The Mindset of a Restaurateur in a Time of Crisis

    We’ve made it this far. Now is the time to keep going.

    Wooden table with two cups of coffee on it.
    Unsplash/Luke Chester
    COVID-19 has pushed operators to their limits.

    Only special people become entrepreneurs and a particularly special class of people becomes restaurateurs. From the outside looking in, restaurants appear glamorous but we know they’re far from it. To own a restaurant or a restaurant company one needs to have creative vision, financial acumen, management ability, and extreme passion. The level of talent and passion within our industry—from the mom-and-pop shops to the independents and titans of the industry—never ceases to amaze me. One thing all restaurateurs have in common is a passion to serve others. That’s why most of us joined the hospitality industry in the first place—we enjoy making others happy.

    It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now. Stay-at-home orders continue to be delayed and no one knows how slowly life will return to normal in our cities. I’ve observed the impact on my peers both financially and mentally. We’re all facing hardship in different forms during this time but it will be important to remain mentally strong. While I’m far from perfect, I’ve focused a great deal of my energy on establishing the right mindsets to navigate this period. A strong and healthy mind is key during a time of crisis. Here are some ideas that I personally rely on and communicate to my team. 

    Control what we can control. Part of being a restaurateur is about finding ways to harness resources and control outcomes. Right now, much of the greater circumstance is out of our control. Minimize thinking about the conditions we cannot control and refocus your energy on what we do control. Work those levers with a relentless effort.

    Life isn’t fair. I’ve been through many challenges in life. When I was younger, as an entrepreneur, I struggled the most when I refused to accept difficult truths. The randomness of the why would torment me relentlessly. Once you accept life isn’t fair, you are able to move forward without emotional constraints. There is no greater suffering than the battle we wage against ourselves. When you reframe life’s challenges not as obstacles but as stepping-stones, we are able to make the right decisions.

    Approach your work with kindness. The restaurant community is amazing. During the worst crisis in the history of hospitality, most restaurants that continue operating have found a way to not only help their own staff and stakeholders but the greater community. When we focus on an effort beyond internal challenges, the positive momentum created often times resolves those issues. Learn from your restaurant community and create a strategy built on kindness that works for your company.

    Instead of focusing on your problems look for solutions to help others. We often forget there is no better momentum builder than helping others going through their own challenges. The positive feelings helping others generate serve as a catalyst to improve our own circumstances. We’ve experienced this time and time again. For example, a few years ago we integrated our nonprofit One Feeds Two model into our companies. Its mission is to provide a school meal to a child living in poverty for every meal we sell. The effect has been a huge motivator for our team. Children and schools are depending on us to succeed. The stakes are higher so we work harder. Business takes on a greater meaning and so does life.

    Get the trophy. We’ve made it this far. We’ve already been through countless difficult decisions, stress, anxiety, and other forms of hardship. Now is the time to keep going. Be rewarded for the pain. I’m certain the companies that emerge on the other side will have a world of opportunity before them.

    David Sloan is the co-founder and former CEO of Naf Naf Grill. David is currently the Managing Partner of Venture Kitchen. Venture Kitchen’s portfolio includes fine casual brands Blackwood BBQ, INVICTO, and Naansense. David is also the Co-Founder of nonprofit One Feeds Two