The 7 Deadly Restaurant Sins to Avoid

By: Donald Burns

6 Minute Read

Mar 19, 2018

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On the surface, running a restaurant seems relatively easy. New restaurants open every day. It’s estimated that over 4000 new restaurants are opened every year. If you’re looking for a simple formula for restaurant success the recipe would be something like this:

  • Provide great food in a clean, inviting atmosphere.
  • Offer attentive, professional service that focuses on guest satisfaction.
  • Market your brand across a variety of media platforms.

Then why do so many restaurants fail? It’s quite simple: they ignored the seven deadly restaurant sins that are the demise of restaurant dreams of grandeur.

Running a restaurant is (in theory) relatively simple. It’s the mindset of the owner or operator that is the chokehold to growth. If your restaurant is not operating at its maximum potential, then take a look at the following and see if you are guilty of any of these restaurant sins.

1. Ignorance

Contrary to the popular saying that ignorance is bliss, it’s not. Ignorance is just ignorance. There are a lot of duties and details involved in running a successful restaurant. Many operators purely focus in on the things they like to do. You can easily identify problem areas in any restaurant operation by the using the word “should."

“I know I should cost out my menu.”

“I know I should start an Instagram account.”

“I know I should fire the manager who drinks in the office.”

Most restaurant operators basically just “should” all over themselves. The tipping point in a restaurant is when the owner or operator turns their “should” into must.

2. Mediocrity

Remember the bell curve in school? It was based on law of average. Many restaurants in today’s market live in the middle of that bell curve. It’s the addiction to average that is killing most restaurants. The sad thing is that most restaurants are capable of becoming outstanding. Think about it. All restaurants have access to the same products, the same labor pool, and the same marketing channels.

restaurant bell curve

Why do some thrive and others just survive? Quite simply they settled and stopped pushing themselves. No one opens a restaurant thinking to themselves, "I just want to have an average business.” No. They want to be great, they want to stand out, they want to be a huge success. Then, they faced a few challenges. Ran into a few obstacles. Then slowly they started to compromise on their standards. They sold out their integrity and after that they headed down the path of mediocrity.

The easiest way to stop that downward spiral is to raise your standards. Reposition the bar for what you will except and for what you will not tolerate. Stop selling yourself so short.

"The saddest thing about selling out is just how cheaply most of us do it for." - James Bernard Frost


3. Pride

This might be the sin that has closed more restaurants than a bad economy. Its common partner is ignorance. Together, these two work to stop the growth of the business. Many a restaurant owner has closed their doors thanks to foolish pride.

Even the Bible calls pride one of the original Seven Deadly Sins. Yeah, it’s that bad. When you allow your pride to override growth and opportunity, you’re pretty much done.

Successful restaurant owners and operators are always looking for the opportunity to increase production, quality, efficiency, operations, and profitability. That requires conviction, confidence, and respect.

Pride, when inwardly directed, is a negative impact on your business. Pride, when outwardly directed, builds teams and communities, and pulls people together. The problems come when we use pride to close the door to opportunity and growth.

4. Fear

Look in Wikipedia and it will define fear as a "perceived danger or threat." There is a common acronym for the word fear:


Fear is another deadly sin that stops restaurants from growing. Even Luke Skywalker had to face his fears before he could become a Jedi. So too must restaurant owners face their fears if they wish to maximize their potential.

Here are some statements I've heard from restaurant owners based on fear:

“I can’t fire that person because I’ll have no one to work.”

“I can’t change my menu without losing customers.”

Fear just need to be recognized and acknowledged. You can’t fire that person, bringing your team down and driving your customers away? Yes, you can. Then get on the internet and recruit until you have 10 interviews set up for tomorrow. It’s better to have two superstar employees than a dozen losers.

Here's a step-by-step guide to hiring only the best for your restaurant.

When you surrender to fear, it becomes your master. It controls every business decision you make or are afraid not to make. Just remember that while danger is very real (fire, tornado, etc.) …. fear is a choice.

5. Envy

Some restaurant owners let this sin become all-consuming. They are so focused on what other restaurants in their market are doing that they lose track of what is happening in their own establishments.

Granted, you need to understand what’s going on in your market. However, becoming obsessed with what the restaurant down the street is doing to the point that every time they make a change in the menu you feel you have to add similar item to your menu... could be a little overboard.

Just because every restaurant in town has a flatbread appetizer on it, does not mean you need one too. Sometimes being a little on the outside is a great way to differentiate yourself in the market.

6. Greed

With all the talk about raising the minimum wage, this is a good opportunity to talk about the sin of greed. Successful restaurant owners and operators understand that you truly get what you pay for, both in product and with talent.

If your restaurant is set up properly you can still pay the overhead, pay your team, pay your vendors, and still walk away with a good profit margin. Restaurants that pay their staff higher than average wages have less turnover, increased productivity, higher guest satisfaction scores, and less waste and theft.

Smart restaurant owners plan ahead with yearly budgets and then manage their team to reach those financial outcomes. The old saying is quite true, “if you fail to plan then you are planning to fail."

7. Bad Hiring

An entire book could be dedicated to this sin alone. Who you allow on your team to handle your perishable product and interact with your guests is one of the most important decisions restaurant owners and operators make.

Here are some of the most prevailing sub-sins of hiring:

  • The Panic Hire - you allowed the sin of fear to take over and you hire the first person came in and applied for the job.
  • Handcuff management - This one again is usually associated with the sin of fear. The staff runs the restaurant and usually not very well.

Sometimes it’s important to remember that it’s not the person you fail to hire that destroys your restaurant, it’s a person you fail to fire.

Yes, running a restaurant is relatively easy. It’s the people puzzle that makes it complex, with all of the emotions and psychological biases that humans carry inside their brain, creating the most fascinating puzzle of all.

In short, it’s people that make a restaurant work.


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