This post originally appeared on the Toast Restaurant Management Blog on 7/8/2015
Editor’s Note: Toast is pleased to present a guest blog from Donald Burns, The Restaurant Coach™, a sought-out advisor in the areas of menu design & engineering, restaurant operations, social media marketing, and more.
It is estimated that every year approximately 43,000 new restaurants open. It is also estimated that by year three, 50% of them will have closed their doors. The majority of the ones that do close as a result of either poor planning or poor management. Both of those factors can be avoided.
Poor planning is a common one. There are 1000 details that go into opening a restaurant. However, one of the most important decisions a restaurant has to make is their brand identity. Now, if you type in Google the “number of books on branding,” it will return 18.4 million search results. Way too much information to be covered in this blog post alone!
As a restaurant coach, I work with around 400 restaurants a year. When you work with that many restaurants you tend to see patterns of success and patterns of failure. I’ve seen firsthand the main reason that restaurants get off-track. If I had to list the top three reasons, it would look like this:
3. The menu
2. The brand
And the number one reason? A failure to have solid core values.
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your core values are.” – Roy Disney
Disney was right. Core values build your restaurant’s culture, and your culture is the foundation of your brand. But what are company core values? Why are they so important?
Digging Into Your Restaurant’s Core Values
Core values are what support the vision your restaurant stands for. They are essential to your brand identity because they lay out the principles, beliefs, and philosophies of what is most important to you. Many restaurants focus only on the mechanics of service or on hiring a talented chef. While these factors are important, if you want to thrive and not just survive, establishing strong core values will provide you an edge over your competition.
Core values also help restaurants in the decision-making process and with restaurant management. For example, if one of your core values is to stand behind the quality of your products, any products not reaching a satisfactory standard are automatically not served. Imagine a culinary team and service team that stood behind and enforces core value and refused to serve substandard food to a guest, improving the guest experience? Do you think that if you adopted this core value it would decrease guest complaints about the food quality? Of course it would.
Having solid core values helps educate your customers about your restaurant branding, and what you stand for. In this ever competitive industry, having a strong set of core values sets your brand apart. Take a look at Danny Meyers and his Union Square Hospitality Group. Danny goes out of his way to educate and inform the public of his company’s core values. His Enlightened Hospitality model has been adopted by many successful restaurateurs.
Core values also becomes a primary recruiting and retention tool. When you have a solid set of core values in the restaurant, you see a dramatic change in the people drawn to your culture. They say “like attracts like,” and it’s true.
How to Get Some Core Values and Improve Your Restaurant Culture
So how do you find core values for your restaurant? Many restaurants make the mistake of picking core values out of thin air and trying to make them fit into their organization. Unfortunately, core values are not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. As the owner or leader, they have to resonate with you first. Remember that culture flows down, not up, and that restaurant culture starts with you.
Core values only work in a restaurant when the leader actually lives them, rather than just talking about them. Your core values have to come from within. They have to mean something to you. They have to be something that you strive to be. Here’s an easy exercise to help you get on track.
- Start a list of core values that might resonate with you. Think of things like, community, charity, authentic, local, fresh, honesty, integrity, hospitality, creative, dependability, family, adaptability, quality, consistency, teamwork, credibility, respect. Get a good list of about 20 to 40 core values that pop into your head without too much thought.
- Now look at that list and start highlighting the ones that really stand out to you. Ones that really make a connection deep inside you. Usually you end up with about a dozen. This becomes your core values list. Now type them up and put them in places where you and your employees can be reminded of what truly inspires and drives you.
One of the most important roles as a restaurant owner or operator is to get on your soapbox and preach your company’s core values every single day to your team. Also make note that if you don’t walk the talk and aren’t an example of the core values that you preach, then in the eyes of your staff, you will be nothing more than a hypocrite.
Core values are the foundation of your restaurant culture. Core values do more than just promote ethical business practices. They act as a map for decision-making criteria that your managers and employees will use to guide their actions. The more strongly defined the core values, the more likely that this value system will serve as a code of conduct that promotes and guides strategically aligned behaviors that reinforce your brand identity.
Restaurants with strong cultures that share common core values tend to have much happier employees. Happier employees help businesses be more productive. In fact, there is empirical research that suggests core values directly correlate with restaurant performance and profitability. Connecting with your restaurant’s core values is a step towards building a better restaurant brand.
I keep my list of core values on my phone and look at it every morning to make sure I’m in line and acting in congruence with those values as I approach business throughout the day. If I face a difficult situation, sometimes I pull the list out just to make sure I’m living my truth, my values as I see them. It’s helped me make much better decisions when I am in alignment with the core values that resonate deep within me.