Why Culture Matters and Why Restaurant Companies Struggle to Get It Right


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As I make this transition from a restaurant executive who is accountable for an entire company to a consultant and coach who is responsible for helping other leaders figure out how to lead at a high level to achieve outstanding results, the subject of culture has to be addressed. Almost every restaurant company talks about culture and how important it is to their organization and the results it hopes to achieve, but like big data, very few companies really understand culture and how to create and leverage it to move their business forward by doing the right things for the right reasons. Starting with investing in their people.

Every 5-year business cycle gives the restaurant industry buzz words, and culture has been right up there at the top of the list during the last several years, along with other words like big data, organic, non-GMO, and sustainable. Where many companies go wrong is they talk about culture in a presentation, or at an all managers meeting, or on an analyst call, but there isn’t any infrastructure to support having the culture they’re talking about and when that happens it is a house of cards that will not be able to stand under it’s own weight.

Culture isn’t just something you have by talking about it. Culture is something you do intentionally every single day. You build culture when no one is looking by doing something that isn’t all about you. You build culture by calling that front line team member to tell them they did a great job with a guest. You build culture when you invest in your G&A ahead of the business to ensure that you have the infrastructure to fuel your growth plans. You build culture when you create bonus structures that reward more than just the financial results and recognizes the advances made in building the team and ensuring those results are achieved the right way, because as I have said before, how you get there is just as important as getting there. You build culture by removing low performers who are an obstacle to your high performers, regardless of their tenure. You build culture by elevating leaders who have demonstrated the ability to replace themselves and want more for the people around them then they want for themselves. You build culture when you fire the leader who is technically sound, maybe even technically awesome, but is a jerk to the rest of the team and thinks he or she is too valuable to be replaced.

Do you really want to build a strong culture that will help you accomplish your mission and vision? Do you really want the best people working for your restaurant company? Do you really want the right level of turnover? Do you really believe in creating internal opportunities for your employees? Do you really want to pay your team what they’re worth? Maybe more than their worth because you’re investing in their future…and your future. Do you really want to create a revolution where your employees believe they are changing the world, starting with every guest that comes into your restaurant?

If so, than make sure that you are willing to write the check to fund it and make sure that you are willing to work alongside your employees to support the culture you want to see. This isn’t all about spending money to build a culture, but it has to be supported with the right level of financial investment. But what you really need to do is invest human capital, starting with yourself to lead the charge in creating the culture you want to see. You’re better off not talking about culture at all than to talk about it and not do your part setting the example in building that culture.

Build that great culture and measure the financial results against it while making sure you have the right people championing the culture. If you do that you will create something that is incredibly special and will sustain itself for generations.

Culture matters. But your commitment to that making that culture a reality matters more.

Published by

Bobby Shaw

I am a former restaurant company executive with a passion for developing existing and future leaders to achieve high standards. I love helping organizations develop strong people cultures with an emphasis on leadership development that result in top-notch operations and better business results.
I have over 30 years in the restaurant business in all facets of operations, from my start at McDonald’s in the grill area in 1984 to overseeing 200+ restaurants with Chipotle Mexican Grill from 2002-2012 to leading Freebirds World Burrito’s resurgence from 2013-2016 to working with the Salad and Go restaurant startup as CEO in 2016/2017.

My real world experience transcends the typical operations background with a focus in leadership development and coaching. At the core of my background and experience, I believe that how leaders get results is just as important as getting them, and what got them where they are, won’t necessarily get them where they want to go. I work closely with individual leaders and companies to improve their results through understanding how their strengths impact the overall results.

My goal is to help business leaders and companies learn how to leverage the strengths of their employees by understanding their strengths and what they’re good at, and using that knowledge to positively impact their entire organization.

4 thoughts on “Why Culture Matters and Why Restaurant Companies Struggle to Get It Right

  1. I agree completely. I was in a cafe the other day that had the surface feel of a great culture but the discomfort of the work relationships really told a different story. Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for chiming in Joey! You bring up an excellent point. The real story of culture is definitely manifested in the relationships on display, versus what mission/vision statement might be hanging on the wall.

  2. Paige, it is so good to hear from you! Thank you! This is big journey for sure and I am excited for it. If there is ever anything I can do to help you or Josh out with leadership development with TBPP I would be happy to do it!

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