Restaurant Core Values: Why You Need Them And How To Pick Them

By: Donald Burns

8 Minute Read

Sep 17, 2018

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restaurant core values

Brand. Culture. Core values.

What do these three have in common? They are the building blocks on which outstanding restaurants stand. Think of them like a trifecta, a formula for success; leave out just one and you’ll be missing out on the big pay day.

Here’s the real question: which one is the most important?

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Brand vs. Culture vs. Core Values

Your restaurant’s brand is undeniably important.

Your brand is how you want your guests to perceive you. If developed properly, your restaurant brand should act like a magnet, drawing in guests (and staff members) who support or identify with what you’re all about.

Restaurant culture has been a hot-topic as of late, mainly as it relates to staffing and hiring – a major operational challenge restaurant owners and operators are facing in 2018.

A restaurant culture is the set of behaviors and norms exhibited by all of those who work in your restaurant. It is a living element of your restaurant’s operations that must be carefully cultivated every single day or it can quickly grow into a monster. Great culture is that secret sauce that separates the good, the great, and the amazing!

At the epicenter of brand and culture is the one element that must be not only discussed, but lived: core values.

Your restaurant’s core values are not just a bunch of feel-good words that the owners and leaders select because they want to be seen a certain way. No, your restaurant’s core values are your raison d’être – your reason for being – and should be visible in both your restaurant’s brand and culture. Establishing your core values is not something to be taken lightly.

“It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your core values are.” – Roy Disney

Disney was right.

Core values act as your business' compass, guiding any and all business decisions including hiring, menu adjustments, marketing, and management style.

Your core values should be woven into the tapestry of all you do – emphasis on should be. Failure to build a brand that mirrors your core values is one reason many restaurants fail. With more competition entering the market every year, it is mission critical to get your core values fleshed out and integrated into your culture.

Why Your Restaurant Needs Core Values

Core values support the vision of what you hope to accomplish as a restaurant owner; they outline what you stand for.

They are essential to your brand identity because they lay out the principles, beliefs and philosophies of what is important to you.

Many restaurants focus on the mechanics of service or hiring a talented chef. Those are definitely great things to have when running a restaurant; however, if you want to thrive and not just survive in the restaurant industry, establishing strong core values will provide you an edge over your competition.

Core values guide restaurants in the decision-making process, no matter what the decision may be.

For example, if one of your core values is to stand behind the quality of your products, any products that do not meet your standards are automatically not served. Your culinary and service teams live this value, and refuse to serve substandard food to guests.

Having solid core values that you openly communicate will help educate potential and existing customers about what your brand stands for.

Take a look at Danny Meyers and his Union Square Hospitality Group: Danny and his team are renowned for their mission, vision, and values. Danny goes out of his way to educate and inform the public of his company’s core values on the USHG blog, highlighting the intrinsic role they play in USHG’s approach to restaurant management and operations.


Core values also become a primary recruiting and retention tool. Living your core values aloud in the workplace will attract like-minded candidates when you have open positions and will help you determine who is and isn’t a fit during the interview process. They say like attracts like and it's true.

How to Decide On Your Restaurant's Core Values

So, how do you decide on your restaurant’s core values?

Unfortunately, core values are not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. Many restaurants make the mistake of picking core values out of thin air and trying to make them fit into their organization, when really the opposite is true: you need to pick your core values, then shape your business around them.

Remember that culture flows down, not up, in an organization and it starts with the leadership. Since core values play such an intrinsic part in the shaping of your culture, it should follow that core values must first pass the leadership snuff test. As a restaurant owner or operator, you’re the restaurant core value gatekeeper – they have to resonate with you first and foremost.

Core values only work when every member of the restaurant’s staff – most notably, the leadership – live them instead of just talking about them. Your core values have to come from within. They have to mean something to you. They have to be something that you strive to be.

Here's an easy exercise to help you pick your restaurant’s core values:

1. Create a list of your personal values, things like:

  • community
  • family
  • charity/volunteerism
  • authenticity
  • supporting the local economy
  • honesty
  • integrity
  • hospitality
  • creativity
  • dependability
  • adaptability
  • quality
  • consistency
  • teamwork
  • credibility
  • respect

Get a good list of about 20 to 40 core values that pop into your head without too much thought.

2. Now, let that list sit for a couple days, then look it over.

Start highlighting the values that really stand out to you, that stir a reaction from you.

You should end up with about a dozen or so values left on your list. Over the next week, spend some time thinking about how these values relate to your vision for your business, and whittle away any that don’t truly strike you at your core.

This list will become your core values list.

Type them up and prominently display them so that staff (and customers) can be reminded of what truly inspires and drives your restaurant.

How To Adopt Your Core Values Into Your Culture

One of the most important roles as a restaurant owner or operator is to get on your soapbox and preach your company's core values every single day to your team.

If you don't walk the talk and strive to exist as an example of the core values that you preach, then in the eyes of your staff you will be nothing more than a hypocrite.

Core values do more than just promote ethical business practices, they act as the foundation from which your culture grows.

Remember when I referred to your restaurant’s core values as a decision-making compass? That extends to your staff as well; your core values should be used by management and staff in both front and back of house to guide their actions and overall workplace behavior.

The more strongly defined the core values, the more likely it is that this value system will serve as a code of conduct for all, promoting and guiding strategically aligned behaviors that reinforce your brand identity.

Restaurants with strong cultures that share common core values tend to have much happier employees; happier employees help businesses thrive.

In fact, there is empirical research that suggests core values directly correlate with restaurant performance and profitability. Establishing your restaurant’s core values is a step towards building a better restaurant brand.

At The Core

I keep my core values list on my phone and look at it every morning to make sure I'm in line and acting in congruence with these values as I approach business throughout the day.

If I face a difficult situation, sometimes I pulled the list out just to make sure I'm living my truth, my values as I see them. It's helped me make much better decisions when I am in alignment with the core values that resonate deep with me.

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