Day in and day out you’re dedicated to the grind. You breathe in stress and exhale hospitality. You get knocked down one day and get back up the next.
Welcome to the world of restaurants and bars.
It can be a brutal lifestyle if—and it’s a very big if—you allow it to control you. You can probably remember your first job in the industry fondly. Looking back on all that you’ve been through, would you offer your younger self the same path that you’re on now? Or would you suggest going to medical school like your parents hoped you would years ago?
Well, you can’t go back in time, so stop the whining and make a resolution to step up! It’s time to get down to business. If you’re a restaurant owner, operator or chef, you most likely want one thing: more time.
It’s understandable: When you opened your bar or restaurant you had a dream of being your own boss. You were getting away from the rat race, declaring that you were now a business owner. You were going to call the shots, to have the life you wanted.
Then your business took control of your life.
That once precious thing—time—started to evaporate as your restaurant or bar became an unruly creation. Now, time is an elusive creature that lurks in the shadows; you won’t ever capture it because it’s always out of reach.
Here’s the bad news: You won’t get the time you crave if you keep running your bar or restaurant the way you are now. Every level of growth requires a new version of yourself. This is natural law and trust me—you do not want to challenge that one. The stakes are too high, and the price can end up costing you everything!
Most owners run around like a chicken with its head cut off and claim they’re “managing.” No, they’re just running around like a chicken with its head cut off. Eventually, they just keel over and die. We call that stress and burnout in our industry. Let’s stop that from happening to you!
To reach the land of time and freedom, you need to build a team around you that can elevate your brand and maintain the high standards you’ve set. (Side note: Please say that you have clear, concise, and written standards for your brand. Please.)
Step One: Boost Your Leadership Impact
Convincing people to follow you requires you stepping up to become the leader you know you must be. Most likely you’ve been holding back on setting the tone around your business. Granted, you probably started out ready to take on the world. But when the team pushed back you did what most do: you stopped pushing and settled.
It’s time to put on your big boy or girl leadership pants and get down to business. If you don’t want to be the leader, step aside and give the job to someone who wants it. You say you can’t pass that power to someone else because you’re the owner? Bullshit. You can be the owner and not the operator. To be honest, very few can be the owner and the operator.
If leadership falls outside your skillset it’s better to step down than let your business collapse on top of you. Yes, it’s very noble for the captain to go down with the ship—it’s even better if the captain can just admit they shouldn’t be the captain.
Choosing to be the leader means you have to stop your whining and complaining and make some changes! That means getting back to fundamentals. John Wooden, the famous UCLA men’s basketball coach, was notorious for having his team drill on the fundamentals. That started with him showing the team how to put on their socks properly.
As the leader, your fundamentals are core values. You’re going to need to dig down to uncover them. You must know who you are and what you stand for! Your core values become your compass, guiding how you lead your team and engage with guests.
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If respect is not a core value of yours, do you think your team is going to respect other team members or your guests? Good luck if you think they will. Your bar or restaurant reflects your culture, and your culture reflects your core values.
Write out your core values. Better yet, make a poster of them that hangs in your office and around your business. Be known as the leader who walks their talk and lives their core values. Getting your team to follow you and bring responsibility and accountability up to your standard means becoming the leader they want to follow. Lead by example rather than a lesson for being a shitty human being.
Step Two: Hire the Right People
In a tight labor market like we have today, it’s very seductive to take the first warm body that applies for your job opening. You need to resist the urge to hire quickly. Remember, sometimes it’s not the person you fail to hire that ruins your business—it can be the person you fail to fire that can bring it all down.
People are pretty suave today when it comes to interviews. They know the right words to say to get their feet in the door. Once they get in they can become a squatter, and trying to get them evicted can become a nightmare.
So how do you safeguard against a bad hire? Behavioral assessment. People can fool you—it’s much harder to fool a survey created to root out how you’re wired. For restaurant and bar professionals I recommend either either the DiSC®️, Predictive Index®️, or ProScan®️ surveys. Any of those can tell you a person’s primary or strongest behavior trait.
There are four cornerstone behavioral traits. We each have all four but in different amounts, which creates a kind of personality recipe:
- Dominance is your take charge trait. People who are high dominance are results driven, short on small talk, and can get a little short when communicating.
- Extroversion is your people trait. Those with high extroversion tend to get energy from people, they can start up conversations easily, and they love the social aspect of work.
- Pace is your rate-of-motion trait. High pace people like routines and consistency. They don’t like rapid change, and they avoid confrontations.
- Conformity is your systems or rules trait. To people with high conformity, the world is black and white. Rules are made to be followed and they love systems (spreadsheets and details).
As you’ve probably guessed, certain jobs within your business require certain behavioral traits to execute them at the highest level. That’s why author Jim Collins of Good to Great is famous for saying, “Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with ‘where’ but with ‘who.’ They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.”
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Having a behavioral survey (and a consultant trained in interpreting them for restaurants and bars) is critical to building the right team around you. Without the right people in the right positions you’ll constantly be in battle mode and getting your restaurant under control will always be a distant dream on the horizon.
Step Three: Protect Your Culture
The last step is to make sure you have a culture that can get you what you want. Very few consider having an active hand in the cultivation of their brand culture. As a result, they “develop” a culture by default. That hands-off-the-wheel approach will get you a culture that might not be in alignment with your long-term vision for your brand. That’s the Achilles heel that takes down a promising concept.
Culture is the secret sauce of legendary brands. Think of Shake Shack and Commander’s Place in New Orleans. Both are known for creating outstanding cultures that exceed expectations and elevate the guest experience.
Once you step up, become the leader your team wants you to be, and start putting the right people on your team, it’s time to get your culture under control. Look out for warning signs that your culture is a monster that needs to be killed before it eats your brand:
- Entitlement (“I deserve it.”)
- Complaining (“The guests/my co-workers suck.”)
- Complacency (“I’m not doing extra.”)
- Lack of effort (“It’s good enough.”)
- Disengaged staff (“I don’t feel like working.”)
- People who don’t follow rules (“I don’t need to do that.”)
- Lack of empathy (“I don’t care.”)
- Low productivity (“I’ll just run out the clock.”)
- Lack of responsibility (“It’s not my job.”)
If any of the above that show up in your bar or restaurant, it’s a warning sign that a toxic culture is brewing. Eliminate those responsible for the toxicity as soon as possible. The soul of your culture depends upon you protecting it all the time.
Check this out: Putting the Cult in Brand Culture
That’s the secret to getting your business back under control so you can have more time for what matters: Culture is the cure. With the right culture in place you’ll have a brand that guests and team members respect, a brand that they admire, and a brand to which they’re loyal. When you get here, you’ll get your restaurant and your life back.