In the restaurant business one important measure of how strong a crew is is how quickly they can recover.  There can be several reasons for a crew to need to recover.  They may be hit with an influx of customers they weren’t expecting, kitchen equipment can break and push orders back, or a shift can be short crew members due to illness or emergencies.  When circumstances like these happen the restaurant staff that is able to help each other, stay focused on what is important and continue to communicate effectively is the one that can reduce the recovery time and lose minimal sales/customers.

The worse thing a restaurant staff can do is start losing focus and placing blame.  Many times crew members will lose patience with un-understanding customers, yell and scream at each other out of frustration, and become confused…even afraid.  When this happens the recovery is prolonged and more damage is done.  Often the damage can be permanent if a customer is exposed to any of the mistakes listed above.

As a country, when tragedy or adversity strikes we are very good at recovery.  Most of the people (if not all) in the United States understand all types of adversity and they understand that overcoming adversity is what has made this country strong.  We stay focused in the wake of tragedy, we continue to communicate, and help others. We are brave. We don’t run away.  We rush in to help.  We don’t ignore the pain, but we don’t wallow in it either.  We don’t let it pull us apart. Rather we become closer and a little bit nicer to each other.

We’re not perfect.  It is only human to be afraid.  Some of us deal with this fear with violence, and placing blame.  But for those people their recovery is only prolonged.  Living a life in fear is the result of not being able to recover.  As leaders our job is to reach out to these people.  Talk to them.  Help them to change their focus from fear to the pursuit of happiness.  This is a right given to us after overcoming one of the biggest adversities this country has ever faced…fighting for our own independence.

What happened in Boston was horrible.  It was horrible to see humanity inflict such pain on itself during a time that was meant to be a celebration. We will seek out and bring to justice those people responsible.  But we should do this because of the sense of justice this we have built here.  Not out of fear or anger.  We should not seek to cause more harm and violence. This will only prolong our recovery and the damage the attack has on our freedom. The United States is a strong country that is united and compassionate even in the face of tragedy.  We should stand for this and set an example for those that would seek to hurt us in the future that they will not be successful.  They will only cause us to be more determined and resolute in our fight for happiness.

innovation: look outside your industry

If you are looking to be more innovative with your restaurant business you may want to look beyond just what other restaurants are doing.  Going to conventions or large restaurant shows is a good idea since the tools and ideas offered there are catered specifically to a restaurants needs.  But to truly be innovative it is important to look beyond your own industry. Going to shows or doing what other restaurants are doing will help you stay up to date with your own business but they won’t necessarily make you stand out.  Here are a few questions to get you to start thinking differently:

  • How have retailers taught their in-store sales associates to maximize every customer transaction?
  • How do online stores gather customer data so that they can remember what every customer orders and make suggestions on their next purchase?
  • How does that big soda company connect their customers to their brand?(There’s a great blog on this by Seth Godin,
  • What questions do top recruiters ask potential new hires?(Here’s a link to a previous post that might get you started,
  • What do production company’s do to make a great preview for their upcoming movies?

Although all of the businesses mentioned above may be very different from the restaurant world, their problems are not.  Some of the answers you find may directly correlate to your own.  If not you should at least be left more inspired.  Feel free to share what you learn here.



the competitive shop

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So often as restaurant owners and managers when we go out to eat at a competitor’s location we look at how we’re better.  But what if we did the opposite?  What if we looked at how our competitors do things differently or better than we do? What could we learn?

Try going to one of your more popular competitors and ask yourself some of the following:

  • Why are they popular?
  • What are the best things about their food?  Customer service?
  • What is their take out service like?  Is it more or less efficient?
  • If they have a bar, is it full?  How quickly are people getting their drinks and what is the bartender’s demeanor like?
  • How many of their employees seem happy?  Are the smiling and energetic?
  • What is the atmosphere like?  Is the restaurant clean?  How often do you see someone cleaning?
  • Can I find at least 5 things that this competitor does better than we do?

It makes us feel better to pick our competitors apart. But by doing this we miss the opportunity to learn and improve our own business.

the gracious customer



I recently read an interview that asked a panel of Montreal restaurant owners and managers about proper customer etiquette in this modern age.  It was interesting to read that many customers do not understand or take the time to think about what it means to be gracious.  I think we should expect great food and service from the restaurants that we go to, but that should come along with our respect for the business.

