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Want to be a Successful Restaurateur? Then Laser Focus on These Two Things

Restaurants fail.

It’s an unpleasant and unavoidable fact of the industry, though there have been some lengthy disagreements on just how often restaurant failure truly occurs. Regardless, it remains a topic that many restaurateurs don’t like to dwell on. And who could blame them? When you’re so heavily invested, both financially and emotionally, and the odds are seemingly stacked against you, of course you want to focus largely on the positive.

But for every unsuccessful business concept, there is a restaurateur that feels as if he/she has failed too. And they’re left wondering where exactly things went south. While there can literally be a laundry list of reasons why a restaurant venture ultimately doesn’t pan out, all too often I find that two key foundational elements are missing from the equation — solid leadership and restaurant/people systems.

If you want to beat the odds, you need great people to lead the way and organized systems to take care of all the details in-between. There’s just no substitute. Here’s a brief overview of the two areas that deserve your laser-like focus.

Focal Point #1: Leadership  

A strong and effective leadership team can give your restaurant the upper hand. While it can’t undo a poor concept or a less than desirable location, assembling a capable leadership team can buy you precious time to get the other pieces of the puzzle hammered out.

That’s because effective leaders and managers know you have to manage things and lead people by being:

Culture creators. Great leaders curate a culture that is all-encompassing. From the initial interview to onboarding and performance reviews, leaders live and breathe this culture, drawing in likeminded crew members and encouraging them to do the same. Customers will take notice too!

Emotionally adept. The best leaders and managers aren’t these robotic taskmasters, barking orders at their teams and then retreating to the office. Instead, they are emotionally available and able to quickly anticipate the needs of their crew, often picking up on non-verbal and subtle cues others may miss. They aim to connect with each teammate and help them navigate any problems as they arise.

Day-to-day mentors. Dedicated leaders know that In-N-Out Burger wasn’t built in a day. But if you take the time to invest in your people and help them identify and develop their own skills, then you’ll make gains when and where it counts. Mentoring is a mainstay of forward-thinking leaders and they are committed to putting the time in, each and every day, to build a talented crew.

Focal Point #2: Systems

Systems sounds a bit…boring, right? Well, they can be, especially for those restaurateurs who are ready to jump in and get going. But not taking the time to establish solid systems and processes can be a recipe for disaster. It won’t matter how good the food is, your people will be stressed, unhappy, and confused and likely clamoring for the door.

To keep everything humming along and turnover to a minimum, you have to establish a process that spans the full life cycle of an employee — from recruiting clear through to termination or resignation. You don’t need anything fancy, just simple and easy to implement systems and policies that cover how the restaurant and management will handle:

  • Recruiting and hiring talent;
  • Onboarding new hires;
  • Communicating and executing the intended culture;
  • Safety and loss prevention;
  • Payroll and benefits (i.e. such as via a manual or automated/HRIS system);
  • Employee performance; and
  • Termination.

Avoid Shortcuts

Assembling a rock solid leadership team and creating and executing simple systems are imperative for your restaurant’s success. While tempting, don’t take shortcuts here as it will cost you much, much more in the end.

And if you’re worried about where to go from here, watch for my future posts. I’ll cover each of these areas in greater detail.

Carrie Luxem is a human resources professional specializing in the restaurant industry. In 2010, she founded Restaurant HR Group where she partners with dozens of restaurateurs to take care of their greatest assets — their people. With a career that has spanned nearly 20 years, Carrie is frequently sought out for her modern, yet simple and effective advice and has been featured in Entrepreneur, Restaurant News, and Independent restaurateur. Connect with her on social media or learn more at CarrieLuxem.com.  

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