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.

  1. Self Care

The hospitality industry is one of giving. We give, give, and give to our team, our guests, our craft, and our families. What about giving to yourself? What about you? Who recharges you?

If you don’t make time to recharge yourself, you’ll be moving closer and closer to that condition called "burned out." It’s like going to work with your smartphone only charged at 25% and expecting it to last all day without being recharged. When you run out of energy your emotional self-takes the reins to get you through the day (it’s a survival mechanism). You become snippy and short with people.

Now, you don’t have to go overboard and spend 2-3 hours at the gym. You just need to take some time for yourself to recharge your internal battery. That could be some gym time or it might be:

  • A hike

  • A walk

  • Yoga at home

  • Mediation

  • A bike ride

  • Making breakfast for someone you care about

  • Reading

  • Journaling

  • Talking to a positive friend

There are so many things you can do for yourself. Taking care of yourself is required to reach the top. Successful restauranteurs know this and they block off time on their calendar for self-care.

Man hiking

2. Kaizen

After World War II, Japan was slowly trying to recover from the economic devastation that follows such events. To build their economy, they knew they had to provide products that created value and that the world would want.

In order to help Japan, they enlisted the help of an American by the name of Dr. Frederick Deming to help get their quality control systems in line. Through this process, they found the formation of a word which now is a philosophy of life: Kaizen. In its raw translation, it means: "constant and never-ending improvement."

The Japanese take this concept seriously and it is adopted into all forms of their life. You should be always looking for ways to make it better. Ways to improve things that have a lasting impact. Not just today, but every damn day! Kaizen is not a word just to be used, it is a way of thinking that can improve not only your restaurant but your personal life as well.

3. Asking Quality Questions

Your brain is amazing! It truly is. When you ask it questions, it quickly searches the database in your head to give you an answer. Almost like a less accurate version of Siri on your iPhone. Ask and you shall receive.

The downside of that is that when you ask bad questions, your brain gives you bad answers. Garbage in, garbage out. If you ask yourself why your staff doesn’t do what you ask them to do, your brain returns the answer, “they don’t care!” Maybe but most likely it’s not true. You just focus on the negative and your brain gives you more of the same.

How do you stop this gloom and doom merry-go-round? Start asking better questions. In coaching, I do this all the time. When someone asks a disempowering question I just give them a nudge in a different direction by throwing out: “You need to ask a better question.”

Instead of, “Why doesn’t my staff do what I tell them?” Reframe that question to one you probably should be asking, “Have I been the leader they need and shown them exactly what I expect?” One sure way to tell if you are asking better questions is the general tone they take.

Bad questions have a tone that is whiny, powerless, blame, and shameful. They come out as being a victim of circumstances. They shut people down because they break people down.

Quality questions have a tone of confidence that is powerful, sure, commanding, and inspiring. They come out as being in control of circumstances. They get people to follow you because they elicit trust in you as a leader.

Restaurant owners at a meeting

4. Proactive

You have basically two ways to deal with things when they pop up: you can be reactive or proactive.

A reaction is how most respond to situations. It’s primal and emotional. It is also volatile hard to control. When you react, you show people you don’t have control and that erodes trust among your team. Once you lose trust, you’ve lost your ability to lead a team effectively. Now can trust be rebuilt? Yes. Will it take time? Depending on how many times you keep breaking down the trust circle. The more reactionary you are, the harder it is to come back.

The most successful restaurateurs adopt a mindset to be proactive. They play out scenarios and train for a variety of situations. Training and preparation are their primary tools. Will you always be ready for all the situations that pop up? Of course not because the variables are too many. Being proactive allows you to gain confidence and certainty that you can handle whatever comes your way. Proactive is more mental than anything else. It’s calming your mind to look for solutions.

Reactionary mindset, on the other hand, looks to solve the problem now. It’s not concerned about anything except fixing what’s broken at the moment. Reactionary managers are basically firefighters. Going from problem to problem to put out the fire. Here’s the downside of that mindset: when there are no fires to put out, the firefighter sometimes starts the fire.

While a Proactive mindset looks to prevent problems before they start. Think of these leaders more like Smokey the Bear. They look ahead to see potential issues. They train their team and communicate clearly the expectations of the standards. Reactive managers are playing checkers. Proactive leaders are thinking far ahead like in a game of chess.

5. Others Oriented

Egocentric personalities permeate the industry. The most successful restauranteurs have a healthy ego of confidence that doesn’t overshadow the people around them. They know that to accomplish great things it takes a team effort.

When leaders put the team and the guests in front of their own desires amazing things happen. People know you care about them and there is no more powerful force in society than knowing someone else cares about you.

Restaurant workers

It’s a human nature to want to be needed.

There is an epic quote by the great Zig Ziglar that captures the essence of this mindset: “You can have everything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want.” Successful restauranteurs embody this in everything they do. They ask better questions. Most managers ask the question: “What’s in it for me?” The successful ask: “What can I do for them?”

6. Productive

Time management is always a struggle for many managers. Successful restauranteurs know that time management is a myth. They focus more on getting results by managing their attention and controlling their calendar.

Throughout the day you will have a lot of things vying for your attention. From your staff, the guests, your friends, your family, and of course that 24/7 stream from social media. So many ways to go and not enough of you to go around. But you don’t have to be a slave to time. You can control it by carefully making choices of how you spend it. That involves saying “no” at times and making sure to put it on your calendar.

Your calendar is the holy grail of being productive. If you think about it, it’s a dream. When you start talking about it, it starts to become possible. However, when you schedule it on your calendar it becomes reality! Use your calendar to block off time to work on projects that move your business or career forward. You can’t just expect opportunities to work on your stuff to happen by chance or when you get a moment.

Successful restauranteurs don’t wait for luck, they make their own by controlling their calendar. Having little white space on your calendar is a sign of a productive person.

7. Balanced

You can work 80-90 hours a week, but there is a point where the extra hours stop being productive and you lose control of your emotional state. When you lose control of your emotions you lose control of your brand.

Working long hours in a restaurant is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity, piss poor planning, lack of priorities, failure to develop your team, and fear of saying no. The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less BS. It’s facing the truth that you don’t have control of your business and that you think throwing more hours at the problem is the solution. It’s not.

There comes a time where you need to focus on work that returns more results. That means stop wasting time with activities that do not play your strength and that others on your team can do. Here we get into that mindset many have of “they must do everything themselves”. You don’t.

work life balance

Taking away the opportunity from others on your team to grow is a sure way to increase your turnover. With the labor pool in the restaurant industry struggling as it is, the last thing you want to do is add to the problem. People need growth like they need appreciation.

Seeking balance is never easy. It takes discipline to say no to requests. It takes courage to trust. It takes a real leader to step up and lead by example. Successful restauranteurs empower, train, and trust their team to do the right things in their absence. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, however, there is more to life than spending every waking hour at your restaurant. It’s a big world out there. You should check it out.

They say if you are tired of the same old story, then you just need to turn the pages (insight courtesy of REO Speedwagon). It’s true. Adopting these 7 habits into your life will change the way you see yourself and the role you play in your organization.

When you change, your business will change. Stop looking outside for the answers to the problems you can solve by becoming a better person.