Many people think of a restaurant as the physical property, the décor and ambience of the dining room, and the space or location that the place occupies. In truth, the restaurant is much more ethereal. It is the food and service, of course, but more importantly it is the attitude and commitment of the staff – both back and front of the house that change a space into a “restaurant”. The parallel is when a house becomes a home – that transition that takes place when people contribute to the feel, the history, and the standards of community that exist within a house.
I have given considerable thought to this topic and through a process of reflecting back on the places where I have worked and the places where I have dined, I am certain that the analogy is correct. Those operations that truly aspire to become a restaurant are those with the core beliefs, the passion for excellence, and the commitment to never waver from the standards and the philosophy of the operation and those who feel connected to it.
When an operation loses sight of the importance of the people and their alignment with and dedication to the standards that allow the restaurant to emerge, then the benefits of a robust business are seldom seen. To this end it is essential to adopt a certain over-riding strategy that transitions the house into a home – a building into a restaurant. On the other hand – when you walk into a restaurant that is clicking on all cylinders – it is evident that they are employee centric and everyone takes pride in the role that they play.
This is what I believe to be necessary for an operation to truly become a restaurant:
 A STRONG BELIEF STRUCTURE AND OPERATIONAL PHILOSOPHY
Look at the restaurants that everyone talks about and you will find that the concept is based, to a large degree, on a strong operational philosophy that is shared by everyone involved. It might be a focus on food ingredient integrity, a commitment to exceptional service, community involvement, or strong connections with a style of cooking, but something is part of the restaurants culture that unifies all the players and is evident to the guest. This is the soul of the operation.
“Every restaurant needs to have a point of view.”
 HIRE TO THE BELIEFS AND THE PHILOSOPHY
In order to perpetuate this “feel” these restaurants invest considerable time in selecting staff members who share in this philosophy and who view the restaurant as a vehicle for them to demonstrate this shared philosophy. Those who do not share in this belief structure will never last.
 INVEST IN THE PLAYERS
Those operations that strive to become a true restaurant dedicate resources to improving the skill set and the lives of their staff members. Fair pay and benefits, continuing education, and even opportunities for individuals to build their personal brand with help from the restaurant.
 COMMUNICATE THE VISION AND THE RESULTS
Great communicators drive true restaurants. Decisions are openly shared and explained, there is transparent sharing of financial performance, and solicited input from all staff members is normal business in true restaurants. To some degree, this same type of communication is offered to guests in an effort to create restaurant loyalty.
 LISTEN AND LEARN
True restaurants encourage staff members to offer input, share their ideas, concerns, and frustrations, and then digest this information as a learning process. It is evident to staff members that their input is welcome.
 CONSISTENT SEARCH FOR EXCELLENCE
True restaurants are in constant pursuit of excellence. They do not accept mediocrity in any form and never allow anything but best effort to be evident to guests. As a result, every staff member – front and back of the house, is expected to emulate this attitude of excellence in everything that they do – regardless of how small the task might seem.
True restaurants encourage and set the stage for staff members to feel and act like owners. This is “their” restaurant and everything that leaves the kitchen, the bar, or the servers hand must carry that staff member’s invisible signature. As a result, when the restaurant succeeds, so to do the staff members succeed with positive financial implications for all.
 SOMETHING BIGGER THAN THE INDIVIDUAL
In these restaurant operations, staff members, management, ownership, and even guests feel that their involvement goes beyond that of a job or a paying guest – their support of this business represents a connection to something bigger – they feel that they are making a difference. This difference may be due to a connection with the philosophy, or even the result of how a guest or coworker feels about the experience of dining.
 EVERY PLATE COUNTS
Cooks who work in these restaurants know that each plate that leaves the kitchen is a reflection of the operations philosophy and reputation, a reflection of each fellow employee’s personal brand, and a direct connection to their impact on the guest experience. Every plate must live up to this standard – no excuses. Proper methods of cooking are adhered to, established plate presentations are revered, and even the simplest dish is cared for as if it were the most important plate of food that they ever prepared. Those who transport that plate to the table, the individuals who proudly announce it to the guest, and the sommelier or bartender who recommends the perfect pairing, share this dedication and care. Every plate counts.
“The way you make an omelette reveals your character.”
― Anthony Bourdain
Working in a real restaurant is a pleasure. When you walk through the back door with a smile on your face – ready for work and proud to be there, this is what initially attracts good people to this business and keeps them coming back day after day. As we look at the tangible issues of retention (pay and benefits) it is also important that operators work hard to create the environment that keeps employees, management, and guests engaged and content. This is the foundation of a successful business – a true restaurant.
PLAN BETTER – TRAIN HARDER
Harvest America Ventures, LLC
Restaurant Consulting and Training
***PHOTOS by Chef Curtiss Hemm of Pink Ribbon Cooking http://www.pinkribboncooking.com. Food by Chef Paul Sorgule.