and dig down to find out what is important to them.

What are their short term and long term goals? What lights them up? Any hobbies? How about a crazy dream (goal) that they have? What’s important to them?

These questions are essential to getting them to open up and talk to you. Now, fair warning...if you haven’t had sit down conversations with your team, they will assume they are in trouble. Assure them that you just want to get to know more about them. No need to freak people out for wanting to have a “get to know you better” talk. When your team does open up and talk to you, take notes! Now take that information and use it to help motivate your team. If someone values family, perhaps you could offer to host a party to celebrate their wedding anniversary? Your options and your world will open up when you open up to your team!

These psychological principles are not restricted to just your restaurant. All restaurants around the world have similar problems!

People problems are the major reason restaurants struggle day in and day out. It’s easy to point blame and say it’s that person’s fault. Your restaurant and your life will never (I mean never ever) improve until you step up and take total accountability for everything that happens in your restaurant and your personal life!

Is it easy? Hell no. It’s going to be the fight of your life to overcome bad habits, connect with your true identity, be aware of those cognitive biases that limit you, develop your locus of control and understand what really motivates your team. Will it be worth it all? That would be a "hell yes!"

Don’t miss the opportunity to become the best version of yourself.