Take a look at your restaurant. Do you notice anything?
Your restaurant is a magnet for a certain crowd, and that's true for both your customers and your staff. As a result, restaurants tend to embody a specific personality or archetype: the under 25 crowd only, the tech bro hotspot, and the ‘too hip to function’ types come to mind.
When your restaurant staff type sounds like like a Buzzfeed quiz result – the “pick your three favorite Disney characters and we’ll tell you where to plan your next vacation” type – it could be spelling trouble for your restaurant operations.
Restaurants with a young manager have a tendency of also having a young staff; intentional or not, restaurant managers tend to hire people who share similar traits to them, whether that be work ethic, personality, or age bracket.
This can be good or bad depending on your concept. If your restaurant caters more to the older crowd – Gen X and Baby Boomers – then having an all young staff can present some challenges.
Here are a few of the biggest challenges the 'under 25' types face:
1. Younger Teams Have A Younger Frame of Reference
If you were to ask anyone under the age of 25 what their drink du jour is, you’d probably hear a lot of sugary cocktail names flying at you, whereas anyone over the age of 40 would shudder at the thought and wish for days of yore when enjoying a Frosé wouldn’t set them back a week .
A restaurant with young management and a young overall front-of-house team will advocate for a menu filled with their favorites.
While their youth may put them in the perfect position to recommend trendy dishes and drinks, it also hinders their ability to understanding what an older customer would find enticing. With age comes wisdom, as they say.
When a young team puts items on the menu that they would want rather that what the restaurant’s target demographic wants, there’s a disconnect at the brand level. Successful business owners always maintain a keen focus on their brand and stay loyal to that identity.
Brand confusion causes lack of trust and once you lose the trust of the guest, you're done.
2. Younger Teams Lack Leadership Experience
While the energy and enthusiasm a young staff exudes are great, your restaurant also needs a staff with the kind of real world experience that only years in the business can deliver.
The late Anthony Bourdain said it best; “If anything is good for pounding humility into you permanently, it's the restaurant business.”
Most younger restaurant staff members simply haven’t been around the block enough times to see the bigger picture and how all the moving parts in a restaurant need to work in harmony. The thing is, the only way to learn is over time, and you can't rush time.
Many approach management like a game of checkers: They react to everything – something happens in the restaurant and they counter. Young managers play way more defense than offense.
Seasoned managers approach running a restaurant more like chess: they strategically plan their shift and position their team to win by knowing their strengths. They think ten steps ahead of everyone and always have a variety of contingency plans from experience.
How To Avoid the "Under 25" Pitfalls
Make sure your team is a well-balanced mix of experienced personality.
Keep communication channels open for ideas and really take the time to work through them if applicable. The young bar manager wants to offer Mike’s Hard Lemonade? Well, how about you make an infused lemonade in house with the top shelf vodka you know older patrons would be interested in. Now you have a product that both your younger and more mature clientele will be happy to pay more for.
This one is easy to spot when you walk in: the energy is tense and everyone seems to be running around in a panic.
There may be background music playing but you wouldn’t know it, as a chorus of crashing glasses and plates mixed with the whooshing sounds of servers sprinting around drowns out all other noise.
When you’re seated by the hostess – who greeting you with a nod (words take too much time) – after playing a cardio version of follow the leader to your table, the server runs by in a flash throwing beverage napkins on the table with an out of breath, “I’ll be right back.”
15 minutes pass before she finally re-emerges with a “so what’ll it be” as she wipes sweat off her brow with one of the aforementioned napkins she dropped off ten minutes prior.
This right here is what we call the chaos model, a restaurant staff type that can be best compared to chickens running around with their heads cut off. Besides the obvious difficulty that living life in the fast lane presents, here are a few other things to look out for:
1. Urgency ≠ Efficiency
There’s a saying in military special ops, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast;” you can’t push your team too fast too soon or panic will inadvertently set in.
Panic signals disaster, both for the military and for your business; panic is also the catalyst for our fight or flight reflexes to kick in. The last thing your restaurant needs is a staff running on their primal mind in the middle of meal service.
2. The Atmosphere is Chaotic
Chaos is contagious. If your restaurant staff are sprinting about, stressed out of their minds, your guests will likely notice and likely start to feel a little anxious themselves.
