4 Qualities Restaurant Owners & Managers Must Have

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There are some qualities that restaurant owners and managers must possess to be successful. Not everyone naturally has these qualities, but they can be learned. You’ve seen me tutor restaurant owners on Restaurant:Impossible towards these qualities: leadership, attitude, flexibility and efficiency.

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I never know what I’m going to encounter when I arrive at a restaurant makeover on Restaurant:Impossible. Literally, I have no idea what’s in store for me until I get there. Some restaurant owners have been in the business for years and stuck in their ways. Others don’t have enough experience to realize what it really takes to keep a restaurant open.

Whether I’m helping foodservice veterans or novices, there’s a set of qualities they must hone to advance their restaurants. Today I want to touch on 4 qualities or traits I believe every restaurant owner or manager needs to have in order to succeed.


It still amazes me that many who call themselves managers (whether they’re the owner or not) don’t really know how to manage people. We all know the old saying “lead by example” and that’s a good starting point.

I did a fun exercise to demonstrate leadership with Jamie, the owner of Hillbillies in Murphy’s, CA. Did you see that Restaurant:Impossible episode? Jamie has a heart of gold but no leadership skills. Her waitstaff was walking all over her and not listening to her. They showed her very little respect and Jamie suspected employee theft. Jamie’s lack of leadership and control had lead to petty infighting amongst employees. I told her “this is your first leadership lesson: they either get in line or get out”.

Jamie needed to learn how to get her staff to respond to her leadership by giving them specific directions. I told her she needs to give clear direction and follow through with consequences.

To demonstrate this quality, I set up an obstacle course and Jamie had to lead her servers through the course with only her verbal instructions. The servers were then blindfolded. “Show me you are the leader of your restaurant” I said to Jamie.

At first, Jamie’s direction to her blindfolded servers was wishy-washy and not forceful enough. After a few tries, Jamie had to lead Jessikah (Hillbillies most disrespectful server) through the course. With concise directions, Jamie instructed blindfolded Jessikah to walk to a table, pick up a stack of pizza boxes, turn around, walk to another location and place the boxes in the middle of a table. Success! Then Jamie’s words lead Jessikah to another table where she had to blindly fill a glass with water from a pitcher. We placed eggs on the ground, requiring Jamie to get really detailed with her instructions so they wouldn’t step on the eggs.

She did it! Jamie felt empowered and told her staff “I promise to steer you right”.


Attitude is everything, right? Without passion, excitement, positivity and energy you can’t successfully manage a restaurant. Actually, you probably won’t find success in any industry if you don’t have the right attitude.

In a recent Restaurant:Impossible episode, I worked with Steve who co-owns (with his wife) Mill Creek BBQ in Redlands, Ca. Steve had lost his mojo and passion for the restaurant. He seemed like he just didn’t care anymore. Actually, I know he cares, but because the restaurant was failing, he was tired and frustrated. He was on the verge of giving up.

Steve’s attitude had become one of defeat and his staff picked up on that. Leading by example starts with attitude. If you’re not excited and passionate about your restaurant, you can’t expect your employees to be enthusiastic. A bad attitude is like the flu — it’s contagious!

On the flip side, a great attitude is also mirrored in your staff. And in your customers. As the owner or manager of a restaurant, you need to keep in mind that your staff will emulate what you do and how you feel. Give them a great example of a positive attitude and they will do the same.


Flexibility is the opposite of being stubborn. And I’ve I my share of stubborn restaurant owners on Restaurant:Impossible! By flexibility, I don’t mean changing your menu every week or giving in to the whims of your staff. I’m talking about not getting set in your ways and realizing that if your demographics change, you need to change with them.

Take the Coach Lamp Restaurant and Pub for example. Owners Bill and Gail were adamant about keeping their high-priced, white tablecloth restaurant as is, even though they had few customers. They refused to believe their steep prices and stuffy atmosphere was not appealing.

Bill was incredibly stubborn and resistant to change. His stubbornness was getting in the way of his success. Bill wouldn’t listen to my advice. I walked down the street to a bustling restaurant and asked folks why they like it and why they didn’t frequent the Coach Lamp. These folks were open and honest and I came away with constructive feedback for Bill. But he refused to believe what people in his community really wanted from a restaurant.

So, I took the situation to the next step: a focus group. This was a first on Restaurant:impossible. The group was very direct and I took the information back to Bill and Gail. Their egos and inability to admit their failures stood in the way of success. I was feeling frustrated and said “If you don’t see what I’m trying to do here, I can’t help you!” Thankfully, by the second day, they were willing to make changes.

Refusal to change, or fear of change, is the downfall of many restaurants. You need to understand your competition and what your community wants and be willing to make adjustments. Clinging to ideas that are outdated or unwanted is not a recipe for success! Stay a step ahead of your competition by being flexible to the wants and needs of your prospective customers and community.


I wrote a blog for Easy Ice about efficiency last month. Bottom line: Use your time wisely! Don’t waste time on things that don’t set you apart from your competition. Inefficiency in how you run your restaurant will cost you time and profits. Creating processes and standards will help you become more efficient.

Bringing Easy Ice into my restaurants has aided in efficiency. My managers don’t have to spend time dealing with the ice machines — Easy Ice owns them and takes care of them for me.  That’s efficient!

Flexibility, attitude, leadership and efficiency can be learned and need to be nurtured. By mastering these elemental qualities, anything is possible!

Our team is available to help you get started today!

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