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 Soon, you find that the cigarette habit now had been replaced by a candy habit.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.

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Enrique had opened his first restaurant five years earlier. He’d hit a home run, paid his bills, and grown a great team. He had enough money saved to get financing and open his second restaurant.  

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