If your guests do not feel relaxed at your restaurant, they’ll spend less time and less money there too. You’ll probably also never see them again. Urgency is great – it’s an intrinsic part of an efficient restaurant operations model. Panic, however, is definitely not.
How To Avoid the "Oozing Chaos" Pitfalls
Take a deep breath – or six – and slow down: your head, your heart rate, and especially your feet.
We are in the hospitality business and that means you need to take the time to connect with guests and be hospitable; that’s pretty hard to do when you are running by a table, quickly asking “is everything okay,” and leaving before the guest can say a word.
Don’t confuse being busy with being effective. Most people are masters at looking busy, few are masters of getting results. Focus on the results and slow the process down if you must to get them.
The angry model type is the driving force behind most of the restaurant reality tv shows you see. The owner, once bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, has since lost his passion for the business and now stalks around the restaurant like that crazy uncle you avoid at family reunions.
The angry owner gets triggered by the smallest things which in turn sets them off into a tyrannical rant and ensuing tailspin that everyone in hearing distance can witness – including paying customers.
No one wants to work for a dictator when they can just as easily find a restaurant democracy to call home. If your restaurant has an angry owner at the helm, you’ll likely see the following obstacles present themselves.
1. They're A Debbie Downer
This can be the biggest hurdle, and it will likely take a lot of time and patience to coax them out of the toxic, “I hate the world and everyone in it” mindset they find themselves in at present.
Angry owners are angry at everyone else for getting in the way of their dreams; they’re stuck playing the blame and shame game with everyone else besides themselves. It’s not their fault of course...it the economy, it’s the vendors, it's the team, it’s the ungrateful guests who don’t know how hard they work.
Woe is me? More like woe is everyone who has to work with you.
2. There's More Lurking Underneath The Surface
Incessant, pervasive anger is symptom of an underlying issue.
Maybe things are not good at home. Maybe they’re struggling with something.
Mental health is as important as general bodily health. Think about it: your brain never takes a moments rest, even when you’re sleeping it’s still wide awake. You would workout and eat right to keep your body humming along healthy and happy, the same goes for your mind.
Unless you are a psychiatrist on the side, avoid trying to help them yourself.
How To Avoid the "Angry Owner" Pitfalls
If your restaurant has an angry owner, you probably have an accompanying employee retention problem; people don’t want to work for a ticking time bomb.
When the person in charge is also the problem, those working underneath them are faced with a sticky situation: a confrontation is necessary for the sake of the business, but confronting your superior could get messy – and cost you your job.
Staging a restaurant management intervention is an effective way to calmly, collectively confront your angry owner about their behavior and how it’s affecting individual staff members and the business as a whole.
Invite them in for a restaurant managers meeting, and have your restaurants entire leadership present; reiterate that you are not intending to belittle or critique, but genuinely care about your owner’s wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of your restaurant. If they feel you are coming from a caring, understanding place, they’ll be more likely to open up, and you’ll be more likely to come to a resolution.
Encourage them to talk to someone. Don’t keep your demons locked up in a cage because eventually they escape and wreak havoc on the city like Godzilla! It’s okay to have issues. It’s also okay to talk to a pro.
Sadly, this model is fairly common: people with no restaurant experience think it would be a fun idea to open a restaurant where all their friends can hangout.
You’ve probably walked into a few of these over the years; the easiest way to spot a restaurant with a green owner is their inability to execute on very simple aspects of restaurant operations: the servers are often the ones telling the boss/managers how to run the joint, the restaurant itself is disorganized, and the owner probably spends most of his or her time yucking it up at a booth in the corner with their buddies.
Opening a restaurant is easy, you just need money; staying open is the real challenge. A study by The Perry Group concluded that most restaurants close during their first year of operation. Seventy percent of those that make it past the first year close their doors in the next three to five years.
In fact, according to Victor Fernandez, a restaurant industry analyst with TDn2K, “Year over year, we are seeing chain restaurants grow at twice the rate of overall population growth. We believe now there are probably too many restaurants and too many brands.”
Here are a few of the main reasons a first-time restaurant owner ends up closing up shop:
1. No Barrier to Entry In The Restaurant business.
This industry has an alarmingly few barriers to entry.
It’s not like being a doctor or lawyer where you have to get advanced degrees and pass a series of boards to become licensed – if you have access to cash, you too can own a restaurant.
