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Have Restaurant Cultures Become A Monster Out of Control?

Posted by Donald Burns on 6/2/17 4:00 PM in Restaurant Management

6 minute read Print

restaurant cultures

Whether you know it or not, your restaurant has a culture.

Culture is one of those business elements that is created by one of two ways:

  • Design
  • Default

Culture can be like a subtle song playing in the background or it can be a booming cinematic soundtrack that blasts throughout your brand.

It’s there. Have you noticed it? 

Well, if you haven't, your guests have, your employees have, and just about everyone else has. 

When you started your restaurant, you brought an idea to life. With that came what every business and society needs to survive…culture.

Culture and your brand are a symbiotic relationship that succeed from each other. Your culture is your brand and your brand is your culture. 

Is Your Restaurant Culture a Monster?

Go back to the first day when you took over your business. Maybe your focus was building sales and you did not pay a lot of attention to how your culture was growing.

That’s the same as planting a tree and being more concerned about the fruit it bares instead of the roots for long term growth.  

Now, you look around and things just don’t feel right. Maybe it feels like the culture in your restaurant has grown into a little monster that is getting out of control. That said, it’s much better to deal with it before it grows into Godzilla and it consumes your brand.

The first thing to remember is not to beat yourself up too bad. The loss of culture happens to even the best brands. When your brand and culture suffer from a disconnect, you just need to get back to the fundamentals of what creates a winning culture.

Fair Warning

When you try to change things in your restaurant (or anything for that matter), it's not uncommong for change to push back on you - sometimes rather harshly, too.

Like the line from the famous Dylan Thomas poem, change will “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Change goes against the human urge to be comfortable. Comfort is most people's natural set point. We seek it, we crave it, we want it.

Being comfortable is the last thing you want for your brand! So rage and rally against it.

Getting Back to Basics

So, you've strayed off the beaten path? Time to make a course correction.

No worries, a plane flying from Los Angeles to New York makes course corrections all the time. You should always be aware of what is happening in your restaurants and make adjustments as needed (if they are needed).

It's important to avoid the trends. Don’t change just to change things or you will end up driving your team crazy with the “next new shiny thing.” Pick your battles carefully. When you find a change you truly want that will move your brand and culture forward, then act with precision and ruthless execution.

Oh, and give it time to succeed. Nothing kills culture faster than giving up too soon when things don’t happen as fast as you would like (which they never actually do).

Here are the 5 Culture Fundamentals needed to wrangle that monster and get your culture back in control:

1. What Do You Stand For?

At the epicenter of all culture is core values. You can’t escape it if you want to build a culture that attracts talent and guests to your restaurant brand. There is an old saying that is quite true, “If you don’t know what you stand for, you’ll fall for anything.”

If your culture has grown into something you are not happy with, then starting back to square one and understanding your core values is required.

Knowing what you stand for, who you are, and why you do it are essential to the “roots” of your cultural tree. Really put some deep thought into understanding what values drive you and your brand. Remember that core values are a reflection of you. Connect with words and phrases that resonate from deep within.

An easy way to start is start writing down words that spark an emotion inside you. The important thing is to find words that you truly believe in and are a part of who you are. Don’t go for words that just sound good on the surface or that you think just make you look good. Core values have to be a true connection to who you are.

2. Get Up and Preach!

Once you have your list of core values and your reason why, the next thing to do is to get up on your soapbox and preach those things to your team every single day.

Your duty as an owner or leader is to talk every day to your team about what drives you, what inspires you, and what makes your heart sing. That is the stuff that great cultures are made of.

That has to be done every day without fail.

You don’t build an incredible culture by speaking about your core values once in a while or just during a new hire’s orientation. Talking about your core values has to become a daily habit.

3. Be the Example, Not the Warning

So now that you are talking about your core values every single day to your team, you need to back that up with action. One of the biggest culture killers is hypocrisy. Words are merely words. It’s through our actions that we exhibit day in and day out that builds credibility. Credibility leads to trust and trust builds culture.

A lot of restaurant owners and managers talk a great game. However, watch them in action and you’ll see there is a big disconnect between what they say and what they do. If you selected the core value of integrity, then you better live up to what that word means. People love to see a hypocrite fail. That’s why your deeds and words must be in total congruency.

What separates a manager from a leader? A leader leads the team through consistent actions and takes personal accountability for those actions. Being a manager might be a position assigned to a person. Leadership is a position that everyone can assume no matter where you are on the organizational chart. Leadership is respected. Leadership is trusted. Leadership is earned.

4. Choose Words That Build Culture

Do the words you use on a regular basis have an impact on your culture? More than you think, I assume.

Words are powerful - especially the right words. Do you use the word customer or guest? Are you still placing subconscious divisions by calling them the FOH and BOH, or do you use the word team? Do you have a management team or a leadership team?

Great restaurant cultures are very clear on the nomenclature they use. They choose words that resonate with their brand and reinforce the culture. Think about words and phrases from your own life. Do you have a problem or do you have a challenge? Do you want to be great or do you want to be outstanding? The words you use to defined experiences can amplify those experiences. That is why you need to be very careful about the words you use to yourself and especially your team.

Spend the next week being very conscious of the words you say to yourself and to others. Remember that awareness proceeds choice, and choice proceeds change.

You have to be aware of an issue before you can fix an issue. After a week of taking notes on some of the keywords you say, find some empowering replacement words to start using instead. If you change the things you should do into the things you must do, you will see a radical improvement in the quality of your life, your culture, and your restaurant.

5. Nurture Your Culture Every Single Day New Call-to-action

Culture is a living thing, and just like any living thing, it needs to be cared for and cultivated.

If your culture grew into a monster and is out of control, it’s because you didn’t fuel it and nurture it the right way. Once you start getting your culture back under control and on the right path, you want to dedicate more energy and effort to feeding it the proper way.

That means spending time with your team observing, guiding, coaching, and leading by example.

This also means that you may have to get rid of some of the bad apples that have infected your culture with negativity. Think of your culture like a garden. If you want a meticulous, beautiful, and thriving garden, you must tend to it daily. The weeds grow automatically and you must be vigilant of keeping them from overtaking your garden. Same goes for your culture. You must be relentless in your pursuit to weed out negativity as it appears in your culture.

Kill the Culture Monster

If your culture has grown out of control or not in a direction that you want, it’s not too late. Will it be easy to change? No. In fact, it will be a downright battle to change culture that has grown out of control.

It’s a battle that you must take on and be committed to finishing. If your culture has grown out of control or into a monster, then the only one to blame is yourself. Like most things in life, you are your own problem and your own solution. Time to dig in, make a solid plan, and get to work.

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toast restaurant management blog

Written by: Donald Burns

Donald Burns, The Restaurant Coach™ is the leading authority, author and international coach on how restaurant owners, operators and culinary professionals go from just good to becoming exceptional. He helps independent operators create organizations that thrive and bring out their workers' natural strengths to reach their peak potential. A sought-after advisor in the areas of menu design & engineering, restaurant operations, rebranding, social media marketing, culinary consulting, team development, behavioral dynamics, productivity & peak performance.


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