The brands that will not only survive but crush the 'new normal' are the ones that understand that their brand and commodities are people. 

I heard someone recently say, “we are in the people business,” as if this was a  new concept. Duh! Over 30 years ago, our industry went from the “food and beverage” industry to the “hospitality” industry. We changed the name of our industry, but 99.9 percent of all restaurant managers and owners missed the significance of that name change. It was the pivot where we were now associated with people instead of product. We shifted from serving PRODUCT to serving PEOPLE. 

Unfortunately, those 99.9 percent who missed that significance never made the shift to understanding that we are in the “people” business … not the “food and beverage,” product, business.

I heard a business story about two men sitting next to one another on an airplane. During the conversation they learned that one worked for Timex and one worked for Rolex. The one who worked for Timex said, “That’s really cool that we are both in the time business!” The man who worked for Rolex said, “I don’t work in the time business. I work in the luxury business.” 

It’s important to know what business you are in and who your potential customers are. It’s important to know why your guests come to you. Unfortunately for our industry, most restaurant owners and managers focused on the wrong thing for the past 30 years. They focused on product over people. This mistake almost destroyed our industry. 

Our new focus on people began to become popular in the new millennium. Suddenly, everyone was talking about hospitality and how it applied to the guest. For those of us fortunate to catch on back then—that our industry is about people—have done very well. My restaurants in the 2000s all crushed it. I had multiple best of awards at all the restaurants I led.

Today, we serve people not food. I love this concept. It tells the true story that service is about people not product. The product is what we serve. The people are who we serve. These people, as stated before are our employees, our guests, our vendor partners, and our community.

Early in my career as a young manager with an A-type personality,  I was so focused on the task and the result that I would run through people to accomplish my goals. Then I learned that my success was due to people and that as my friend, Matt Rolfe’s title of his book says, “You can’t do it alone.” Do yourself a great service and pick up his book. It’s a must read.

Fortunately for me, in 2012, I shifted my focus of people by making my team a priority over the guest. It took COVID for most of the rest of the industry to take a serious look at how we were treating our employees. The brands that will not only survive but crush the “new normal” are the ones that understand that their brand and commodities are people. We serve people not food and beverage.

Editor’s note: This is the 11th 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. And the 10th, What Culture Do You Really Want at Your Restaurant?, is here.

Expert Takes, Feature, Labor & Employees, Leader Insights