Running or working in a family-owned restaurant can be a real challenge, both for the family members and non-family members on staff.
Working with family members is anything but easy; the dynamics between family members can and will have an impact on how your restaurant is run.
I had the opportunity to work with my father twice. The first time I vowed I would not do it again; after the second time, I meant it. Sure, there are some who manage to work with family members successfully, but speaking from experience — it’s not for everyone.
As with most things in life, there’s a downside and an upside to working in or running a family owned restaurant. Let’s start with….
Rivalries run deep — especially sibling rivalries — and can really hurt your restaurant by interfering in how big decisions are made.
When decisions are made out of spite, the focus shifts from doing what is best for the brand to doing what is best in order to put yourself on top.
Rivalries in the workplace (specifically sibling rivalries) create a toxic working environment for all. While most will try to stay out of the fray, it is inevitable that some will choose (or be forced to choose) sides and declare allegiances.
Allowing rivalries to fester between employees is a surefire way to kill your restaurant.
You are all a member of one team, a collective conscious moving toward achieving a common goal: Creating memorable dining experiences for your guests. Rivalries create schisms in your team, and will quickly dissolve your ability to work effectively as a cohesive unit.
Who’s The Boss?
As with rivalries, the power struggle between family members in a family-owned restaurant can be toxic to your workplace culture and your restaurant’s success.
If you’ve recently decided to open a family-owned restaurant — or you’re in the thick of it pulling your hair out by the handful — clearly defined roles and responsibilities will prevent the inter-family power struggle from getting out of hand.
If your restaurant is a LLC, you should include the roles, responsibilities, and rights of each family member in your restaurant’s LLC operating agreement. This way, should family members ever overstep their bounds, you can keep them in check by referring to this official, governing, legal document.
While you’re at it hard-lining each family member’s area of focus, it’s a good idea to designate one family member as the business’s key decision maker. Though most big decisions made in a business involve a multitude of perspectives and stakeholders, at the end of the day your restaurant will always need one person at the helm to have the final say, be the voice of reason, or to settle disputes.
Save the Drama for Ya Mama!
If rivalries and power struggles are the two scoops in the worst "family-owned restaurant sundae" you can imagine, then, that family drama is the cherry on top.
Drama is great for television ratings; it sucks for restaurant brands.
Leave the cattiness, yelling, and screaming for The Kardashians. Same with the judging, scheming, undermining, and passive aggressive attitudes.
When family members air their dirty laundry and past grievances out in front of the rest of the team — or worse, the guests — they damage the restaurant’s reputation. No one likes their meal with a surprise side order of family drama; it throws your whole palate off.
If asked “who do you trust the most in this world”, many will respond with their spouse's name or the name of a close family member (or friend whom they consider family).
In a family-owned restaurant, family members typically trust one another to maintain focus on doing what’s best for the brand at all times; they recognize there is more at stake if a poor decision be made or the business goes belly up.
If you’re working in a restaurant that fails, it’s annoying to be out of work, but you’ll find a new job and rebound soon enough. If you’re running a family-owned restaurant that fails, it can have drastic, negative implications on your personal and professional life, as well as those of your family members.
Trust is one of the building blocks of a solid company culture. Working with a family member you trust can be a great way to set an example for the non-family members of the team.
“A real friend is the one who walks in, when the rest of the world walks out.” Same can be said for family; they’ll still be there for you no matter what — like it or not.
In a family-owned restaurant, the dependability between family members to GSD (get shit done), delight guests, and always keep the best interests of the restaurant in mind is a great motivator for the rest of the organization to follow in their likeness.
It’s important that your restaurant staff feel they can rely and depend on one another; running a restaurant is a true team effort.
Bottling up stress is unhealthy; we all need someone to talk to about the things that cause us stress and anxiety. Venting is healthy.
Working in a restaurant is very stressful, so finding a healthy way to alleviate that stress is not only beneficial to your wellbeing, but the wellbeing of your business. Family members feel safe to confide in one another about challenges, worries, and stressors because of the trust they share (see above).
So long as these stress-related conversations stay confidential and don’t affect how the business is run - vent away!
A Shared Purpose
Many family-owned restaurant brands embody shared principles or values that the entire family supports.
By aligning your family’s name with strong core values and a passion to serve others, you will win over legions of customers and may find yourselves at the helm of a million dollar brand, like Chik-fil-A.
By treating your employees like they’re one of the family and living your restaurant’s mission out loud, your family-owned restaurant will leave a lasting legacy on your community, and all those lucky enough to enjoy a meal at your establishment.
Now, if you have a family member that you don’t trust, is not dependable, or they can’t keep things confidential, or share your vision (or core values) then they should not be working with you.
Just because you’re family….
The key to managing a family-owned business is to be fair and consistent with your standards and policies. You must treat family members like you would any team member; just because they are family does not mean they need or should work in your restaurant with you. It also doesn’t entitle them to preferential treatment or being absolved from any wrongdoing.
The first time I worked for my father (back in the early 80s) I thought I had different rules than the rest of the staff.
After the third time I was late to work, he fired me; for a 16 year old this was shocking. He told me, “You will always be my son. However, when you disregard the rules, you disrespect the restaurant and as the Chef, I cannot allow that.”
About two months later two line cooks quit and I was asked by my father if I wanted to return. I did. Oh, and I was never late again.