5 lessons from Hulu’s ‘The Bear’ on how to run a small business

Editorial Team

6 min read
Female chef in commercial kitchen using laptop

Hulu’s original series The Bear was a smash hit that gave audiences a gritty, unflinching look at the inside of a working restaurant kitchen. The first season of the series centers on Carmy, a highly successful and highly serious chef who is unexpectedly placed in charge of his late brother’s hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop in Chicago.

Every day is another struggle to keep things afloat — dealing with conflicting personalities, plumbing issues, health code violations, and even mysterious mob debts.

While dramatized and peppered with over-the-top characters and situations, the show has received praise from chefs and restaurateurs for its highly accurate portrayal of the industry. It’s also a show that accurately depicts the life of a small business owner. Carmy has the weight of the world on his shoulders. His struggle is Herculean as he pushes his staff and himself to the limit, attempting to turn his brother’s restaurant The Original Beef into a legitimate and profitable enterprise.

The show is naturally filled with lessons and insights about running a small business. Here are five from The Bear that any business owner can learn to create their own recipe for success.

1. You will always be putting out fires

As a small business owner, you will be putting out fires every single day. In the case of The Bear, and the restaurant industry, they might even be literal fires. But regardless of what your business makes or sells, challenges will arise on a daily basis, and as the business owner you will be expected to come up with a fast and firm solution.

You may be tempted to think that one flawless day with no mistakes or surprises is right around the corner. You just have to get through this one struggle, and then the ship will be sailing smoothly. Unfortunately, the reality is much more complicated and difficult. Entrepreneurship is largely about solving problems, learning as much as you can, and then moving on to the next problem. Entrepreneurs professionally swim in the chaos of problem solving, and eventually you can build your business into a well-oiled machine.

2. Take opportunities to delegate and lift people up

Early on in The Bear, Carmy meets Sydney Adamu — a young, hungry, and successful chef in her own right who arrives at The Original Beef eager to help out at her late father’s favorite restaurant. Carmy, recognizing her talent and ambition, quickly promotes her to sous-chef, giving her a universe of new responsibility and ownership over the daily ins-and-outs of the restaurant’s operations.

It’s a rather extreme example, but business owners should always be on the lookout for talent and drive. The simple fact is, you can’t do everything by yourself, and you certainly can’t do everything by yourself forever. So, entrepreneurs should always have one eye open for opportunities to delegate work and uplift star staff members. By promoting someone and giving them more responsibility, you can strengthen their connection with your business and be a real part of their growth and success, while alleviating some of the responsibility on your shoulders. Who knows, you might even discover a future CEO.

3. (Some) change is good

One of the key points of tension in The Bear is the fact that Carmy, with his years of New York City fine-dining experience, wants to change pretty much everything about his brother’s sandwich shop. Throughout the series, we see him attempt to make changes to workflow, recipes, finances, and even the cook’s uniforms. Most of these changes go over poorly with the restaurant’s legacy staff, especially at first. Over time, though, some are embraced — and a balance is found between the old-world traditions of The Original Beef and Carmy’s new, modern vision.

The lesson here is that change is good, but business owners should be wary of changing too much too quickly. Even if you’re absolutely sure that the change you want to implement will improve the business in every conceivable way, you never know how your staff or your customers will react, and you can never fully predict how a change might impact your business financially.

While some preach the mantra of “fail fast, fail often,” major changes to your business operations should be implemented slowly, and carefully. That’s doubly true if you’re the new owner of an established business. Taking your teams’ voices and perspectives into account can help you make the changes you think your business needs, while giving them a sense of ownership and buy-in. Getting everyone onboard and involved with a change to your business, and making sure all voices are heard, will help make it go down smoother.

4. Expect the unexpected

In The Bear, nearly every episode contains a fresh surprise for Carmy. Whether it’s a health inspector showing up, a bursting toilet, an inventory shortage, or a sudden influx of San Marzano tomato money, the show is filled with huge curveballs that test Carmy’s nimbleness and ability to adapt.

Much of running a business is reacting to surprises and expecting the unexpected. You will have to be quick on your feet and ready at all times to handle a curveball. The more you accept that, you will be immune to the panic and paralyzation that a big surprise can bring. Don’t forget, much like solving problems and reacting to curveballs, a huge part of being a business owner is managing anxiety and stress levels.

5. Don’t ignore your mental health

In Episode 3 of The Bear, Carmy takes a break from the restaurant to attend an Al-Anon meeting to better understand his brother’s struggles with addiction as well as his own mental health. It’s a highly dramatic depiction of a very real lesson for business owners.

The daily grind of entrepreneurship means that you may be tempted to put your mental health on a back burner. But, stress will inevitably build up over time, and entrepreneurs ignore their mental health at their own peril. Taking a break, even an extended one, from your business to focus on your mental health should not be seen as a luxury, it should be seen as a necessity. You simply cannot run a business if you’re in the middle of a mental health crisis, nor should you expect yourself to. Taking a break to focus on yourself, or seeking professional help, is something more business owners should embrace.

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