It’s about evolution, not revolution at The Habit Restaurants

Don’t be afraid of risk

Any time you’re taking a company in a new direction, there is risk involved. The Habit had experienced steady growth over a long period of time when Bendel arrived. It would have been easy for him to step in and simply maintain the status quo.

When you consider a plan that involves change, you have to consider each group that will be affected.

“What you are managing is the strategic direction of the company and the risk-reward relationship,” Bendel says. “How much risk are you willing to take for what reward? That really depends on balancing the needs of three different constituencies. You need to balance the needs of your customers, your employees or associates, and your investors.

“While you may lean a little harder at any one time on one of those or two of those, at the end of the day, it has to be a three-legged stool that is pretty balanced. We work hard at keeping those three constituencies in check.”

There was one change that Bendel made fairly recently that he had been thinking about almost since the moment he arrived at The Habit. That would be the fact that ever since the company opened in 1969, employees did not answer the phone in the restaurant.

“We put it on a recording and it said, ‘Thanks for your call, but we’re busy taking care of our customers and are not able to answer the phone,’” Bendel says. “When I first got here, I said this is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen.”

As he learned more about the reasoning behind the policy, Bendel no longer thought it was crazy. It can be very frustrating for a customer to walk into a business and be forced to wait for service by someone who is talking on the phone, even if they are providing service by doing so.

“But it was still a point of frustration for customers that we wouldn’t answer the phone,” Bendel says. “So about a year ago, as we got more scale and more infrastructure, we engaged a call center. Now when you call any of the restaurants, it’s answered by someone at the call center.”

There are still logistics being worked out as far as questions that can’t be answered by the call center, but Bendel is pleased with the way it’s working and the added service it provides to customers who previously weren’t able to reach anyone.

It also allows that service to be provided without distracting employees working in the restaurants.

“What we work hard at staying focused on, no matter how large we get, is making sure our managers and frontline employees are really able to take care of each other and our customers,” Bendel says. “We don’t want them to be distracted by too many administrative requirements or other things that are necessary, but really can be done by other people at other times.”

Bendel is proud of what his team has been able to create at The Habit and the growth plan continues to evolve.

“If we continue to do the right thing, there’s no reason why we won’t have locations in a lot of places,” Bendel says. “We focus on one restaurant at a time and our ability to execute and operate at a high level will afford us the opportunity to do more.”

He says those who achieve success in business have a plan, but are willing to adjust it along the way.

“Companies, brands, concepts, people who are willing to incrementally make things better and are always looking to do so have much more sustainable long-term success,” Bendel says.

How to reach: The Habit Restaurants LLC, (949) 851-8881 or