Starting at the Core: The Importance of Core Values

Starting at the Core:

The Importance of Core Values

The other night at one of our restaurants a young family had just come to the end of an enjoyable dinner experience for their family.  The server had done a fantastic job.  All food arrived on time and all orders were exactly the way they had been placed; even the complicated vegetarian order from the family’s young teenage daughter.  Adorable girl.  The family had praised their server and their experience to the manager at a point close to the end of the meal.  The manager could tell that this was a genuinely enjoyable evening and that dining out as a family wasn’t a weekly event for this family, but possibly more of a monthly or bi-monthly occurrence.  The server was of the personality that truly enjoyed delivering a memorable experience, so it was good to receive the positive feedback.  All roads were pointing to the creation of a great memory for the family.  At the conclusion of the meal the server dropped the check and said that she would be happy to take care of it whenever they were ready.  Moments later she returned and could see dollar bills poking their way out of the check presenter.  The server informed the guests that she would return in just a few moments with their change.  The content family let her know that no change was needed and they all exchanged big smiles and gratitude for the experience.  Upon returning to the server station, the server began counting the money that was left for the tab and found that a $100 bill was stuck to one of the $20 dollar bills.  Without the inclusion of the extra $100 the tab had been covered and a very generous tip was left.  The server instantly knew that the stuck $100 bill was not intentional.  She was instantly faced with a moral dilemma … to return the money, or to keep it?  Who would ever know?  Only she knew that a mistake had been made.  Moments later the server catches the still smiling family as they are walking out the door and hands them the $100 bill.         

We all want to believe that our restaurants are built of teams that all possess a great set of internal values that drive their decision making.  But how do you really know whether the values you want to believe exist within your restaurant are actually there?  The only way to know for sure is to put them there.

One important fact to remember is that our restaurants are entities of their own.  And like any entity, they have their own unique and individual purpose.  That purpose is driven by a set of core values, in the same way that any individual’s purpose is driven by a set of morals or values.  But we, as the business owners and leaders, have to define those values and then ensure that the values are not simply known by the teams that run the restaurants, but that they are living and breathing day by day.

Often, restaurant owners will try and retro in a set of business values based on the characteristics of the individuals that they select to their management team(s).  Essentially, the values and culture are determined by the values and culture set forth by the GM’s unique personal values. For example, if the GM is always 30 minutes early to work, then punctuality could become a de facto core value.  Whereas punctuality is not a bad thing, it may not be a true driver of the business or as strong as Integrity, Commitment or Passion in terms of deep and meaningful core values.  And then what happens when the GM moves on to another opportunity? A new GM arrives that believes coming in 15 minutes early for a shift is more than sufficient.  Now culture confusion sets in because the values of the restaurant were tied up in the exiting GM’s characteristics.  They were not clearly defined and attached to the restaurant. Therefore, the restaurant’s values begin to shift with the passing of each leadership team.  The long term result of this is often cultural paralysis that leads to high turnover and eventually a fractured and unidentifiable brand in your marketplace.

Successful restaurant owners will begin with their brand’s visual identity to the public (both potential team members and guests) in mind, and then work backwards.  They relate their restaurant entity to themselves.  They ask themselves, “If the restaurant was a standalone person, how would it want to be viewed?  How would it want others to perceive it?  Would it want the world to see it as honest?  Consistent?  Reliable?  Passionate?  Committed to excellence?  What makes it a brand people will believe in?  Why would a guest return, and moreover, why would they recommend it to someone else?”

From there, 3-5 core values are established that clearly define the restaurant’s purpose.  These core values are then etched in stone for the life of the restaurant.  They become the foundation for the culture that will grow to support that unique and individual purpose.   All managers will be recruited and hired based on their alignment to these core values.  The best fit managers will be those who already embody the same values in their own personal lives.  This makes value alignment much easier.  All of their future decision making for the restaurant will then pass through the filter of the restaurant’s core values.

Now a team of 3-5 leaders (managers) will develop a “culture-fit” hiring process that empowers them to recruit and hire staff members that also embody the same values as the restaurant.  Once a full staff is aboard, and all have taken up the cause of the restaurant as their own; over time, through constant reinforcement of the core values, a sustainable culture which is rooted in those simple, yet powerful values will be what defines the restaurant’s brand out in the market.  If successfully executed, what emerges is a customer base that is grounded by the same values. People who believe in the same set of values traditionally support each other.  Alignment now exists from the founders of the restaurant brand, all the way through the business, to the guests dining at each table.

If your ultimate goal is for your restaurant to be known as a reliable place which guests can trust to deliver a consistent experience every visit, and prompt them to share their experience with their friends and family, generation after generation, then you have to start at the core.

If you would like more information on Restaurant Consulting Services provided by Caprock, please feel free to email Zach Hopkins at

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