Episode Summary

Our Labor Series continues with “The Restaurant Coach” who further validates that the restaurant industry is NOT suffering from a labor crisis, but rather a leadership, culture, and self-care crisis!
We explore these themes with our guest, Donald Burns, who discusses how self-care and empathetic leadership are so pivotal to improving restaurant cultures and teams — one employee at a time.
Donald is an author, speaker, and trusted restaurant expert who has helped countless brands and owners turn around their operations for the better. He has over 40 years of experience in the restaurant industry as a restaurant owner, consultant, and was even an executive chef for Wolfgang Puck!


🍽 Name: Donald Burns
🍽 What he does: Donald is the Founder and CEO of The Restaurant Coach.
🍽 Key Quote: “Just because that’s the way it’s been, it doesn’t mean it has to be the way we keep doing things… We need to progress. We need to evolve. We need to start looking openly and challenging some of the perceptions we have (in restaurants).”
🍽 Where to find Donald: LinkedIn
The Restaurant Coach Logo

Key Insights

🌶️ Outdated management styles no longer work.
The stick & carrot mindset that many restaurant operators use to lead their team is from the 50s & 60s. It’s basic (lazy) and outdated. Now is the time to think outside the box and lead with empathy rather than with punishments & incentives. Donald provides great examples of how to do this.
🌶️ People are not commodities.
Just increasing pay is not the solution for your employee woes. Owners and operators need to make the restaurant industry an attractive & viable option for people with positive working environments, flexibility for employees, and livable wages. Take care of your people, and they will take care of you!
🌶️ Mental health must be discussed more frequently.
As leaders, it is extremely important to frequently discuss mental health with your team. Look to help your team by providing them with the proper tools and resources to address any challenges they may be facing.
🌶️ Fixing culture is NOT a quick-fix, it takes time and the right attitude.
Improving culture isn’t a one-day or even one-month project. It’s a sustained effort that is implemented by you and fellow leaders in the organization that trickles down to your team.  

Episode Highlights

Culture is a Brand Differentiator
The common theme so far in our Labor Series is that current employee challenges in the restaurant industry are due to a lack of strong company culture within the space. Operators and brands need to turn that around. Positive, conducive company culture will actually make your brand stand out. It will not only attract talented workers, but it will also be a magnet for guests. Good energy is contagious. Donald gives a real-world example!
 “How does Chick-fil-A get those happy people? And I was like, ‘Well, they hire happy people. And then they treat them really great. And that’s when you end up with happy people.’ If you treat people well and you treat people like human beings, they tend to stay. They tend to like the work environment. Culture is the brand differentiator.”
Put People Before Products
Another common mistake that we see in the industry is that products usually come before people. This is where culture plays a key role. Restaurants need to showcase their culture and people more than products. This is what will eventually make them prevail as a strong, positive brand in the industry.
“Most restaurants do a great job of marketing their food… I can go on social media and point out a hundred different restaurants, and 99% of them are showing me pictures of their food, which if I’m hungry in that moment, that is going to make me go. But, how many restaurants do you know are showcasing or storytelling about their culture? Show me people working in a restaurant having a good time, show me why you’re the employer of choice.”

Top 10 Components of a
Unified Commerce Platform

Scroll to Top