Defining your restaurant’s purpose gives team members direction, builds a company’s culture and attracts top talent and loyal fans.
By Lisa Bowen
Defining a restaurant’s purpose is important because it makes the dining experience about more than food. A purpose gives the team members direction, builds the company’s culture and attracts both top talent and loyal fans.
Those of us who have worked in the foodservice industry know that there are easier ways to make money than to open a restaurant, so there’s usually a greater purpose than merely turning a profit. I always recommend that restaurateurs go through the “What’s Your Why” exercise and ask themselves why they started their business, what gets them through the tough times and what’s their ideal end game. By consolidating this info, restaurant operators will have a clear vision of their value proposition, which is deeply connected to purpose.
We all appreciate restaurants with a story. That story doesn’t have to be philanthropic, but it must align with the values of the restaurant. A great example of brand with purpose is NaanStop. The owners use their mothers’ and grandmothers’ recipes to make authentic Indian food more accessible and more approachable with a fast-casual restaurant and a menu of customizable rice bowls, naan wraps and salads. Their purpose is to build a bridge to Indian food and culture.
Help! How Do I Find My Purpose?
Oftentimes restaurants struggle with defining their purpose and making it known. Here are a few ways to start gathering insight:
- The best place to start is simply by writing an elevator speech. What would you say if you only had two minutes to describe what your company stands for? Remember your purpose is not about financial goals. It’s the reason everyone cares about your brand beyond whether or not you make a profit.
- Gather feedback from employees and guests. One way to do that is ask staff members why they like working there. A helpful exercise is to hand out 3×5 cards to all employees and have them write three reasons they like working at the restaurant on one side and three things they think management can do better on the other side.
- Read and respond to online reviews and ask regular customers what keeps them coming back and what makes your restaurant different from the other options they could visit instead.
After compiling this information, restaurant operators must sit down and ask themselves how they would answer these same questions. If the answer doesn’t match those of staff and guests, then they may not be clearly articulating their restaurant’s purpose. If the answers do match, then a clear purpose has already been defined.
Play That Purpose on Repeat
Once a restaurant’s purpose has been clearly defined, it should be woven throughout all the organization’s communications, both internal and external:
- When interviewing prospective staff members, create questions to ensure alignment with the company’s greater purpose.
- When onboarding staff, include the company’s purpose in orientation meetings and training materials. From the job posting to the exit interview, language on the restaurant’s purpose and culture should be prominent.
- Help staff members find their purpose within or connected to the company’s purpose to help them find more fulfillment at work.
- Measure performance against the company’s purpose and reward employees who contribute to this purpose. This ensures all team members are on the same page when it comes to expectations and reasons for decision-making.
- Promote the company’s purpose with thoughtful and creative marketing.
I’ll never forget the Moe’s advertisements that once featured a bearded child to hammer home the fact they only use all-natural, hormone-free chicken. Moe’s emphasized their value proposition, and parents of young children, like myself at the time, really connected with it.
Purpose Drives Employee Retention and Guest Loyalty
In a recent study by global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, 62% of employees indicated they are seeking more purpose from their work.
Staff members who are connected to a company’s purpose are more engaged, more loyal and more likely to positively influence a guest’s dining experience. But this connection begins with education. Employees must know what a company stands for, what the company is trying to accomplish, what differentiates it from competitors and how the company’s owners will take care of their staff. The experience a guest has in a restaurant is directly related to the staff and speaks to the company’s higher purpose.
Purpose is the key driver to guest loyalty and brand reputation. People want to help businesses they believe in. Customer loyalty and employee retention lead to higher profit, which creates a more successful business. When a company’s purpose is at the core of its business operations, the company maintains a huge competitive advantage.
Purpose Guides Exploration into New Territories
Having a purpose also makes restaurateurs more creative and breeds innovation, which in turn leads to long-term sustainability. When a person believes so deeply in their business, they want more people to experience it.
From a restaurateur’s perspective, this could lead to developing consumer packaged goods that are available outside the restaurant, for example, a spice mix or bottled sauce sold in grocery stores. Restaurateurs may want to look at different service models such as a fast-casual option or a food truck that allows loyal customers to become more frequent consumers.
King of Pops is an excellent example of this exploration, as is Pei Wei Asian Diner, the fast-casual extension of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro. Of course, franchising and/or expanding to other markets offer additional options for exposing as many guests as possible to the restaurant concept.
An operator with a purpose, who can see their end game, will find it easier to overcome the short-term obstacles in front of them to reach those long-term goals. These operators don’t quit at the first sign of trouble because they know they can make a difference and truly believe their purpose is a meaningful one. It’s no wonder that a clearly articulated value proposition is a competitive advantage that investors find highly attractive. That innovative spirit is contagious!
The restaurant industry is competitive, and restaurants are changing at such a rapid pace to stay ahead of the curve; however, taking a step back and revisiting the core values and the reasons for getting up in the morning is crucial during times like these.
Owning restaurants isn’t for the faint of heart, and without some kind of higher-order purpose that goes beyond making a profit, it’s impossible to make it through the tough times. I highly recommend restaurant operators and business owners in general put time on the calendar once a week to stop and think about the joy that comes from what they do and why they haven’t picked a different industry.
Is it connecting with guests? Is it seeing a first-time customer try a new food for the first time and return to have it again? If this isn’t clearly articulated frequently, it can get lost in everyday chaos.
A 30-year restaurant industry veteran and corporate executive, Lissa Bowen has led operations, HR, recruiting, training, marketing and leadership development in companies like Applebee’s, O’Charley’s and FOCUS Brands. She is currently the Chief People & Culture Officer at Full Course and also serves as the Executive Director at the Full Course Foundation Learning Center (501c3).