Bringing your children into the family business can be a professionally and personally fulfilling experience—when properly executed.

Jaimi St. John

Will Gardner

As I look back on my entrepreneurial journey, I can’t help but think about how much it’s meant to have my family along for the ride. From my early days as a server at the Angry Crab Shack in Mesa, Arizona, to running my own three locations, they’ve been a part of it all—and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My sons’ experience at Angry Crab Shack began when we attended the grand opening of the Phoenix location, which was owned by a friend. Before we’d even made it out of the parking lot, they asked when we could go back.

Today, all four of them work at my Happy Valley, Arizona, location. Bringing them on board was an easy decision—after all, many teenagers and young adults have their first jobs in the restaurant industry. Plus, the skills learned in foodservice are transferable into almost any other career path, from time management and exceptional interpersonal skills to understanding just how important excellent customer service is at any company.

But for all its rewards, working with your own children does come with its challenges. Below are five steps to help operators mitigate workplace conflict, strike the right balance between personal and professional, and reap the many benefits that can come from working with family.

Step 1: Set clear expectations

When it comes to onboarding employees, communication is key. This is even more important when they are also your kids. There needs to be a clear line between your familial relationship and your work relationship.

Historically, one of the hardest parts of working with relatives is two-fold: Not only is it critical to avoid giving them special treatment, it’s also crucial your family and other team members know that to be the case, too. I made it clear from the beginning that although my sons are family, I would be treating them like any other employee.

When they make mistakes, I hold them accountable and help them learn, just as I would for any of my workers. You will not be doing your kids any favors by putting them above workplace policies and procedures. Instilling a strong work ethic and encouraging them to take responsibility is what will ultimately help them succeed.

Step 2: Understand their vision may differ from yours

I love having my sons work at my restaurant, but I know they have their own dreams, too. Ranging in age from 17 to 26, they’re still finding themselves. It’s important to remind yourself that your vision for your kids may not always align with theirs—and theirs matters a whole lot more.

If they choose to remain in the restaurant industry, I will be proud to have taught them all that I know. If they decide to pursue a different path, I will be equally as proud of them for following their passions.

After all, I had a few different career pivots before becoming an entrepreneur. Prior to opening my first Angry Crab Shack, I worked at the University of Phoenix and in solar sales. It took me some time to figure out what truly made me happy, but everything I learned in my previous jobs led me to where I am today.

Step 3: Build an encouraging environment

When you bring your kids into your business, be sure to put yourself in their shoes. Starting any job is exciting, but it can also be intimidating—especially if your new manager is also your dad.

Have open conversations. Check in with them often, just as you would with any other employee. Find out more about their strengths and aspirations.

If they are interested in trying something new, do what you can to help them. Being a father and a manager doesn’t have to mean special treatment. It just means believing in and encouraging them as you would in any other job.

Step 4: Learn from them, too

Despite my long history in the restaurant industry and my current role as a multiunit Angry Crab Shack owner, I’ve come to find that working with my sons has taught me many valuable lessons.

When it comes to business, it’s important to see things from different perspectives. Just as learning from them has made me an even better father, it has also made me a better businessman and manager to all my employees.

My sons’ generations make up the majority of today’s restaurant workforce, so they are the future. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s how important it is to be open and flexible. Those who embrace change and are willing to listen to their employees will succeed the most.

Step 5: Lean on one another

As your kids get older, family time is harder to come by. I’m thankful to have a close relationship with my sons, and there’s nothing better than getting to work together. The mutual support we’ve had for one another throughout my entrepreneurial journey continues to motivate us, and it will forever be an important part of our father-son dynamic.

If you’re thinking of bringing your kids into your restaurant business, I would start by sitting them down to go over what you need to do to make it work, how it may affect your family dynamics, and how you can make sure that working together will only make your relationship stronger.

Will Gardner is the franchise owner of three Angry Crab Shack locations in Arizona. Prior to becoming a multiunit franchisee, Gardner worked nearly every role within a restaurant’s four walls, ranging from dishwasher to bartender. After starting as a server at Angry Crab Shack and taking a brief hiatus to work in sales, he became a partner in the Happy Valley location in 2019, followed shortly by two additional Arizona locations in San Tan Valley and Casa Grande.

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