An Analysis of Two Seasons of The Bear and the Lessons To Be Learned About Management and Employee Retention
If you’re a sadistic fuck like me who chooses to watch a stressful sitcom about work during the few hours you have away from work—then you know the FX series on Hulu is straight-up triggering.
From the constant yelling to the unfortunate mishaps and misfires—it’s actually a pretty accurate depiction of what restaurant work can be like.
It’s putting the hard, grueling, and messy parts of our world on display while still showing how it can be wildly rewarding amid all the chaos.
There is a fine line between burnout and thriving in hospitality that needs nurturing through proper team management and healthier work environments. After watching two seasons of The Bear, I think the commentary on that notion is essential.
Before we get into what The Bear taught me about employee retention, here’s your warning: spoilers are ahead.
Season One MGMT Style
In season one, Carmy is the new managing owner of The Beef, but his entrance is not under the best circumstances.
He had just left his Michelin-starred career to take over the sandwich shop his brother, who recently took his life, left him in his will.
There is confusion, resentment, and entitlement as he bullies his way into this greasy machine of a sandwich shop, half-heartedly trying to keep the wheels moving while simultaneously changing the status quo to modernize the restaurant.
In addition to the challenges he’s facing in his personal life, Carmy is a burned-out, abused chef who had all the passion sucked out of him.
While he’s won accolades for his success—he worked his way up a toxic industry and was never treated as an essential part of the whole. He never learned that at the core of hospitality comes the people who make it happen.
Enter Sydney—a fresh-faced, culinary-inspired admirer looking to advance her career through an opportunity to work with Carmy.
With Sydney, the spark is still there. Her passion for the industry, for hospitality, is untarnished. She can see solutions to the chaotic problems with a clear head, but Carmy ignores her, lost in his messy reality.
She tries to help modernize The Beef and butts heads with everyone along the way.
Over the season, her kindness and ability to see the strengths in others allow her to inspire the staff around her.
One is Marcus, whose passion for his pasty makes him another team member with promising potential.
And sure, Carmy does many positive things in season one to professionalize the kitchen.
He introduces respect by calling everyone “Chef.” He presents family meals and pre-shift meetings and creates professionalism in the business.
He also recognizes the potential within Sydney and Marcus and makes some effort to inspire it.
All of this garners loyalty from long-time employees. You watch them start to turn corners and begin respecting themselves, the business, and Carmy as the leader.
But Carmy is blinded by the chaos in his life and the sandwich shop. He’s coming at the whole ordeal with a single-minded mentality—that he will do everything independently.
He lets the abusive behaviors and communication styles in the workspace overwhelm the space. He can’t take the time and attention needed to shut it down.
Under Carmy’s mismanagement and negligence as a leader — the hostile work environment reaches a boiling point in episode seven. Arguably the most stressful episode, the team faces a prominent “in the weeds” moment.
Rather than meeting the challenge with a clear, solution-oriented head — Carmy loses his shit, which causes Sydney to lose her shit.
By the end, and through a ton of chaos and disrespectful behaviors, both Sydney and Marcus call it quits. Carmy loses his star employees.
Eventually, they both return to work in the next episode (which would not happen in the real world).
Lessons on Employee Retention From Season One
Teamwork is necessary to make a successful restaurant business; part of that is strong leadership.
With how stressful our field can be, having that person who can be a beacon is essential. Someone who can refocus the group amid the chaos. Someone who can listen and shut down toxic behaviors before they become normalized.
Strong leadership recognizes potential and passions in employees and encourages it, fanning the flame and paving the way for them to excel and become something more.
Without solid leadership, chaos can quickly overpower, leaving burnt employees, high turnover, and a lack of passion, respect, or care for the product output.
In the end, Carmy loses it—and who can blame him? He is going through so much in his life.
In the final episode of season one, Carmy finally attends an AL-Anon meeting and addresses the pain of his brother’s passing.
He finally shows that he can be reflective and consider his behaviors and missteps and correct them—he begins to make amends starting with Marcus, then Sydney.
Finally, after finding wads of cash stowed away in cans of tomatoes by the dead brother—we reach the end, which hints at a new beginning. Sydney is back in the game, and they agree to work together to start a new restaurant.
Season Two MGMT Style
Now, we’re in season two—the entire team is back and working together to build a new restaurant called The Bear. The business model is the brainchild of both Carmy and Sydney.
Of course, the restaurant isn’t open during most of this season as they’re rebuilding, so the vibe is generally less stressful—but let’s face it, they’re still opening a restaurant, so you’re still sweating.
One thing of note in this season is the apparent shift in Carmy and Sydney’s management styles. They focus on investing in their team’s loyalty rather than ignoring it.
Without getting into too many details, here are a few things they do right in leadership roles:
- Promote from within
Sydney offers Tina the Sous Chef opportunity rather than hiring outside the business.
- Invest in Professional Development
Sydney suggests sending Tina and Ebraheim to culinary school and Marcus to stage in Copenhagen (of course, Carmy helps here with his connections).
- Providing behavioral direction
Carmy sends his cousin Richie to stage at a local fine dining restaurant. Here he learns to understand the necessity behind the processes of fine dining, and he begins to respect the work and himself.
Throughout the season, we witness how this type of employee investment makes a difference. Slowly each character begins to grow in their roles within the restaurant.
Carmy and Sydney value their staff’s career development. Choosing to pay attention and build upon their team’s potential, and the staff gives back tenfold.
In the final episode, they host a friends and family soft opening. Things are going smoothly for the most part—but then shit starts to hit the fan.
Forks run out, food takes too long, and Carmy gets locked in the walk-in. The stress level is at an all-time high, and tension is peaking.
In the previous seasons, the team would have failed at this moment. They would have given up in the heat.
In the final episode, we witness the entire crew coming together through teamwork and communication to get out of the weeds–and they nail it (even without Carmy there.)
At this moment, you can truly see how far everyone has come in the show as characters, made possible through the leadership skills developed in Carmy and, honestly, mainly Sydney in this season.
Lessons on Employee Retention From Season Two
When you see potential in your team—do whatever it takes to invest in that.
Sure, how they do it in The Bear is far-fetched for our industry. I don’t know many restaurants that can afford to send their staff to Copenhagen, let alone keep them on the payroll when the business isn’t open.
But that’s beside the point.
It doesn’t need to be much. Investing in your team can be as simple as promoting from within.
It can be communicating with your team, noticing and acting to fix destructive behaviors, and offering career development opportunities through training.
Some restaurant owners/managers we’ve spoken to invest in their teams by offering profit sharing or open book policies training them on the realities of restaurant finances. All of these types of educational opportunities are valuable skills you can pass down to build loyalty.
Loyalty improves employee retention. But you don’t just get that type of devotion out of people. You have to earn it.
Hospitality work is hard enough. Employees need someone who can show up and validate their team. I believe that Carmy and Sydney display this type of management in season two and it’s something we could all learn from.
When you see a spark or passion in one of your team members, be the one to fan that flame.