Good or Bad, Culture is Contagious!

Despite messaging around customer satisfaction, it’s apparent from speaking with people on the inside of several local restaurants that it’s more lip service than truth. The individuals I spoke with were mostly front-of-the-house employees including servers, bartenders and assistant managers. Their perspectives were consistent and without even knowing each other.

I was told that although their organizations preached about delivering great customer experiences, financial objectives were more of a priority, even to the extent of adversely affecting the customer experience. In fact, several discussed staff meetings where the messaging from management was essentially that customers are problems. One told me that she was told at a recent meeting by a general manager that “we just have to deal with customers, yes them to death, and get them out the door.”

It’s interesting that of these restaurants, all are having significant labor issues – mostly a revolving door of front-of-the-house staff including assistant managers. All agreed that culture within their restaurants was terrible and, to no surprise, morale is always very low. Further, all indicated they’ve seen a great deal of conflict between the owners and managers, and also with vendors and suppliers.

Of course, I get it. Many independent restaurants are having a difficult time with quite a few continuing to hang on, although for some, it’s a week-to-week scenario. So, yes it’s understandable that financial objectives must be front and center.

However, will doing so, without any changes eventually cause the inevitable to occur? That’s more of a rhetorical question because I can’t imagine anyone not seeing the writing on the wall, including the restaurant owners. Yet, change is resisted. Even when it’s acknowledged by restaurant owners that change is necessary.

Many will argue that the cost of change is prohibitive under current circumstances albeit without even trying to understand what change would entail and available options. After all, we’re not referring to high-cost items like remodeling, new equipment, additional staff, etc. Instead, we’re referring to changes in attitude, and ultimately a change in culture.

I firmly believe the resistance is due to owners and senior managers believing they’re not the problem or even a small part of the problem. Unfortunately, we know culture must start from the top and trickle down through the organization and onto the customer. Yet, I see time after time restaurant owners refusing to listen, and ultimately refusing, not only to change but that change is even necessary.

When asked about how they’re going to survive, I typically hear, I just don’t know! Their plan, if we can call it a plan is to manage the business day-by-day and according to cash flow. Again, I understand all too well, cash is king. But again, as things are mentioned that could be done without incurring hard costs, there is strong resistance. It’s almost to the point of hunkering down to protect their decision – or indecision – and to just keep doing what they’ve been doing.

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It’s extremely sad to read headline after headline of restaurants closing. Some have been around for many years and now their doors are being shuttered. I think of the owners, many who have been in the restaurant business all their lives. I think about the employees and their families and how a restaurant closing will affect them.

The future of the restaurant industry also comes to mind. Will the displaced employees continue working in the restaurant industry? How about the ripple effect for food and liquor suppliers, property owners and management companies, equipment manufacturers and a multitude of vendors that provide goods and services to restaurants that the non-restaurant person might not even know about, and there are many.

So, what’s the answer? What is the solution? Personally, I think it’s very simple and especially when I look at restaurants that are doing well.

Yesterday, I met with a client, a long-time restaurant industry veteran and current owner of two restaurants. We spoke about industry-wide problems – rising food costs, labor shortages, frequency of customer visits, and more.

He looked me in the eyes when I asked about labor problems and said, “I don’t have any labor problems. I have challenges at times, but not problems.” He went on that he has a great culture that is based upon open, transparent communications. He indicated that he has found that by doing so, his staff is committed to something he commands each and every day – delivering great customer experiences.

As well, they’re committed to watching costs, to controlling waste, to helping other servers or cooks, to do an extra task or two, and to immediately communicate back to him any issues in order that they may be addressed in real-time.

He has frequent get-togethers and holiday events with his entire team. Their birthdays and anniversaries are recognized, as is exceptional service to the organization. Most of his employees have been with him over two years with a number of them approaching ten years which goes back to day one of his first restaurant.

And, these restaurants are profitable. Sure, there were some issues as lockdowns were mandated but he was open to suggestions and was quick to adapt and make the changes necessary to get through challenging times. The restaurants not only survived, they actually thrived and are continuing to thrive. We actually discussed expansion possibilities.

Why? How is this all possible? I firmly believe it all has to do with culture. When walking in the door at either restaurant you can feel a great vibe. People, customers and employees alike love being there. Everyone, and I mean everyone is in sync.

The smiles are contagious. The culture is contagious! Conversely, in organizations with a poor culture, the frowns are contagious and yes, a poor culture is as well.

Resources For Your Organization

If you’re interested in learning more about Acceler8Success Group services or are interested in having our recent series, Preparing for War: You vs. Recession presented to your organization, either as a webinar, workshop or conference break-out session, please click HERE for more information. Our services and programs can be tailored to your business model, product, service offering and industry segment.

The future may be a bit bumpy for some, more so for others. Having resources at your disposal is important. Knowing who to turn to and when to turn to for guidance and help is also important. So, if you hit a wall, for whatever reason, please feel free to reach out to me for assistance or even if you just need someone to talk to. Please do not hesitate. You can reach me on LinkedIn, by email to, and by phone or text at (832) 797-9851.

Have a great day. Make it happen. Make it count!