Over the last 18 years, I have myself been working as a line manager, as well as advising leaders about how to improve the productivity and performance of restaurant businesses, from start-ups to more established chains.

I have seen restaurant leaders on a mission to build businesses that deliver ongoing strong performance by creating great employee and customer promises. Their goal is to build a strong restaurant brand that can perform well now and in the future, no matter what challenges they meet. They understand that it is not just about strategy, but about their ability to build high performing cultures - as the famous quote attributed to Peter Drucker says: "culture eats strategy for breakfast".

I believe that one of the core reasons why some restaurant leaders succeed and other fails when it comes to building high performing restaurant cultures is their mindset and approach to leadership. In my next couple of articles, I will write about leadership mindset and approach from my own experience and observations in the restaurant industry.

Being able to build high performing cultures has historically been and is still a core competitive factor, but one that many do not spend enough time and resources creating. An example of a company that does this very well, however, is McDonald’s: expectations of how the business must be run are crystal clear, and a consistent leadership approach and mindset (based around well-established systems) permeates the business.

More recently, we have seen new concepts and players scaling quickly because they are using the culture and leadership approach to set the pace for scale and impact - chains like SweetGreen and Founding Farmers master this to excellence. They understand that we now operate in a world where the resources and systems that are available, are no longer only available for the big and mighty restaurant chains - it al comes down to your mindset and leadership approach and translates this into a strong culture. 

The evolution of technology has primarily made this gap smaller, and the movement of people between countries has changed the talent pipeline game. I recognise that financial muscle will always give you the speed of scaling, but won’t guarantee consistent operational standards, sales and profit in the same way that a strong culture will, year on year.

So what I am saying is that your culture is directly impacted by the leadership approach and mindset of leaders across the organisation, and even more by the top management. 

All the restaurant leaders I have met over the years are very different in their experience and the ways they are operating their businesses, but the successful ones I have met all had a fairly specific mindset....

The Window and Mirror mindset 

From my perspective, there are in broad terms two kinds of leadership mindset when it comes to deal with success and failure: The Window and the Mirror mindset.

The Window Mindset is defined by blaming the people, tools or systems for being the core reason for their team's or organisation's lack of results. They turn to the external environment or their people to find the reason for them not succeeding - they are looking out of the window instead of in the mirror.

A classic example of this kind of thinking is that when I work with leaders to improve their team or organisation, they comment that "there aren't enough good people and they don’t want to do their work properly", or "it’s too hard to compete in the existing market because of rising costs, etc.". Far from being the real reason, it is probably more a sign of their mindset and approach, which is not just impacting their performance, but also their team and organisation. 

As you probably already guessed, leaders with a Mirror Mindset look at themselves and ask questions to sharpen or replace what does not contribute to excellent performance. They face the facts and take full personal responsibility, when people, tools or systems are not working; they don't spend time on blaming or making excuses - they look in the mirror instead of the window and ask themselves; "what have I done to create this situation and how can I get fixed?”.  

They also often give the honour and praise to people in their team or organisation for the success that has been achieved. If they cannot find a person or team to give the praise, they often link it to pure luck - not themselves.

How to get a strong Mirror Mindset

Improving your mindset is a bit like training for a marathon: it takes lots of practice and discipline. 

I am a big believer that if you want to improve your performance on every level, you need to immerse yourself 100% and become dedicated, so I would advise any restaurant leader that wants to improve their leadership mindset to do the following:

  • to get a mentor or coach that has done it themselves in a restaurant environment
  • get new knowledge by reading books and attending relevant training events
  • ask yourself questions on a weekly basis to step up and reflect on your performance

Here are three questions to ask yourself to improve your Mirror mindset:

  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how good have I been at giving others (not myself) praise and recognition for the results we have achieved this week?
  • On a scale from 1 to 10, how well did I take responsibility for the things that did not go that well?
  • What will I do differently in the coming week?

I hope this will inspire you to take action - so now go out and be the leader you would want to be lead by. 


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