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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.



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



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 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.

5 Lessons About Restaurants You Can Learn From Superheroes

5 Lessons About Restaurants You Can Learn From Superheroes

We all want a hero. We scoop up comic books and buy tickets to blockbuster movies to watch their adventures unfold before us.

The internal battles they face, the external forces of evil set to destroy our world, and the compassion they demonstrate for others. Superheroes give us hope. They restore faith. They inspire us to become more than we are.

Success leaves clues and the nature of superheroes is no different. Look closer at your favorite hero and you’ll see traits that many also share. These traits have nothing to do with having superpowers. They come from their character. They come from within themselves. They also can be a lesson for you in your quest to build a better restaurant. It’s the character of the leader that shapes the direction of a brand.

Weak brands have weak leaders, it’s that simple.

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7 Creative Ways Staffing Your Restaurant Will Change in 2019

How has this year treated you and your restaurant? How has your quest to find staff been?

If you are like the majority of restaurants, it’s been a big challenge. Here’s the bad news, it’ll probably will not get much better in the coming year.

But don’t get all sad about it just yet. There are some innovative and creative ways to get new staff to come to your restaurant.

You’re going to need to have an open mind and a commitment to taking action to see these ideas through. That’s the keyword to finding staff...action. Most talk a good game about attracting staff, but only a few actually follow through.

This is good news for the restaurant that is willing to make recruiting a priority in 2019. While others sit back and accept the labor market as being a challenge, innovative restaurants see this as a time to stand out. As Shakespeare so eloquently put it, “nothing is neither good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” There is as much of a labor crunch as you buy into.

  • Think people are lazy? You will attract lazy people.

  • Think everyone steals? You will have thieves.

  • Think people are dumb? You will have staff that reflects your limited beliefs.

Come to the table with the mindset of expecting the best from others and not the worst. Yes, being in this industry can make people jaded and cynical. If (and it’s a big if) you want to be that way. Defy the norm. Challenge the bullshit rules that others accept. Have a game plan to change how you are looking at staffing.

To help you break free from the pack of mediocrity, here are seven creative (and controversial) ways to challenge your hiring mindset.



1. Start playing offense and less defense

Actively recruiting talent must be a top priority when hiring in the coming year! You can no longer sit back, post a few help wanted ads on the internet and “hope” some people apply. Hope is NOT a strategy you want to invest in. Invest in taking action!

Get on social media and network like your business depends on it because it does. Connect with people and ask for referrals. Message people and ask if they are looking for an opportunity. You need to play offense and stop hanging back waiting for qualified applicants to come to you.

In 2019, you’ll need to be a little more aggressive in pursuing top talent.

2. Tap into the “gig economy”

There is a new culture out there that wants to work very flexible shifts. Welcome to what is known as the "gig economy." A flexible workforce that seeks employment on their terms. Now before you dismiss this route, take a look at some of the gaps in your schedule.

Are gig workers the solutions for long-term success? Probably not. However, in conjunction with other tools, they do offer some relief to an industry that is struggling to fill positions.

Banquet servers, service assistants, utility personnel, and event bartenders are potential positions that you could tap into for gig work. The upside is those seeking gig work are not full-time employees of your establishment so you avoid many of the extra costs associated with employment. The downside is that many are not invested into your brand as a full-time employee might be so the chances of them not showing for a shift does escalate.

3. Look towards older generations

As people realize that their little nest egg for retirement might not be a big as they thought, many are returning to the workforce. Now, before you snub the idea of having your dad work in your restaurant, take a look at the strengths that many older generations offer.

They were brought up to respect hard work. While some of the younger generations seek the buzzword of “life balance,” Gen X and Baby Boomers actually like to work and they work hard.

Baby Boomers in particularly live to work. They are of the mindset that you work for a company until it’s time to retire from there. Dedication is a virtue they embellish.

Gen Xers are known to work to live. This generation will work hard for the nice house, car, and luxury vacations. They are not scared of working hard if they can get what they want. They show up for the reward and the perks.



4. Skip the millennials

For all the hype millennials get at being the “me generation” they aren’t that bad. Yes, they get some stereotype bashing on social media. Yes, some of it probably is accurate. However, every generation has its strengths and its flaws. It depends on what you are willing to tolerate.

Maybe it’s time to focus on the newest generation entering the workforce and that is Gen Z? These young and rising powerhouse workers are designed for a fast pace environment and quick cognitive reflexes (just watch them play a multiplayer video game.) They want to learn and are quick at accessing information from the internet (mostly via YouTube videos.)

They are just starting to turn 21 and are a prime resource if you know how to recruit them. That means your culture is going to need to be hip and cool.

