Some of my greatest successes in my career have been turning around a horrible experience that we created.

My San Francisco 49ers just clinched a spot in the Super Bowl this past Sunday by beating the Detroit Lions. But it was a nerve-racking first 40 minutes of the game. At the end of the first half, they were losing 24–7. Then, they scored 20 unanswered points to take the lead 27–24. The final score was 34–31 and my beloved 49ers moved on to the Super Bowl.

So, what was the difference? Both the 49ers and the Lions prepared all week for the game. Both performed at the top level of execution most of the game. The difference was when they played brilliantly. When it comes to sports, it is far less important how you start the game compared to how you finish. You could play brilliantly throughout three quarters of play, only to lose at the last second or in overtime. A win is a win, and a loss is a loss.

It is the same in restaurants. We must prepare in advance to create a phenomenal service. This includes hiring great people and training and scheduling them for success. It includes writing a masterful menu that provides a great guest experience as well as profitability for your restaurant. Being prepared means properly ordering and prepping your mise en place. Preparation is definitely very important. But it isn’t enough.

We must also execute at the highest level possible. In addition to preparation, our success is determined by how well we perform at game time (meal service). We must be laser-focused on the things most important to create high performance.

However, because we are human, there will be moments when we are less than brilliant. This is just part of life whether in sports, running restaurants, or in anything else. Our bodies and minds aren’t capable of executing at the highest level every waking hour of every day. And it is when we are at that point where we aren’t at our best that defines whether we win or lose.

In the case of running a restaurant, there will be a guest at some point who is having a horrible experience whether it is your fault or just their perception. However, unlike sports it doesn’t matter if it’s reality or the guest’s perception. We failed in their eyes. How we finish determines our ultimate failure or success.

Turning a bad guest experience around is an art. Some, like the 49ers in the NFC championship crush it. Others don’t. What matters most when creating guest experiences is how the guest felt when they left not when they got your restaurant. They may in fact, come in already in a bad mood. They may have just received some bad news regarding a loved one’s health. They may have not gotten that promotion. Maybe they just found out their spouse wants a divorce. We are never responsible for how they feel entering the restaurant. However, we are responsible for how they feel when they leave.

Some of my greatest successes in my career have been turning around a horrible experience that we created. One time when I was managing a Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, we got behind in the kitchen and a party of six had an hour long ticket. The host of the table got up and cussed me out right in the middle of the dining room. It was humiliating. Anyone else ever been there? I had completely failed this guest. I apologized to the host and then went to expedite the food out as quickly as I could. I apologized again and then comped the check. 

The host of the party became one of my most important VIPs and followed me to every restaurant that I ran the rest of my tenure in Nashville. While I failed miserably in the beginning, our restaurant won in the end and our victory was turning a loss into a winning the 4th quarter.

In my own career, I experienced my share of wins and losses. Within the first four years of my management career, I rose from a rookie, who knew nothing, to a general manager for Wolfgang Puck. I experienced burnout and divorce, but I rose out of the ashes to remarry a phenomenal woman and run multiple successful restaurants as a director of operations. My position was eliminated during COVID but now I am an executive restaurant coach, author, speaker, and trainer. I win because I finish strong, not because I don’t make mistakes.

If you are struggling, and you feel like you are losing, remember, there are peaks as well as valleys, and a loss isn’t a loss until the game is over and the score is not in your favor. Until then, keep pushing. Get up when you are knocked down. Learn from your mistakes. If you do, you will be a champion because you will finish the game on top just like my 49ers.

Just like in sports, everyone who wins in business has a coach. If you want to turn mistakes into wins and you need help, book a FREE call with me to see how my coaching might help by clicking the link below.

Editor’s note: This is the 31st article in a new column from restaurant expert Monte Silva. More on the series can be found here. The first story, on Why Underpaying Restaurant Employees is a Recipe for Disaster, is here. The second, on Why Marketing is Not Expensive, is here. The third, on people-centric leadership, is here. The fourth, on Why Working 70-Hour Weeks in Your Restaurant is Not the Answer, is here. The fifth, on How to Provide Hospitality in a High-Tech, Low-Touch World, is here. The sixth, on ‘The Convertible Culture’ in Restaurants, is here. The seventh, on Why the Old P&L Model Has Set Restaurants Up for Failure,’ is here. The eighth, on How to Scale Your Restaurant Business When There is Only One of You, is here. The ninth article, The Secret to Finding and Keeping Great Employees is Not Difficult, is here. The 10th, What Culture Do You Really Want at Your Restaurant?, is here. The 11th, on Your Restaurant Should Serve People, Not Product, is here. The 12th, on Don’t Let Shiny New Toys Distract Your Restaurant from What’s Most Important, is here. The the 13th, on Why Restaurant Value Shouldn’t Be Based on Price, is here. The 14th, on The Case for Hyper-Focused Menus, is here. The 15th, This is How Your Restaurant Will Survive Beyond 3 Years, is here. The 16th, on The Difference Between a Restaurant Coach and Consultant, is here. The 17th, What is a Restaurant Tech Stack, and How Do You Know if You Built the Right One? is here. The 18th, You Can’t Make Someone Accountable if You Haven’t Made Them Responsible, is here. The 19th, Memo to Restaurants: Service and Hospitality are Not the Same Thing, is here. The 20th, Why a Penny Saved in a Restaurant is Not Always a Penny Earnedis here. The 21st, on Why You’re Never Too Old for Greatnessis here. The 22nd, Why Consistency is the Only Way to Keep Your Restaurant Openis here. The 23rd, on The Restaurant Industry Doesn’t Have a Labor Shortage—It Has a Leader Shortageis here. The 24th, Are Restaurant Employees Today Entitled? is here. The 25th, Should Hotels Rethink How They View Restaurants?is here. The 26th, Five Priorities Operators Must Follow to Successfully Run a Restaurant, is here. The 27th, Why Your Restaurant Needs an ‘Abundance Mindset’ in 2024, is here. The 28th, You Can’t Run a Successful Restaurant Without Persistence, is here. The 29th, Why Investing in Yourself as a Leader is the Best Way to Grow Your Restaurant, is here. And the 30th, Gaining Momentum and Why Restaurant Success Grows with Time, is here.

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees, Leader Insights