12 Books Every Restaurant Owner or Manager Must Read

Running a restaurant can be a 24/7 job lifestyle, but that does not mean you can’t benefit from some reading! While most restauranteurs will readily admit that their time is scarce, few would say that they wouldn’t see a benefit to or love to find time to get in some reading.  

“I run a restaurant; I don’t have time to read!”. Raise your hand if you ever heard this one before. Now raise your other hand if YOU have ever uttered something similar. Okay, put your hands down, you look stupid. You get the point though, right? Finding time in the craziness that is running a restaurant seems like an impossible task, but I promise you it is possible.

In this article, I have assembled a list of 12 books that every restaurant owner needs to read. This is not just any list of recommended books, though; there are a ton of those types of lists all over the internet. This list is different. These books have been specially curated and assembled in a specific order in which you will gain the most benefit. 

I could have easily added more books to this list, but I choose twelve to match the months in the year. I challenge you to commit to one book a month for the next twelve months. Then, in a year, look back to see the positive changes that happened in your life and your restaurant as a result of what you have learned.

If you have already read one of the books on this list, no problem, just head to my recommended resources and find a different book that I recommend.  If you are new to restaurant management, check out this article here for a list of books perfect for your situation.

1. The Miracle Morning

If I told you that reading one book alone would change your life, would you do it? 

This is your chance. The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod changed my life. I know that is a bold statement to make, but life-changing impact how most people describe this book, and I fully agree. 

The Miracle Morning is the first book on the list for a reason. You might be wondering why since it is not a book about leadership, management, or restaurants at all. The idea is simple: this book will get through the other 11 books and help set you up to be successful in all areas of your life. Enacting the principles of The Miracle Morning will do this by increasing your self-awareness to levels you probably never thought possible. 

The meat and potatoes of The Miracle Morning is about setting up a morning routine that incorporates six essential self-care practices available to us: writing, reading, exercise, visualization, silence, and affirmations.

I know self-care is probably viewed as a fantasy to most restaurant owners, but these practices can be implemented in as little as 6 minutes per day and set your entire day up for success. The end result is you will feel great and be able to get more done each day in your restaurant and still have time to do whatever is most important to you.

If you are wondering when you might find time to read, The Miracle Morning will teach you. If you are not a morning person, no worries, you will learn some strategies for that as well. I was a night owl who couldn’t find enough time in the day to get my routine tasks done, let alone find the time for self-care or self-improvement. This book changed all of that. Read this book and change your life. 

Biggest Takeaway:  Getting up early and taking care of yourself before anything else will set you up to crush the rest of the day.

2. Getting Thing Done

Getting Things Done by David Allen is the second book on this list so that you have the tools you need to stay organized, giving you zero excuses not to complete this full list. It is a bit of a tedious read, but the information is practical once you put it into practice. 

Getting Things Done (GTD for short) teaches a system meant to organize even the busiest of people or, in our case, restaurant operators. The system works by writing (or typing) out all tasks into a braindump known as an “inbox.” Later, the inbox is organized into a structured system (be it digital or physical) using a series of projects and tags. Put more simply: it teaches prioritization, planning, and as a result, time management. 

I find that the GTD system works great for managing teams. Creating a tag for each member of your team allows you to easily follow up on all critical items and ensure that all communication loops are closed. The most significant benefit to this is that it will enable you and your management team to be truly off when not at work. 

I combine this system with the app Todoist as my personal organization system. Without this system, I would probably go crazy trying to juggle tasks, people, and projects. 

Biggest Takeaway:  A planning and prioritization system can save you stress and, once established, add time back into your day. Your brain is a limited resource, and the only way to keep it running optimally is to prevent it from becoming cluttered, which the GTD system allows you to do.  

3. Your Restaurant Sucks

Your restaurant Sucks: Embrace the Suck, Unleash Your Restaurant, and Become Outstanding by Donald Burns is a must-read for anybody who owns or manages a restaurant.  

The title is blunt, but I love how direct and to the point this book is. Burns doesn’t mince words when he says that if your restaurant sucks, its because you suck at running it. Through this book, you will learn his methodology, and it will change the way you view your restaurant and how you can go about making it great.  

Biggest Takeaway: If you’re struggling, don’t deny it. Embrace your weaknesses and turn them into strengths and watch your restaurant takeoff.  

4. Leaders Eat Last

The next three books on the list are focused on improving your ability as a leader to create a winning culture. We start with Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek. In this book, Sinek makes it very clear that your number one responsibility as a leader is to your people. 

Given the time operators spend in the trenches daily and the amount of repetition that goes along with it, I believe it is incredibly vital that we are constantly questioning if we are doing everything in our power to serve our people.  

Biggest Takeaway:  Leadership starts and ends with taking care of your people. By doing so, the results will take care of themselves.  

5. Extreme Leadership

Extreme Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin is next on our list. I just recently read this book, and it was quickly added to my list of all-time favorite leadership books. Extreme Leadership is about taking full accountability for everything that happens on your team and how to apply it to business.  

The authors take us through their core tenants of accountability by relating it to their stories on the battlefield as Navy Seals. The way Jocko & Leif can lead the reader to draw parallels from their heroics to everyday business applications is genuinely amazing.  

I guess saying I read this book is a slight lie; I listened to this one on audible. Usually, I am not a big fan of audiobooks, but I made an exception here because I love Jocko’s podcast. I was not disappointed and highly recommend you check out the audiobook as well!

