Ultimate Restaurant Culture Workshop

Nov 18
Matthew Mabel speaking to TRA Marketplace crowd

What’s Your Culture?

Matthew Mabel of Surrender spoke at the 2019 TRA Marketplace about defining and honing your restaurant’s culture.

Before anyone begins to raise eyebrows: every restaurant has a culture, an owner or manager isn’t the culture, and you have to care about culture. Not caring about culture, or pretending as if it doesn’t exist are just excuses and isn’t beneficial.

If you’re not sure what company culture is, look to some of the best examples: Trader Joe’s, Southwest Airlines, REI, and Warby Parker. Each of those brands has a distinct culture that starts at the top, is emulated by the employees, and is tangible to customers.

During his workshop, Mabel broke down culture identification by answering four questions. Those four questions are then used once again to dream up your ideal company culture. Once you’ve got your reality and aspiration, you can work to successfully narrow the gap between the two.

What Do You Lead With?

Or, if you prefer: What is your single, biggest focus that contributes to success?

This question is designed to help restaurant owners focus in on the quality that makes them unique, while also contributing to their success.

It might be helpful to place yourself in the shoes of a first-time customer of your business. What words would they use to describe the feeling they get when they have a meal at your restaurant?

How Do You Treat Others?

There’s a maxim about humans: the way someone treats a service person is who they truly are.

As a business owner, the way you treat your employees and vendors is who you truly are. While your business depends on both employees and vendors, they’re also the parts of your business that can cause headaches. Treating your vendors and employees with respect, and not merely lip service, will define your restaurant culture.

On top of how you treat employees and vendors, examine how you treat customers. Customers pay your bills — they’re integral to the success of the business.

What Do You Contribute to Your Community?

When most people consider their contribution to community, they think of charity work. But, Mabel wants you to take this question a step further.

Contributing to your community examines both the jobs, and the gathering space that your restaurant provides.  

Ask yourself these questions to get started understanding your contribution to your community:

  • Who comes to your restaurant?
  • How long do they stay?
  • What types of employment do you offer to community members?
  • Who are you hiring for those roles?

What is the language you use?

The words we use to communicate are a very important tool in understanding your company culture and how you treat people.

For example, your words can empower your employees to take action. Encourage them that if they see something, they can handle it. They have that power.

Another powerful way in which language can change a culture is by asking, instead of telling. So, the next time you’re assigning a task to an employee ask them to complete the task instead of telling them to. It’s a small shift that shows your respect for your employees.

Aspire and Align

The above four questions should be used in two different ways. The first time you answer them, you want to provide true, honest answers about your business. Be a little tough on yourself here and provide an accurate picture of your company culture.

The second time you go through these questions, you answer them as you aspire your culture to be. You get to dream big and define the culture that you want your business to have.

Then, it’s time to find alignment. When you know what your culture is and what you want your culture to be, you can visualize the gap in between. Look at the gap and write down actionable steps you and your employees can take to create the company culture that you want for your restaurant.


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