It all starts with a mindset, and one that's not the same as it's been for the past 50 years.

Our 50-year-old restaurant model doesn’t work. So many things have changed. For one, it’s no longer a badge of courage to work 70 hours a week. In the eyes of our younger colleagues, this idea that you have to sell your soul to the restaurant to be successful is just stupid. I have spent over 40 years working in restaurants. I would have never made it that long if I hadn’t figured out how to find the right pace and rhythm to not only be successful but to sustain through all of these years. I even had to auto-correct very early in my career. The restaurant industry is not a sprint. If you want a long and successful career, you must understand it’s a marathon.

Ideas we once shared about how to run a successful restaurant needed a major overhaul. I would argue that our model never worked. Our P&L model was destined to fail. We just winged it for 50 years. We didn’t have hundreds of years of history or data. We didn’t have the mentors that this new generation has access to. That’s why so many restaurants closed, restaurateurs quit, and few retire in the same industry. There were so few success stories. We didn’t have the road maps to success that exist today. We didn’t see the failure rate because it wasn’t tracked. But I have a feeling you already know that. You are reading this because you are tired of banging your head against the wall trying to figure out a better way.

Restaurant industry giants like Danny Meyer and Wolfgang Puck were two of the first true pioneers of our industry. I was fortunate enough to learn from them as I studied their success. Today, we have so many great leaders like Will Guidara, Matt Rolfe, Carl Orsbourn, Meredith Sandland, Bryan Meredith, Jensen Cummings, Shawn Walchef, David “Rev” Ciancio, Troy Hooper, Jay Ashton, Scot Turner, Alison Anne, Jim Taylor, Christian Fischer, Adam Lamb, Lauren Fernandez, Brian Proctor, Andrew Jones, Matt Plapp, Jason Berkowitz, Zack Oates, and so many others to learn from. Content is so readily available now through social media. Yet will our industry listen to these new voices of reason? Or will we continue to sprint to our doom?

There is a great business book called “Who moved My Cheese.” The book tells the story of a mouse and a miniature person living in a maze. Every day both the mouse and the miniature person would leave their spot and go through the maze to a certain spot to get their cheese. One day someone moved their cheese. Almost immediately the mouse begins to search through the maze looking for the cheese. The person, on the other hand, does everything but look. First, he continues to return to the spot where the cheese used  to be. He is in disbelief mode and thinks somehow this is just a bad dream or maybe someone will return the cheese. This is the place that a lot of restaurateurs still sit—stuck. 

I love this story because it identifies the two choices anyone faces in any situation. Do I accept the change and begin to find a solution to the problem? Or, like the miniature person, will I complain that my cheese is gone or pretend like it didn’t happen? What many industry people haven’t figure out is they moved our “cheese” a long time ago and like the little human, we keep hoping things will return to the way they were. Well, we aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto. 

Whether it’s a pandemic or just shifting of old models, we all face this tough decision. Will we continue to do the same thing expecting a different result (insanity) or will we accurately evaluate our situation and creatively look for solutions? I think that Covid has taught us that we need to be able to identify changes early and adapt to not only survive but thrive. 

If you have ever sailed, you know that you first determine your destination. Then, you plot your course. However, winds come along and you have to reset your sails. This is called tacking as you go back and forth catching the winds that will ultimately put you back on course to your destination. Setting new norms doesn’t always demand changing your destination (your goals). But it does sometimes demand changing course to catch the momentum and ultimately reach the same place. 

Hazards and distractions will always be around you. Like the winds causing the sails to tack, these hazards, distractions, and speed bumps will force you to choose between continually doing things the same way or adapting. Those that can’t adapt will fail. This requires the ability to shift your mindset. And once you shift that mindset you have to shift quickly. Changes are happening so fast right now that if you don’t adapt quickly, you will miss catching the wind. I surfed growing up. It’s the same as sailing: if you hesitate you will miss the next wave. 

As a restaurateur, only the successful will be able to shift mindsets quickly. Mindset is the biggest stumbling block you are going to face. It requires change. But that’s OK. Change can position you to be in a better place than you were previously. This change includes letting go of false beliefs and looking for new truths. It requires that you admit you may not know what to do and to seek out people that can help you.

Editor’s note: This is the 15th 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. And the 14th, on The Case for Hyper-Focused Menus, is here.

Expert Takes, Feature