You’re going to need to know what you stand for (called core values) and want to be a part of something bigger than just your restaurant (think community.) The best way to attract them is to showcase your team having fun and making a difference through your social media.

5. Tap into the veteran pool

With the rising numbers of military veterans returning from deployment, you have a very capable potential teammate looking for ways to integrate back into civilian life. Why not help out a vet and your business at the same time?

No matter what your stance is on the military, you should take a look at these potential candidates. They are highly trained in a variety of skills. They take orders well. They exhibit discipline. They are respectful. They are self-motivated.

Contact your local Veterans Administration Office and see how your restaurant could help some vets reintegrate back into society. It’s a smart move for everyone in your community.

6. Show the world your culture

Looking through most social media feeds you see the same boring posts 95% of the time. A picture of a menu item or a drink from the bar. Zzzzzz.

If you want to attract better talent, then make social media an integrated part of your recruiting plan! If you don’t have a steady stream of people coming to apply at your restaurant then you have done a very poor job of recruiting. You think that people are going to hear about what a fantastic place you are to work at my word of mouth? Get real. Word of mouth has been replaced by world of mouth.

Show your team having fun. Show your chefs creating the weekend features with a video. Showcase your team through fun “did you know” kind of posts that make your team appear as real people (I know that might be a new concept for some.) Celebrate your teammate birthday’s, anniversaries, or kids! Show the world how much you care about your team and they will start to notice.



7. Have a referral program

In an ever growing economy, money sometimes does speak the loudest. It’s a little sad, yet it’s the truth at times. You can resist this or you can make it work for you.

Welcome the 25:25:50 referral program. For every applicant that applies (and gets hired) the referring employee gets $25. If they stay the next 30 days (usually the make it or break it deadline for most) they get another $25. If they stay 90 days (which tells you if they have staying power) and the employee gets another $50. This scale, of course, can be adjusted to meet your needs.

The best tips for a referral program to work are these:

  • It must be followed. You can’t promise to pay people and referral fee and not pay.

  • It must be communicated constantly. You can’t just roll out a new process and have no follow-up communication. That is just stupid to say things one time and expect them to be ingrained into their subconscious. Repetition is the mother of all skills. Repetition is the mother of all skills. Repetition is the mother of all skills. Repetition is the mother of all skills. I think you get the hint.

While the labor challenges are going to be public enemy number one for restaurants in 2019. A smart operator will open their eyes to new ways to actively recruit, hire, train, and retain their talent. The game is going to get too competitive to lose a teammate for lack of doing your duty as a leader.

You’re going to need to play the game to win and not to lose. That means you might have to cut loose the poor performers that are dragging your brand down. Yes, that might seem to be counterintuitive when facing a labor shortage.

The truth is that there are plenty of high-quality employees out there. Those negative energy vampires you hold onto out of fear are just driving away any top talent you might have now or can attract in the future. Energy attracts the same kind of energy: positive attracts positive and of course negative just brings more negative.

Be the leader your team needs and send the negative energy ones down the road to work for your competition. Think of it like legal sabotage. Out with the bad and replaced with the good.

If you follow these seven ways to get creative with your staffing methods then you won’t have to worry about it as much as you have been.

The 7 Habits of Successful Restaurateurs

The 7 Habits of Successful Restaurateurs

There is inspiration all around if you choose to open your eyes and take it in.

Becoming a better leader, owner, or chef is not bestowed upon a few chosen few. There really is no such thing as a born leader. Everyone can lead if they have the deep desire to step up and take control of the wheel of their restaurant and their life. Most would rather sit in the back seat and just be a spectator but life is not a spectator sport.

Success and failure leave clues behind. If you are wise enough to take the lessons from the failures and the blessings of the successes, you have a great chance to not only reach the top but you can also stay there.

When you study restaurant success (and failure) like I do you start to see what the puzzle pieces are that make a success restauranteur. Carefully put the pieces together and you have a winning recipe to get exactly what you want in life (both professionally and personally).

There is a better way and it does not involve beating your head against the wall just hoping things will get better next week. Things never get better on their own. They get better when you step up and take some damn action to ensure your success.

Successful restauranteurs are not lucky or born under a certain Zodiac sign. They come from all races and walks of life. They might speak your language, maybe not. Success is not a thing. Success is feeling. True success is a combination of your three hearts (the head, the soul, and the gut). When in alignment you’ll find that the outside noise of the world stops for a brief second and you can hear for the first time the beauty of everything around you.

How do you get there? How do you reach this success nirvana?

Just adopt these 7 habits of the most successful restauranteurs into your daily life and you’ll find what you seek.

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