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The 11 Best TED Talks Every Restaurant Owner Should Watch

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Allie Van DuyneAuthor

What inspires you? What motivates you? What drives you to success?

Many restaurateurs can point to one or two people who were a prominent part of their journey to starting a restaurant. Those mentors or coaches may still be by their side today.

One thing is abundantly clear: the restaurant industry is incredibly close-knit. That's because running a restaurant is not an easy job, and hearing someone else's advice can be immensely valuable.

If you haven't heard of TED Talks, you might be in for a treat: these presenters on Technology, Entertainment, and Design can really inspire you, and they're so personable in their talks that it seems like they're in the back office with you. Personally, I listen to a TED Talk almost every morning on my way to work, and it pumps me up for the rest of the day.

Bookmark this page and watch these visionaries' ideas about running profitable, sustainable restaurants any time you need a little inspiration.


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1. Arthur Potts Dawson: A Vision for Sustainable Restaurants

The foodservice industry is one of the most wasteful industries in the world. Imagine how much food your restaurant has to throw away every day. Imagine how much time and energy it takes to produce that food. Arthur Potts Dawson, a green chef who's worked at many famous restaurants in Britain, wants us to take responsibility not just for the food we eat, but how we shop for and even dispose of it.

Watch Dawson prove the profitability of a green approach to running restaurants:

2. Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche: Cooking as Alchemy

As executive chefs at Chicago's Moto restaurant, Homaru Cantu and Ben Roche were pioneers of postmodern cuisine and futuristic food delivery systems. Their back-of-house was more of a mechanical shop than a kitchen, as they experimented with new ways to deliver food to the table and new ingredients for diners to "flavor-trip" on. Unfortunately, Cantu passed away last year, but his and Roche's disruptive mentality of what food is lives on, as restaurateurs experiment with the definition of what "raw" ingredients are and allow for a better system for delivering food not only to our tables, but to developing and first-world countries.

Watch Cantu and Roche share their vision for ingredient transformation:


3. Thomas Keller: The Reach of a Restaurant

Thomas Keller, the owner of eight restaurants and two bakeries, shares his keys to running a successful restaurant, consistently. From building important relationships around the country, to sourcing high-quality ingredients, to his specific restaurant workflows, he divulges his formula for success, all while keeping the focus on the importance of the guest experience.

Watch Keller share his restaurant success formula: 

4. Gabriel Stulman: Lessons from Restaurants on Engaging Your Team

Many businesses today face a lack of employee engagement. In this TED Talk, Gabriel Stulman shows how companies can borrow innovative leadership techniques from the restaurant industry to motivate workers. As CEO of Happy Cooking Hospitality, Stulman puts a huge emphasis on the people in his company. Especially in the hospitality industry, your people are your brand, and you need to invest in them to ensure success across the entire business.

Watch Stulman's ideas on restaurant hiring, collaboration, and developing different personalities:

5. Andrea Reusing: Resetting the Table

Andrea Reusing, a chef from Chapel Hill, N.C. at a successful farm-to-table restaurant called Lantern, reframes the conversation about farm-to-table restaurants from the food we eat to the lives of the people who harvest the food we eat. She shares her ideas on how to transform the farm industry away from what she calls "the near-slavery conditions on farms" and to "make a place for farm workers at the table."

Watch Reusing make her case for "resetting the table:"

6. Danny Meyer: The Convergence of Casual and Fine

Danny Meyer is well-known for his very successful restaurants in New York City and his recent decision to ban tipping at all of them. In March of 2015, he gave a TED Talk about the marriage of fine dining and casual dining. He talks about his biggest mentors, as well as his journey to opening Union Square Cafe and building the Shake Shack chain. He talks about the "fine casual" concept that many restaurants are cultivating, a remarkable evolution since the first restaurant. Even though food will continue to change, he says, hospitality will not: no matter where you eat, at whatever price point, at whatever concept, you will always need to be restored.

Watch Danny Meyer share his advice for true hospitality, no matter what your concept is:

7. Aaron Silverman: How I Built the Number One Restaurant in America

Aaron Silverman, the chef and founder of Washington, D.C. restaurant Rose's Luxury, shares the story of creating Rose's, and why it was successful from day one, unlike most restaurants which fail. His sentiments echo our own on the Toast blog: It's not the food, it's the service, the people, who really spell success at your restaurant. You're not in the restaurant business, you're in the people business.

Watch Silverman share his secrets to early restaurant success:

8. Mark Bittman: What's Wrong With What We Eat

New York Times food writer Mark Bittman gave a TED Talk in December 2007 about what's wrong with our food that is still applicable today. According to Bittman, if every American went one day without eating meat, the benefits would be immense - not only for our waistlines, but for our planets. He makes a very good case for adopting a "Meatless Monday" special at your restaurant, and making real food more important, not less, to reduce our carbon footprint.

Check out Mark Bittman's intriguing points here:

9. Chris Hill: What Makes Your Heart Sing?

The path for success is different for everyone. Chef Chris Hill shares his journey, which was fraught with heartbreak and loss, to becoming a chef, restaurant owner, and writer. He offers hope to all despite what obstacles might be standing in the way in an honest and deeply personal talk.

Hear Chef Chris Hill's advice for success, based on three primary principles:

10. GW Chew: Something Better, the Restaurant of the Future

GW Chew, a chef and inventor, talks about nutrition and health eating using the FREE formula; and that's an acronym, not an adjective. He shares his practical solutions as substitutes for things we eat every day, and how they can integrate into the restaurant world. He is the owner of Something Better, a vegan restaurant in Bentonville, Arizona. The menu centers around items such as barbecue chicken and beef stir-fry, all made from a meat substitute Chew calls Better Than Meat.

Watch Chew's TED Talk on the restaurant of the future:

11. Margaret and Irene Li: Changing the Way the World Eats

Sisters Margaret and Irene Li own and operate the Boston-based food truck and restaurant enterprise collectively known as Mei Mei Group. They were also, coincidentally, one of the first Toast customers. But besides embracing new restaurant technology, they also merge modern cooking techniques and genre-bending creativity with sustainable practices at Mei Mei. This TED Talk focuses on animal agriculture, food contamination, and how they've learned to source, cook, and serve food that respects animals in the environment, supports local farms, and provides a better life for those who produce the food and those who eat it.

Watch the Li sisters' TED Talk here:

Your Name Here: Restaurant Innovation

What are your ideas for innovating the restaurant industry?

And if you're ready to take it to the stage, find your local TEDx Event Listing, and get your voice heard. The more people sharing their vision for the future of restaurants, the better!

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