Biggest Takeaway:  There are no bad teams, only bad leaders. When the going gets tough, the only way to succeed in a mission (or in our case, task) is by taking full accountability. Or, as the authors call it, extreme leadership. 

6. Setting the Table

We finish off the first half of our list with another book that was written specifically for the restaurant industry. Setting the Table by Danny Meyer is a mix of practical business books and autobiography.  

The business side of the book focuses mostly on what he calls enlightened hospitality. Much like other books on this list also teach, enlighted hospitality starts with taking care of your team. Meyer asserts that your team is your most valuable asset and that you should take the utmost care in selecting and training them.  

I love that this book doesn’t just preach the need to put your people first. Instead, it works as a manual to help you develop a system of hiring and training the right people. The guidelines Meyer discusses how to select employees alone make this book a must-read.  

Biggest Takeaway: True hospitality starts by taking care of employees, thus enabling you to take care of customers at the highest level.  

7. The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team

Have you ever felt infighting, disharmony, or a lack of trust within your team? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are going to benefit from this next book on our list. The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni is a short but essential read that will help you understand how to develop your team through murky times.  

I love that this book is told as a fable rather than a traditional nonfiction book. You will find many ways to relate to the characters and situations in this book even though the fictional company that acts as the setting for this tale is a tech firm rather than a restaurant. I bet you will also be reading it and start saying things to yourself like, “Oh, so-and-so is just like Martin!”

Biggest Takeaway: A team is more than just the sum of its members. Teams need time and care to develop and move past the five dysfunctions into a unit that can consistently achieve results.  

8. Fierce Conversations

Have you ever needed to have a conversation with someone that you found yourself dreading? Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott will help you look forward to them.

I know that statement might be crazy, but it’s true! Once you have the tools and framework to lead a productive corrective action conversation, you will become so good at them that you look forward to the results that occur and, thus, the talks themselves!

Biggest Takeaway:  The key to having a fruitful, awkward conversation is to go in fully prepared.

9. Restaurant Success by the Numbers

I often hear restaurateurs admit to feeling deficient in accounting. To be honest, I used to feel like a complete idiot whenever I talked to the accountants, and words like “accrual” and “true-up” started to get thrown around. Restaurant Success by the Numbers by Roger Fields is the perfect solution to take you from zero to accounting hero in the restaurant field.

Written by a CPA turned restauranteur, Restaurant Success by the Numbers does far more than explain the basics of food and labor costs. It also dives deep into the accounting world, making it easier for you to understand your balance sheet, income statement, and gives you the ability to have a conversation with your accountant without feeling like an idiot.  

Biggest Takeaway: Accounting does not need to be hard, but knowing where every dollar in your restaurant goes is a must!

10. Emotional Intelligence 2.0

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradbury is a break thru on human intelligence. It separates intellectual intelligence, most commonly measured by IQ, from emotional intelligence, which Bradbury dubs EQ.   

Have you ever met someone who is more street smart than book smart? Or maybe you have a friend who has an innate ability to cut through the BS and just make people like them. That person most likely has a high EQ.

The cool thing about the concept of EQ is that it can be measured and improved. The book starts with an EQ quiz that will help you determine your strengths and weaknesses and develop your ability to connect emotionally with others. The results will amaze you once you apply your improved emotional intelligence to your management style.  

Biggest Takeaway:  Intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence are entirely different skill sets that are not related and can both be measured. Emotion intelligence can be improved with patience and practice.  

11. The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey is widely considered to be the best personal development book ever written. The book teaches you how to be happier and more effective in your entire life, be it personal or professional. By framing the path to success into seven habits, Covey creates a book that teaches everything needed to be successful in life. 

This book has helped millions of people over the years. One of the big ideas of the book is changing the way you view things with a paradigm shift. To implement the seven habits, you need to have a paradigm shift in the way you perceive the world operates. 

The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People can have an incredible impact not just on your restaurant but on your overall well being.  

Biggest Takeaway:  Success can only be achieved by balancing both personal and professional effectiveness. That means taking the time to be proactive deliberately, think long-term, and take care of yourself so you can be the best version of you both in and out of your restaurant.  

12. Restaurant and Bar Marketing

The final book on our list is where we put everything we learned into hyperdrive by marketing our restaurant to the masses with Restaurant and Bar Marketing I & II by Erik Shellenberger. Okay, I am cheating here by giving you two books for this last spot on the list, but I just could not help myself.

This book is blunt and to the point and doesn’t pull any punches. Shellenberger will challenge your views on marketing and its effectiveness and give you an edge against your competition.

Biggest Takeaway:  Marketing your restaurant does not need to be complicated but is continually evolving, requiring you to stay in tune with trends to keep an edge.  


We have covered a considerable range of topics with books on personal development, restaurant operations, leading people, marketing, organization, and accountability. I hope you accept my challenge and commit to reading these twelve books over the next twelve months. If you do, I promise it will vastly change the way you view our life and your restaurant and help you improve both in a multitude of ways.

Matt Roberts

A 20+ year veteran of the Restaurant Industry, Matt is the Founder and Owner of Restaurant Ninjas. He is also a giant geek of epic proportions who somehow convinced his wife to name their firstborn child Luke Skywalker.

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