However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Maybe you have a killer family recipe that you want to share, perhaps you’ve always wanted to be the ultimate dinner host and have a place where your friends can meet, or maybe you've had a lifelong dream of being a celebrity chef like the ones you see on TV.
In fact, they suck because they are centered around the ego. The first rule of hospitality is to focus on others, the second rule of hospitality is to focus on others.
2. No Boss (Besides the Health Department)
Many industries have a governing body that regulates how business is conducted; the restaurant space is not one of these industries.
Yes, we have the health department keeping our kitchens up to code, but other than that, there is no overarching governing body – like the bar for attornies, or the state medical board for doctors – to keep restaurant owners in check.
For first time restaurant owners and operators with little to no experience in the biz, this can be a problem. With no transparent regulation around how a restaurant should and should not be run, restaurant owners without industry experience find themselves doing a lot of trial and error...and error, and error, and error.
This learning curve ends up claiming 26% of new restaurant owners’ businesses within the first year.
How to Avoid the "No Experience" Pitfalls:
If you’re new to the restaurant business that’s okay – also, welcome 👋–but don’t let pride take down your restaurant because you were too ashamed to ask for help.
There are business mentors, consultants, coaches, and advisors whose help you can enlist in running your restaurant. Choke back that lump of pride in your throat and ask for their assistance.
Think of opening a restaurant as an investment and you must protect your investment by hiring people that can assist you in building a brand not just opening a restaurant.
The late Steve Jobs sums it up best, "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."
A hot new restaurant opens in your area; you go to check it out and it’s great! So, you keep coming back week every few weeks for the first few months they’re open. Then, another new restaurant opens around the corner and you go to check them out.
Slowly fading in the rearview is the first restaurant; now that their 15 minutes of new-kid on the block fame is up, the real challenge of making their restaurant stand out to potential customers sets in.
The initial jolt of attention new restaurants enjoy as a result of people’s obsession with all things shiny and new is short-lived; restaurant owners and operators who think they’ll be able to sustain a business on this short burst of momentum are sorely mistaken...and probably out of a job.
Here are a few of the biggest issues plaguing the ‘flavor of the week’ types:
1. The Come-Up Is Real; So Is the Come-Down
You get a lot of attention when you’re the new kid in class.
The buzz is hot and the five star reviews come pouring in – then, a little time passes. Business slows down a little, you lose one or two staff members who have decided your restaurant isn’t the place for them, you get your first bad review, and you’re in a daze wondering how your luck turned so quickly.
When you don’t set standards and expectations for your brand, you blast off heading for the stratosphere only to run out of fuel before you reach the heavens.
Your brand will inevitably come crashing back to earth; whether you’ll survive the fall depends on how well you perform under pressure, and if there’s a parachute – restaurant marketing strategy – that can save your sinking ship.
2. There's No Energy
All businesses have sales cycles that are peppered with ups and downs; don’t be in denial that a down sales cycle can’t happen to you – it will.
They say when the going gets tough the tough get going, but the reality is that when the going gets tough, most people give up.
Nothing is sadder than seeing a once glorious restaurant reduced to a fraction of its former glory. It's a pretty palpable phenomenon, one that can be felt from the lack of energy in the restaurant as soon as you walk through the door; energy is the lifeblood to creating the atmosphere in your restaurant – when passion and enthusiasm have left the building, they’re hard to get back.
How To Avoid the "Flavor of The Week" Pitfalls:
Don’t let the love die! As a restaurant owner, operator, or manager, you are chiefly responsible for the energy within your restaurant.
You are the source of culture in your brand; if your culture sucks, you just need to take a look in the mirror. What you tolerate and put up with is what you end up with – it’s that simple, yet so many turn a blind eye to bad behavior and allow it to continue. When they finally have enough and speak up the staff is shocked because they have been allowed to run amuck for so long without and repercussions.
Don’t wait another day, start today. Be the leader your team really is looking for. They might fight it at first (especially if you leadership has been in a coma state for years), however the A-players will come around and your culture will become better in the end.
There you have it, five restaurant models that you really want to avoid if you want long term success.
The funny thing about restaurants is that all business problems are really people problems in disguise. If you can stand back from the whirlwind and look at your business from a distance (and objectively) you have a very good chance of real lasting success.
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