Something universal about successful restaurant owners is they never say or accept someone saying to them, “I can’t!” Successful restaurant owners recognize that when someone says, “I can’t,” what they are really saying is, “I won’t.” To get an idea of how powerful this two-word phrase is, picture Superman stopping a train, using all his power, digging his heels into the ground, smoke rising up from his heels. That is what someone who says, “I can’t,” is doing to your restaurant. That person is digging in their heels and stopping your success train.

One specific example of a restaurant owner who accepts “I can’t” as an answer is one who attends one of my workshops and goes home motivated to make changes in the business. Instead of coming back to employees and managers excited for change and a chance at greater success, they are greeted by a chorus of employees and managers telling them they are too busy, their restaurant is different, it’s too much work, etc. Ultimately, I get a phone call from the owner saying, “David, I love your systems, but I CAN’T get my managers to do the work.” OMGoodness! Who signs their paychecks?

Listen to that statement when I change just two words, “David, I love your systems, but I WON’T make my mangers do the work.” Isn’t that what the owner is really saying to me?

Other popular ways to say “I can’t:”

  1. I can’t (won’t) raise my prices.
  2. I can’t (won’t) cut labor.
  3. I can’t (won’t) change my menu.
  4. I can’t (won’t) find the time.
  5. I can’t (won’t) leave my business.
  6. I can’t (won’t) let someone else place the orders.
  7. I can’t (won’t) have someone else take my inventories.
  8. No! (I won’t do it!)

I have also been on site in a restaurant and had many teams, managers and chefs look me dead in the eye and say, “It can’t be done that way.” All they really did was look me in the eye and say “No, I am not going to do it, nor am I going to try.”

So, what do you do when you hear that phrase coming out of your mouth, your manager’s mouth or an employee’s mouth?

  1. You ask the person to rephrase their statement and say it back to you using the words “I won’t” instead of “I can’t.” Try it—it’s powerful!
  2. Then you need to explain to that person (or yourself) that you don’t want to hear the words I can’t. In fact, tell them you don’t want to hear why something can’t be done, but how it can be done.

I understand that sometimes the solution the owner or manager comes up with might be too expensive, might take too much time, might change the way things are done, but it’s better to experiment with these options than just digging in your heels and saying, “No, I won’t do the work!”

That’s not to say that a now-successful restaurant owner didn’t start out in a challenging situation, or that it didn’t take them years to get it right. In fact, in most cases, the successful restaurant owners I know put up with a lot of “I won’t” attitude before they figured out what it was doing to their businesses. That means you can have their type of results if you’re willing to lead the change and ensure people are doing the work.

Successful restaurant owners are where they are today, no matter how quickly or slowly they got there, because they all decided not to accept the words “I can’t” from themselves or anyone that works for them. They lead the changes in their restaurant and are willing to change an employee into a customer if that employee wants to stop progress, stop change and simply doesn’t want to do the work. While an employee may have done a great job in the past, for the company to move forward, restaurant owners must have people on the team who buy into and embrace the changes being made, even if it is a challenge.

Don’t let the phrase “I can’t” become a success train stopper in your restaurant. Teach everyone to tell you how it can be done, hold people accountable and lead your team. This is how results are achieved.

David Scott Peters is a restaurant consultant, event speaker and founder of, a company committed to the success of independent restaurants. offers an exclusive online restaurant management software designed specifically to meet the complete operational needs of independent operators, including holding their managers accountable and running a profitable business. Combined with one-on-one coaching and group workshops, is helping independent restaurants find success in the highly competitive restaurant industry. Download a free report to discover the #1 secret to lowering food and labor costs and running the independent restaurant you’ve always dreamed of. Learn more about how David can help you at
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