How to Run a Family Owned Restaurant and Stay Sane

Let’s face it – the restaurant business is an emotional business.  Everyday you put your creation out there for everyone to evaluate, and you pray that people like it.  Pride in what you do drives strong emotions, and restaurant owners are often hurt easily and defensive.

Now add to that powder keg, husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters with years of emotional encounters both positive and negative. Stir in consistently long work hours and personal capital investment in the business, and you have a recipe for disaster.

But, there is a way to run a family restaurant business while staying sane and preserving your family all at the same time. 

In a nutshell, you just run it like a business. Follow these rules and all will be fine:

  1. Develop an Organizational Chart. Give all involved family members a title, list out all of their job responsibilities, make it clear who they report to and also who reports to them.  Don’t allow responsibilities to overlap – no two people can have the same job. If, as owners, you are working in the business daily, write schedules with in and out times and stick to them.


  1. Stay in Your Lane. Once you have been assigned responsibilities focus on results in those areas.  Don’t make decisions in areas that are not assigned to you or override the decisions of family members in their assigned areas.  Schedule weekly meetings where everyone can report on what they are doing, their successes and their challenges.  This is your opportunity to become involved in areas not assigned to you by offering advice, asking questions, and helping to find alternative solutions.  Once solutions are determined, this meeting is also a good place for everyone to understand how they will be implemented.  These regular meetings help everyone to stay on the same page and eliminate misunderstandings.


  1. Acknowledge Emotions. There is no way to completely take emotions and family dynamics out of the equation.  Acknowledge their existence and use them to your advantage. After all, your sister has been pushing your buttons all your life and your dad has always know when you are avoiding answering a question.  Call people out when you see these things, lead them away from these tendencies and toward solutions instead.   Acknowledge the way people feel and remind them that you are all on the same team. That family dynamic should make you stronger, not weaker.


  1. Speak and Listen. Never let things “fester.” Confront them immediately, not by “dumping” on your family members, but instead by scheduling a meeting and saying what’s on your mind.  If you are on the receiving end, you need to listen.  My favorite habit of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”by Stephen Covey is, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Listen carefully with the intention to understand how the person is feeling.  Repeat it back and wait for acknowledgement that you really received the message correctly, then work together to solve the problem.  Sometimes just knowing that someone heard and understood what you are going through is all that is needed to keep you moving forward.


  1. Celebrate. When you work together every day in a business that requires you to constantly change your priorities in an effort to make guests happy, it is really easy to focus on the negative. Always look for things that are going right and celebrate them together.  It may have been a painful shift, and you may be there at 2am with your dad mopping the floor thinking about everything that went wrong, but this is also a good time to remember that everyone loved your chicken pot pie special so much that you ran out and that they begged you to run it again next week.  It is also a good time to remember that your dad is actually your mentor and you have the honor of closing the restaurant with him.  Stop mopping, grab a scoop of ice cream for both of you and celebrate those things.


  1. Don’t Take it Home. This is good advice for any job. Work hard while you are at work and, when you finally get to come home, leave work at work.  Balance in life is even more important when you work with your family.  It may not happen until two weeks later on a Tuesday, but remember to still schedule Easter Dinner with the family.  Enjoy each other’s company and DON’T TALK ABOUT WORK.

There you have it – 6 simple rules to running a family restaurant business while staying sane and preserving your family relationships!

I am also the first to acknowledge there is nothing simple about it at all.  Families are complicated, and most family issues spring from failure to communicate properly.  People assume that their family members automatically understand what they are going through, and that assumption is almost always wrong.  In working with family-owned businesses, I have seen that success in following these rules not only strengthens the business relationship, but it also strengthens the family relationship.

Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

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