We all remember the sitcom Cheers, set in a Boston bar where “everybody knew your name.” Many of us have a restaurant or bar in which we feel at home. Something about the place brings us back time and time again. We may not be able to put our finger on it, but the reason is likely culture. It has been long understood that culture attracts customers. What has been less understood is how to cultivate a culture that works profitably for your restaurant.


A buzzword as of late, the definition of culture is not always made clear. We believe that culture is the foundation of your brand and the way you demonstrate your values to both employees and customers. Culture can be good or bad; it is a purposeful, or accidental, representation of the interactions in your restaurant. Creating a valuable culture is more than a marketing tactic, it can impact every aspect of your business and stand the test of time. Culture involves everything from a restaurant’s vision and concept, to its language and style, and once established effectively has been proven to increase employee engagement, customer service, and profits- not marginally, but considerably.


According to restaurant marketing specialist Alfred Goldberg, “culture influences how people make decisions as it establishes how we do things and why. Whether it’s a big strategic decision or an everyday task, culture ensures that everyone knows what is expected of them.” Culture, brand, and service coincide, together dictating the types of people that walk through the doors and whether or not they will return. It doesn’t matter how mouthwatering your food is, if your culture doesn’t shine, interest from employees and patrons will decline. According to a Gallup report, engaged employees are more likely to improve customer relationships, which results on average in a 20% increase in sales. Happy, engaged employees lead to happy, engaged, repeat customers. Now that we’ve established the importance of the right culture, let’s talk about creating it.


Culture should be established by the highest level of authority; it is only effective when personified by owners and employees alike. According to Chris Edmonds, a best-selling author and culture expert, “leaders must create a culture where values – how people treat each other – are as important as results, every day.” Edmonds advises defining the desired culture by creating an organizational constitution. The constitution should detail the most important standards of service and behavior that support the restaurant’s overall purpose.


Defining the desired culture is the easy part. The hard part is upholding all choices and actions to your original standards. Keep culture in mind from the start; hire and fire based on your organizational constitution. Since it can be so challenging to develop the right culture, when a restaurant does so, people are quick to take notice. One Tampa-based restaurant corporation that has done so is Ciccio Restaurant Group.


If you’re in Tampa, you know Ciccio Restaurant Group. CRG began as one restaurant, with one concept, and a well-defined culture. Now, with ten different restaurants and counting, CRG has spread throughout Florida, with varying concepts, but the same culture that they started with. Senior Brand + Training Director, Tara O’Neill, described their culture with us in an interview:

Tara O’Neill

Describe your company culture in 3-5 words.
“Open-minded, imaginative, collaborative, approachable, generous.”

How are your employees impacted by your culture? How are your guests?
“First and foremost, I have to respectfully make a correction here… we don’t have employees. By definition, an employee is a person that is merely employed for wages or salary. We have a team. Our purpose as a team is to come together to achieve a common goal. What is our goal? Bringing great, affordable, real food to our communities.
Our team members are impacted by our culture every day. Our culture is one that not only accepts people as they are…we celebrate them… just as they are. In whatever form and from whatever walk of life, we believe that everyone has something unique to contribute. Part of our role is to help put them in a position where they feel passion, purpose, and where they can excel. When our team feels happy and inspired, that translates to our guests. And, we feel like our guests DO feel it. Particularly here in our home market of Tampa, the synergy along Howard Ave is amazing. It’s not always the norm that a restaurant group has fans. And, we feel so grateful and humbled by the fact that we do. It’s not something we take for granted. Not even for one day.”

How do you ensure that all CRG stakeholders are positively affected by culture?
“So, one of the things we pride ourselves on being is a company of partners. And this doesn’t just mean a bunch of outside investors. This means real partners in our locations, operating our restaurants and engaging daily with our teams and guests. Most, if not all, of our general managers are actually partners in our locations with shared ownership. Because of our collaborative nature, we want them to have a voice. And, because they are truly business owners, they have the opportunity to share in the wealth of all of our successes. Our team members are some of our most important stakeholders. We want to provide a place for our team members to grow, excel, and be able to build long-term wealth.”

Would you agree that CRG has created a positive reputation based on the culture?
“Absolutely! I think that we have been so fortunate not only in our home market of Tampa but in other markets that we’ve expanded to because of the deep-rooted culture in our team members that live it. We rely on them to carry the torch no matter where they work. And from a community perspective, part of our culture means continuing to pay our gratitude forward by giving back as much as we can.”

How does your culture keep a competitive edge? How do you keep everyone continuously engaged?
“Culture in and of itself to us isn’t about having a competitive edge. It’s about remaining true to who we are, and through our evolution, never forgetting to stay grounded and remember our reason. One of the biggest things we look for when we hire is whether or not the team member seems to be a cultural fit. That’s one of the most important things we can do from a recruiting standpoint. When people align with our values, the engagement happens organically. And from there, we just continue to nurture and celebrate the partnership.”

Although there is no single path to generating a culture that turns employees and customers into loyal fans, looking at successful brands like those owned by Ciccio Restaurant Group can offer some valuable lessons. Culture encompasses purpose, customer service, attitudes, and values, and it is up to the leaders of the company to decide what type of culture they want to put forth and how. These leaders must do more than decide, they must hold themselves accountable as equal team members and consistently act based on the values set.

We hope these tips help to ensure that your restaurant has the right culture. If you’d like more information on restaurant culture or how to align your culture with your digital marketing, sign up for our E-newsletter or contact us directly at Absolute Marketing Solutions.