By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC
Good to Great was a breakthrough book a few years ago written by author Jim Collins.
Part of the premise is that far too many individuals, businesses and large companies
find it perfectly acceptable to strive for good, and even accept mediocrity as a fall
back on occasion. Great seems to be far too much to ask, especially if those on the
receiving end are also comfortable with the alternative.
Contrary to this level of acceptance there are enough individuals, businesses and
companies now that refuse to accept anything less than great and invest the time
necessary to stay on that course. These great, or soon to be great, individuals and
companies quickly become the benchmarks that others are judged against. In the
end mediocrity in a free market becomes more difficult to maintain than a pursuit
Greatness is never, and can never be a goal. Greatness is a way of thinking and
acting that must become a habit to be real. Excellence is a way of existence that is
second nature to those who make it essential to their existence.
A chef is responsible for the brand of the business, the brand of those individuals
who work in a restaurant, and obviously for his or her own personal brand.
Excellence to a chef cannot be an occasional thing, it must be an every moment
thing. To this end, one of the most important things that a chef can do is set the
environment of excellence and a level of expectation that becomes the norm for
Here are a dozen thoughts regarding the pursuit of GREAT in restaurants and other
DEFINE YOUR STAKES IN THE GROUND
Greatness begins with conviction – a commitment to doing things right and never
sacrificing the quality that you know is essential if your food operation is intent on
leading the pack. Define your convictions and stick to it.
BUILD A PERSONAL MISSION STATEMENT
What is your intent as a chef? What are your overriding objectives that help to
define who you are as a culinary professional? How do you want to be perceived by
others? This is your mission statement, your brand and how your world views your
ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN WORDS
Chefs who have a desire to achieve greatness for their restaurant and themselves
must be the example of excellence in everything that they do. This includes the
quality of their work, their commitment to training, their ability to foster an
environment of inclusion, their communication skills, their fiscal responsibility, and
their exhibited professionalism. Chefs need to always walk the talk and BE what is
desired from others.
BE THE STANDARD OF GREAT
What is greatness – it is an attitude, not a goal. The chef must be the role model for
greatness, for excellence. The chef must be the benchmark, the poster child for
excellence. Your staff will emulate what they see in you.
SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF – IT’S ALL SMALL STUFF
A great restaurant is not simply an operation that looks beautiful and produces
excellent food. A great restaurant puts its faith and focus in the details: cleanliness
above all else, impeccable service regardless of the check average, attention to the
maintenance of table top, dedication to food safety and those with food related
health issues, commitment to staff morale, creation of a positive work environment,
and exceptional food beginning with where ingredients are purchased, how they are
handled, consistent commitment to methods and technique and of course – flavor,
aroma, and the visual impact of great food. It all matters!
“True greatness consists in being great in little things.”
BUILD AN ENVIRONMENT OF YES
Great restaurants know that one of their most important tasks is to meet and exceed
the needs of the guest and the employee. To this end – an attitude of YES must
prevail. The answer is yes, now what’s the question?
BE YOUR OWN WORST CRITIC
The best chefs look at each task, each dish and each day’s service as an opportunity
to improve. Even when the guest, the owner, the investor, and the critic say great
things about a chef and his or her restaurant, that same chef should look at how that
dish can be improved tomorrow.
ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO HAVE RESTAURANT EYES
Even though the buck stops with the chef, the manager and the owner, each of these
individuals must understand that they cannot do it alone. Every employee down to
the dishwasher, back wait and porter must be coached on how to see the details,
point them out and correct them and take responsibility for ensuring that those
details are consistently addressed.
“The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it for the greatness is already there.”
- James Buchanan
NEVER ACCEPT MEDIOCRITY
The opposite of excellence is mediocrity. To be focused on being great every chef
and every other employee of a restaurant must accept their responsibility to reject
mediocrity no matter how small the task.
IF IT’S BROKE – FIX IT
In a great restaurant – pointing to a problem is never enough. Seeing a shortcoming
is easy – seeing a problem must be accompanied by a solution. Those who point
fingers must be responsible for the fix whether it involves their own action or at
least taking the issue to the person who is able to bring about a fix.
“The price of greatness is responsibility.”
IF IT AIN’T BROKE – BREAK IT
The great restaurants are never satisfied even when everything seems to be
working well. They know that what leads to greatness today may not be effective
tomorrow. To this end, excellent operations are always dissecting, analyzing and in
some cases tearing down what they are currently doing to make room for something
that pushes them harder to exceed expectations.
ASSESS, CHANGE, IMPROVE
This is a constant loop in a great restaurant. Great restaurants need to constantly
measure their own performance, approach change with vigor and passion and
practice the ongoing process of improvement.
Greatness is never a goal – it is an attitude and a habit. Excellent people live by this
rule with everything in their lives and it becomes obvious in the businesses that
they run and the jobs that they do. Good is never good enough.