How “I Can’t” Really Means, “I Won’t”


Something universal about successful restaurant owners is they never say or accept someone saying “I can’t!” to them, successful restaurant owners recognize that when someone says, “I can’t,” what they are really saying is, “I won’t.” This unwillingness to do what you’re asking damages your business.

One specific example of a restaurant owner who accepts “I can’t” as an answer is one who attends one of my three-day workshops and goes home motivated to make changes in the business. Instead of going back to a team excited for change and a chance at greater success, they are greeted by a chorus of employees and managers telling them they are too busy, their restaurant is different, it’s too much work. Ultimately, I get a phone call from the owner saying, “David, I love your systems, but I CAN’T get my managers to do the work.” OMG Goodness! Who signs their pay checks?

Listening to that statement, I change just two words, “David, I love your systems, but I WON’T make my managers do the work.” That is what the owner is really saying to me.

Other popular ways to say “I can’t:”

  1. I can’t (won’t) raise my prices.
  2. I can’t (won’t) cut labour.
  3. I can’t (won’t) change my menu.
  4. I can’t (won’t) find the time.
  5. I can’t (won’t) leave my business.
  6. I can’t (won’t) let someone else place the orders.
  7. I can’t (won’t) have someone else take my inventories.
  8. No! (I won’t do it!)

So, what do you do when you hear that phrase coming out of your mouth, your manager’s mouth or an employee’s mouth?

  1. You ask the person to rephrase their statement and say it back to you using the words “I won’t” instead of “I can’t.” Try it – it’s powerful!
  2. Explain to that person (or yourself) that you don’t want to hear the words “I can’t”. In fact, tell them you don’t want to hear why something can’t be done, but how it can be done.

Sometimes the suggested solution might be too expensive, might take too much time, might change the way things are done, but it’s better to experiment with these options than just digging in your heels and saying, “No, I won’t do the work!”

Successful restaurant owners are where they are today, no matter how quickly or slowly they got there, because they all decided not to accept the words “I can’t” from themselves or anyone who works for them. They lead the changes in their restaurant and are willing to turn an employee into a customer if that employee wants to stop progress and simply doesn’t want to do the work. While an employee may have done a great job in the past, for the company to move forward, restaurant owners must have people on the team who believe in and embrace the changes being made, even if it’s a challenge.

Don’t let the phrase “I can’t” become a success stopper in your restaurant. Teach everyone to tell you how it can be done, hold people accountable and lead your team. This is how results are achieved.

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David Scott Peters is a restaurant consultant, coach, speaker and founder of, a company committed to the success of independent restaurants. Peters is a restaurant industry-recognized blogger and his writing is regularly published in restaurant industry publications, such as Restaurant Hospitality, Catersource, and QSR Magazine. offers an exclusive online restaurant management software designed specifically to meet the complete operational needs of independent operators. Combined with one-on-one coaching and group workshops, is helping independent restaurants find success in the highly competitive restaurant industry. Learn more about how can help your restaurant at

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