If you are one that scoffs at the idea that as a paying customer you don’t have any responsibility to the restaurant other than paying for the meal and tipping for good service, I would disagree.  So listen up scoffers!  Dining out is meant to be an experience, and this experience is meant to be the same for every customer.  So if your actions as a customer are disturbing the experience for any other customer then you shouldn’t be allowed to continue those actions.

I am continually surprised at the things that customers do when they’re in the restaurant.  Some examples of being an ungracious customer include not showing up for reservations, talking on your cell phone, and making unreasonable special requests.  But maybe my least favorite is when a customer speaks disrespectfully to a server or manager (I feel the same about the inverse as well).  These are common occurrences that can ruin a meal for others.

If a customer doesn’t show up for a table being held for a reservation other customers may leave because they are unable to get a table.  In turn the restaurant loses money.  Every table in a restaurant represents a certain amount of income.  Too many no-shows and you’ll see menu prices rise and at the worst a good restaurant may have to close.  If you can’

Which brings us to grievance number two.  Talking on a cell phone.  I attribute it to the same as smoking.  Trust me when I say you have no idea how loud you are when you are speaking to someone else.  No one is interested in the big business deal you have going on or what drama seems to be happening in your life.  No one.  If you have an important call then step outside and let the rest of us eat in peace.

Food allergies are pretty common especially given all the weird chemicals that are being put in our food today.  I’m also not concerned about the simple substitution that we all ask for from time to time.  I’m referring to customers that make so many special requests that a dish no longer resembles anything close to its original form.  Extreme requests can put a strain on a busy kitchen and can often times back up other orders so that all customers end up waiting for the Lord or Duchess of Finickiness. If you go to a restaurant to eat, the understanding is that you like the food they serve.  Otherwise…why go there?

Lastly, there is a right way to complain and a wrong way to complain.  If a server or staff member makes a mistake or does a poor job that doesn’t give anyone the right to dress them down in front of the dining room or get belligerent. Give your feedback and expect the behavior or mistake to be corrected, but mind your manners.  I don’t want to be on the receiving end of some disgruntled employee who decides to take his bad mood out on my soup.

I’m sure we all have our grievances with other customers that we could share. But my point here is that “the customer is always right” was not meant to be taken literally, and was really meant more for the people working in the restaurant than for the customers dining there.  To be right as a customer means that you are behaving, as a customer should and being reasonable with what you are expecting.  It does not mean that once you walk in to a restaurant the rules of being polite and gracious to others cease to exist.  Anyone can easily avoid being rude or ungracious.  All it takes is being a little more conscious of the people around you.  Which is probably a good habit no matter where you are.


When I moved to New York from Los Angeles, my fiancé had to spend some time explaining how to prepare for the weather.  One important point she made was one of managing umbrellas.  She told me that during the rainier months umbrellas are in abundance and that I shouldn’t bother spending a lot of money on any one umbrella. It was likely I’d leave it somewhere, and it was just as likely that I would find other umbrellas lying about that other people had left behind.  So one could say that there is an understood umbrella exchange program in New York.  So I purchased one on the cheap, and made sure I did not get emotionally attached to this or any other umbrella.

Over the months however, I noticed a unique umbrella in our bin of randomly bought drugstore cheapies.  It had a cool wooden handle that shaped in to a ducks head.  It also looked considerably more costly than the plastic crap I had been buying.  I asked my fiancé about how this anomaly made it in to our bin of mediocrity, and she explained that this was a special umbrella that she had had for quite some time.  Through the weeks I noticed that she made a special effort to make sure this umbrella was not lost, and she was even specific about when she would take the duck head umbrella out and about.  It was clear that there was a big exception to the umbrella theory she had shared with me before.

How can we create this type of value in our restaurants? How can we present our dishes in a way that people see the value in what they are paying for them?  One way is to sell them for cheap…the all too popular “value meals”, but as you can see from the story above cheap does not build loyalty.  A better way may be to focus on less dishes and make them with the best ingredients possible.  Make your food special.  Customers will pay more for something special.  They will also continue to come back for something special.





the business of giving back

To find true success with your restaurant business you must have ways to give back.  This means you need to show the community that supports your business that you care about more than just the money they give you.  You should look for ways to appreciate your staff and your vendors beyond just what you pay them.

If your only measure of success is your profit you will never be satisfied.  I don’t mean this in any philosophical way either.  Sales budgets continually fluctuate.   This means that the pursuit of profits never ends since the goal is always changing.  This might account for why some restaurant managers and owners seem crazy.

