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What Do Restaurant Employees Really Think of Restaurant Owners?

Posted by Donald Burns on 4/5/17 4:00 PM in Restaurant Training & Hiring

7 minute read Print

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Look at you, you're a restaurant owner!

So many people dream of owning a restaurant that it might be considered part of the American dream.

But what do restaurant employees - those who work for you - really think about restaurant owners?

It’s true that while it is easy to open a restaurant, it can be a real challenge to stay open. While so many variables come into play when trying to carve out a brand in today’s very crowded market, one key differentiator is the quality of your staff and a shared level of mutual respect and understanding.

Unhappy staff is an epidemic among restaurants. To cure this plague of an unsatisfied workforce, you just need to be aware of a few misconceptions your staff may have. Educating your team is a primary mission all restaurant owners and leaders must commit to if they want to rise past the internal struggles that hold their business stuck year after year. 

Let’s look at some common misconceptions your team might have about owning a restaurant and how you can properly and respectfully address them. For even more tips download a free copy of Toast's Restaurant Staffing Guide!

1. They think you're rich because you own a restaurant. 

Yes, there are some restaurant owners that do extremely well. However, most independent restaurant owners are far from what would be defined as rich.

Many restaurant owners went to great lengths and borrowed against their house, asked family for loans, and groveled to banks for lines of credit. There is an old joke that if you want to make a million dollars in the restaurant business, start with two million.

Sad, but true for some. 

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Solution: Be open about your P&L (oh, and please say you do run financial reports!). Being open with your team about what everything costs and about the very slim margins that restaurants experience can be eye opening for your staff.

Seeking this transparency must be done if you want to tear down the wall between staff and owners. Remember that trust builds teams and that trust must be across the board. You cannot trust you team on selective things and hold back on others. Share your loses and your victories.

Show and educate staff on the real business of running a restaurant.

  • Do they understand how much each plate or glass that they break costs?
  • Do they understand how much the refrigeration repair costs when they don't maintain and clean the reach in?
  • Do they understand what the reservation system costs you for each time a guest makes a reservation?
  • Do they know about your expenses for music or utilities?

These things can help them understand that running a restaurant is a business and the purpose of a business is to make a profit. Knowing that you - the owner - don't take baths in $100 bills at home helps staff see you on a more relatable and personable level.

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2. They think you don't work hard.

Now, don't get all defensive yet. Perception is projection, and if your team sees you walk through the restaurant and just sit in the office with the door shut, they will think you are not working.

Now, we know that there are a lot of administrator duties that an owner must perform to keep a business going. You will need to spend some quality time behind a computer to review POS analytics and reports, balancing bank statements, marketing, payroll, recruiting, negotiating with vendors, and the other duties that the team doesn't know happens behind the scenes…you know all that owner stuff.

Once again, education is powerful - especially if you have been following your processes for a while and you have your system down to a pattern. The problem with being really good at what you do is you make it look easy, and the staff might think that all you do it hang in the office and play golf.

Modeling is how most people learn, and what the team sees you do is how they will model. Our leaders set the tone and behaviors acceptable with the group.

Now, you might need to get a mirror out and take a look. Do your behaviors set an example for good or bad habits?

Solution: You might have a great work routine and like to spend time in the office doing all that owner stuff - that's fine. However, your staff will never understand you if you don't take the time to understand them! Tell them some of the tasks you are working on and even ask for feedback. Perhaps you are thinking that being on Snapchat would be good for your brand and have been researching how many restaurants are using Snapchat. Ask a few people on your team that use the platform and get feedback from them! 

Being open for input from your team does not make you a weak person. It makes you a true leader!

3. They think you're a hypocrite.

Again, don't get defensive just yet! Just remember that actions do speak louder than words. Your team knows this, and you know this because you probably preach to them about it all this time.

And yet, you might now do the very things that you talk to them about. When your words and action are not congruent with each other, this will break the integrity glue that holds a team together: trust.

Solution: Do what you say you going to do, when you said you’d do it. Nothing cripples a team faster than a hypocritical owner, and a hypocrite is no leader.

If you are a hypocrite, it’s not the end of the world. There is something you can do…change your behavior

Is change easy? No, not really. However, if you want to start breaking down the barriers between you and your staff and really build a team, then this is a requirement.

If you don’t want to change, that of course is your choice. Just be ready for high turnover, low morale, theft, and pretty much being stuck where your restaurant is today. 

4. They think you don't care about them.

So you have fancy checklists and tools available for the team to communicate with each other, yet when your team does  communicate or complete a checklist, you don’t reach out and give kudos for the positive behavior.

Positive reinforcement is sadly lacking in a lot of restaurants today. Is it because we've become so familiar with our staff that we just assume they feel appreciated and are grateful for the work they do? Maybe.

How would you feel if you never received positive feedback about your food or service?

  • Would you start to have doubts?
  • Would you start to second-guess your brand?
  • Would you be worried about the stability of restaurant sales?

How do you think your team feels when you don’t give them any feedback? Hmmm. Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?

Solution: You've got to give credit where credit is due. A little appreciation and gratitude goes a very long way in helping reinforce team dynamics. And you know the best part? It’s free. A few kind words - like "thank you" - are more powerful than you could ever realize. The deepest human need is the need to be appreciated.

5. They think you’re a terrible leader.

All of the above misconceptions have led us to this final one.

There are incredibly talented chefs who cannot lead a team. There are owners who are financial geniuses that would have a panic attack if they had to talk to people. There are managers who can work magic on the floor, yet they can’t balance their own checkbook. Like you learned in pre-school, everyone has their strengths and weaknesses.

Great restaurant owners and leaders play to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses. They do this by building a team around them that negates their flaws and creates a synergistic team dynamic. Each person on the team brings a talent to the table. However, it’s the combined strengths of the team that make them unstoppable. Think of it like the Power Rangers.

Solution: Sometimes, it takes self-actualization and a little bit of honesty to see if you are the best person for the job. True leadership is about doing what’s best for the brand, and sometimes that means putting ego away taking a step to the side and letting someone else step up. 

Now, if you’re not the world’s greatest leader, here’s the bright side: you can learn and improve your leadership game. While there are natural leadership traits, the skills required to become a great leader are teachable and coachable. Seek out a mentor or coach that can help you raise the bar and elevate your game.

If you don’t take action to become better and push yourself then you are the definition of what Einstein calls insanity, or "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Bridging the Gap Between Owners and Employees

Bridging the gap between owners and their team is an easy one to accomplish if you are willing to be open to communication, honesty, integrity, trust, and a little vulnerability. Don’t expect your team to take that first step in closing the distance between you. That falls on you. You need to take that first step and become the owner or leader they are waiting for.

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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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