The difference between a “reason” and an “excuse”

As a consultant, and someone who talks to business owners on a daily basis, some who are clients and many more who are not, I’ve heard an incredible number of reasons why restaurant owner’s businesses are struggling or failing. 99 out of 100 times, that “reason” really isn’t a reason at all, it’s an “excuse”. There’s a big difference, and I’ll tell you what it is.

A “reason” is an explanation for why something is the way it is, with everyone involved taking accountability for their part in a situation. An excuse is an explanation for why something is the way it is, that always involves the blame being put on someone or something that isn’t involved in the conversation, and not able to share their side of the story. What’s the difference? The accountability.

Let me give you some examples. Common excuses for why restaurants, or other businesses, fail include:

  • Our employees were stealing from us
  • Our purveyors were cheating us
  • Our concept was too progressive for the market
  • The market didn’t appreciate good food 
  • Our landlord was unreasonable

The list is endless. There are as many excuses for failure as there are failed businesses. If a person were to take accountability for their decisions and their actions, those excuses could be seen as the real reasons for failure, and they would look more like this:

  • We didn’t have a reliable system for evaluating good help, and we didn’t supervise our employees as effectively as we could have, so we lost a lot of money from theft
  • We didn’t know anything about negotiating purchasing, and ended up paying prices we couldn’t afford to pay
  • We didn’t research our market well enough to find out what the market wanted, so we ended up giving them what OUR idea of good food was, not theirs
  • We failed to communicate what made us special compared to the competion, and the market didn’t respond  – or – We didn’t realize that our market doesn’t have the same ability to notice quality that we have, and we were really banking on them realizing our food was better
  • We didn’t negotiate a good lease

 You probably notice a trend here. For every excuse that an owner can give for a business failing, there is a real reason that points back to something THEY did or didn’t do.

 I’m sharing this information not to make anyone feel bad about their struggles or failure, but to help owners and managers realize that they are the only person that controls the destiny of their business. For every mistake someone else makes that affects your business, there is a procedure or a system you could have had in place to increase your chances of avoiding it.

Accountability. Until you learn to take it, you’ll be doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, everyone does, but only those that admit their responsibility in the mistake learn from it. Those are the people that can keep trying and eventually taste success. Those that only want to blame someone else for their failures are dooming themselves to a life full of them.

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Brandon O’Dell
O’Dell Restaurant Consulting
web: www.bodellconsulting.com
blog: blog.bodellconsulting.com
email: brandon@bodellconsulting.com
office: (888) 571-9068

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About friendthatcooks

Food service consultant and owner/operator of an in-home weekly meal prep service in Kansas City, Chicago, St. Louis, Omaha, Des Moines, Denver, Milwaukee and Wichita

Posted on April 4, 2008, in Articles and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Except the best restaurants will give people what THEIR idea of good food is, not what some market research tells them. And if it hits a sweet spot made of quality, the zeitgeist, not being TOO far from what people are comfortable with and some luck they are very sucessful. For sure, it doesn’t make sense to open a restaurant with a Michelin Star chef at a truck stop, but when it comes to good food listening to a bunch of people in a survey is only going to create mediocrity.

    • Giving your market what they want is about getting people in the door, not meeting some arbitrary standard put in place by critics and food snobs. Listening to the market is the only constant for creating a restaurant in any market.

      As far as the “best” restaurants, that label is completely subjective. One person may say the French Laundry is the best restaurant, but how successful can you truly be if your market is so small there are only a few locations in the country you could survive for an extended period of time? As a “business model”, what critics consider the “best” are really not that great. As a business, Applebees for example earns hundreds of millions per year in profit, if not billions, because it has mass appeal while the French Laundry likely earns less than one million per year. I think we can all agree that Applebees food is completely mediocre, at best, but their business model is one of the most successful in history for a full service restaurant. It’s exponentially more successful than the French Laundry.

      As the market gets more educated about food, restaurants are having to improve the quality of their food to meet the demand of the consumer, but even this is driven by consumer demand, not the ego of the restaurateur or chef. In markets where the consumer is still uneducated about food, quality can’t be recognized and doesn’t add value to the experience.

      Over the years, I’ve witnessed countless restaurants close who had great quality product. They weren’t meeting the desires of the market however, and went out of business because they were giving people what they wanted instead of what the people want.

  2. “We didn’t have a reliable system for evaluating good help, and we didn’t supervise our employees as effectively as we could have, so we lost a lot of money from theft”………cause by our employees who were stealing from us = no difference and notice the inherent power and privilege shift in the first part of the sentence compared with the second part.

    A reason and an excuse are the exact same thing only differentiated by whose mouth it is coming out of. If they (doctor, lawyer, business executive etc.) have power / privilege it’s call a reason or justification, if not it’s called an excuse.

    Plain and simple…it;s political.

    • A “reason” and an “excuse” are far from the same thing. What differentiates them is accountability. A reason is given by someone accepting their own role in an issue. It isolates the real cause. Without it, a solution is not possible. An excuse is given by someone deflecting responsibility and not accepting their role. As long as there are excuses, there is no way forward. No process to rectify or avoid the true cause of a problem. We live in a world of finger pointers now. No one wants to accept responsibility for their failures. These people are stuck because they can’t make it past their excuses.

  1. Pingback: SUCCESS – gudgerblog

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