But giving back is finite.  You either do give back to the community or you do not.  You either do provide benefits to your staff or you do not.  You either do show your ongoing appreciation to your vendors or you do not.  How much does not really matter, but as much as you can is usually a good marker.

theory of excellence

I sat down with the server to talk to them about their performance.  I reviewed several things that had not been done correctly like improperly rung up items, frequent tardiness, and poor appearance.  I shared with the server complaints from others that they were not easy to work with because of their lack of dedication.  Then asked, “Can you explain to me why you continue to come to work here when you so clearly don’t enjoy the job?”

The reply was one I had heard before…

“I work here for the money, but this is not my real job.  I really want to be a…(fill in the blank)”

This is a fair statement.  I don’t expect in this day in age that anyone stays with the same job forever especially in the restaurant industry.  But why is this statement used as an excuse for why one does their job poorly?  Is the hope that by doing their “side job” poorly, it will solidify the fact that they are destined for something greater?  Besides, will being a great server, busboy, or some other restaurant position really make a difference in the world?

I’m willing to accept that people come and go in this business.  But I have a theory about excellence that I would like for everyone to consider.  I believe you have a better chance at success in life if you strive for excellence in everything you do…not just the things you deem worthy.  I don’t think excellence is something you can turn on or off like a light switch.  So if you can’t achieve or at least pursue excellence with your restaurant job I doubt very much that you will find much excellence in any other part of your life.  And while maybe being an excellent server, busboy, or some other restaurant position might not make a difference in the world as a whole…it just could make a difference in yours

hard work

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To be successful in the restaurant business, any business for that matter, it takes hard work.  Keeping a restaurant as clean as it was the first day it opened takes hard work.  Maintaining a high level of service takes hard work.  Serving quality ingredients while maintaining a low food cost takes hard work.

To understand what hard work is it might help to understand what it isn’t.  Hard work is not the number of hours you put in to a day (although sometimes hard work means long hours), and hard work is not how “busy” you are.  I have seen people work 12 hour days to complete things that could have been done in 8 hours in a lesser number of days, if they had worked harder.  I know restaurant managers that answer every email and hold countless meetings yet still lament how their restaurant is failing.  I know restaurant managers that say they are busy yet never have anything to show for their “busyness”.

Hard work is about one thing.  Results.  What did you produce and how did it help? How did the time you spent with your service staff make them better sales people and provide better service?  How many of those emails that you answered helped to make your restaurant run better?  How much of your time did you spend today to get more sales, better service, better food, better relationships with your customers and your neighborhood…a better restaurant?


if wild animals ate fast food…


minimum wage

Minimum wage is hard to live off of for the average person unless they are able to rack up enough hours in the week (Note:  This excludes tipped employees).  Probably close to around 60 or more.  But one restaurant is not normally going to give an employee that many hours because of the overtime costs.  So the average restaurant employee that is trying to work off of minimum wage is often forced to work at several restaurants at a time.  There are some big problems with this for restaurants.  One, an employee can form bad habits at another restaurant and transfer those over.  Two, employee’s burn out quickly in this scenario and customer service suffers.  Finally, an employee can share one restaurants secrets of success with another, which can be costly especially if they work for a competitor.

There are however some possible solutions.  First and foremost any restaurant that wants a quality employee should be willing to compensate them beyond minimum wage.  But how much more?  It is probably a costly mistake to get in to wage wars with competitor because all you’ll end up hiring is a bunch of guns for hire that will leave for the first wage increase somewhere else.  It might help if, instead of thinking of the nuances behind the proper hourly wage, we thought about an employee’s entire compensation.

A smart restaurant owner should know how to sell their business not only to their customers, but to their employees.  What makes you better than your competitors?  Do you offer health benefits and if so how soon after an employee starts can they receive them?  What other unique benefits do you offer?  Paid vacation?  Childcare reimbursement?  The key thing to remember is that whatever it is that you are offering as compensation for your employees you must do a good job of communicating to prospective new hires.

Finally, there are two last elements that I think are critical to not only attracting the best employees but retaining them as well.  They are maintaining a strong and positive culture, and investing in your people.  In my experience, working for an employer that cares and is offering a quality product and or service is often times just as important to an employee as the money they make.  Additionally, restaurants that look to develop their employees in to managers or help support their employees education have found that they have lower turnover.  Lower turnover means a restaurant spends less money hiring and training employees.  So the money they save from low turnover can pay for the reinvestment in their employees and that is a beautiful thing.

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