It's time to learn how to work on your business instead of in your business.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth 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.

In 1994, I started my restaurant management career. In 2000, I hit a wall. I burned out, went through a divorce, and was exhausted. Looking back, I now realize that I had been on full sprint working nonstop at a pace that would not be sustainable. During those first six years, there were months I worked six, 12–15 hour days a week.

Running a restaurant is a marathon not a sprint.

There will be times when sprinting is necessary. Starting a new position and getting up to speed, busy holiday weekends, or being understaffed can put you on full sprint. But if you are going to have a sustainable career in the hospitality industry, you must understand that most of the time you need to be in marathon mode, pacing yourself for the long haul.

You don’t have to work 70 hours a week to be successful in the restaurant business. In fact, I would say if you are working 70 hours a week, you will most likely burn out like I did. 

But, even if you don’t burn out, there is no way you will be doing your best work if you are exhausted. There is no way you will be doing your best work if your home life sucks. 

If your home life sucks, you can’t focus at work. Then, when you can’t focus at work, you begin to slip. Then your work life sucks and to keep up you bring your work home. Then the cycle continues. Your home life sucks …

About 15 years ago, I started doing these things to make sure I never burned out. Here is a list of six things to help you stay in the game:

  • 1. Get enough sleep: This seems obvious, but we think, “hey we are in the food and beverage industry so why not go grab a drink [or 4] after work.”
  • 2. Organize your day: It’s easy to get sidetracked and get very little done and then work longer to make up for your disorganization. Each morning, write down your daily focus with the big things first.
  • 3. Work in spurts: Try not to work on the same thing for more than an hour at a time. By changing up what you are working on you use different parts of your brain and you don’t get drained.
  • 4. Delegate: Don’t do it all. We all need support. (See my next column on delegation). 
  • 5. Exercise: Nike motto, “Just Do It.”
  • 6. Unplug to Replenish: You should take at least one day a week to clear your head. You should also take a vacation every six months. Replenishing is more about restoration of soul and mind than resting the body.

During COVID, we began to figure this out. Today, 50 hours is the “New Norm.” When I was the director of operations for Tomkats, I ran four restaurants with a combined annual gross sales of over $50 million. And I did it working 50 hours a week. It can be done.

But, here is a thought. Why did we settle on that number? Why 50-hour work weeks? Can’t we accomplish the same success working five nine-hour days instead of five 10-hour days? How much more do you really get done working that extra hour a day.

Or, call me crazy, what about four 10- or 11-hour days? Or, why not work 40–45 hours a week? If you are an owner, what about running your restaurant remotely? 

One of my coaching clients, David and Tashia Bailey, did just that. When I started working with them, they were running a very successful restaurant. And they had a great track record before that. David was the founding partner of Pies & Pints and Tashia had gone to culinary school and worked under some great chefs. 

Their restaurant Secret Sandwich Society was doing well. But, they were working IN the business every day instead of ON the business. Then, when they got home, they talked about work all night. They have two beautiful boys that they never saw. 

Their first 90-day goal was to just be able to get two days a week off, spend more time with their boys, and be husband and wife instead of business partners when they were home. 

So we started working on two things: people and processes. These are two of the five pillars I believe you must master if you want to be a successful restaurateur and they are the main pillars if you want to try and create some sort of work/life balance. 

They started taking two days off a week. Then they started working three days a week.

Today, the Baileys run their restaurant remotely from another state. They have brought on an investment and operations group that is going to scale their business to multiple locations while they hang out with their boys. 

And, they were able to do it because THEY DIDN’T WORK 70 HOURS A WEEK. They learned how to work ON their business instead of IN their business. They did it. I did it. And, so can you.

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees, Leader Insights