Last Thursday, I paid my first visit to Five Guys.

I originally wrote this post to for LinkedIn but I wanted to share this with you and my wider network as I wanted to give you an insight into behind the scenes of a small business. What you don’t see as a customer.

I don’t normally go to burger restaurants, usually only after running a marathon, and my reason for going this time wasn’t so much for the burger but to see what I could learn from them. I’ve always been interested in looking at successful businesses in other sectors, see how they promote themselves, what makes them stand out and ultimately, what can I learn, adapt and apply in my own business.

My first awareness of Five Guys came when I listened to an interview with John Eckbert, their CEO, on the Diary of a CEO Podcast last year. What he said really inspired me and I wanted to learn more so when I was asked to take my car to a garage in Dundee to get some work done, I decided to go and pay them a visit.

The best way to get to know a business is to experience them yourself

Here are 5 business lessons I learned from Five Guys

  • Be visible
  • Be transparent
  • Be consistent
  • Keep it simple
  • Stick to the original plan

Be visible

The biggest takeaway (pardon the pun!) I got from the interview was that Five Guys do not advertise. Their business model has been built around making great food and customers telling their friends. This blew my mind that a company of that size still believed in the power of referrals given the amount of advertising we see nowadays on social media.

Since John Eckbert joined the company, their strategy has evolved and they open restaurants in prime locations and so become hard to miss! 

The Dundee restaurant, for example, is on the ground floor of the Overgate Shopping Centre, next to the bigger retailers and next to the entrance/exit to the car park.

Be transparent

The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into a Five Guys and order is that the kitchen is open and you can stand and watch them cook your burger and fries. They pride themselves on everything being fresh that day and cooking everything fresh.

There are no freezers, no microwaves, everything is cooked on the spot. There’s nothing hidden and no hot racks with pre-made burgers ready to go like in McDonalds. They even have a poster telling you where the potatoes came from.

Five Guys | Steve Bonthrone Movement Coach


Be consistent

They pride themselves on creating the best burger and fries and they put their employees through a training course so that they know how to cook the perfect burger. They’re taught to know when the burger is cooked perfectly by what it looks like and how it smells rather than the length of time it’s been cooking.

Everyone does this, including the managers and CEO so it doesn’t matter who’s working, they all know how to cook the burger the same way.

By keeping all their restaurants within the company structure, rather than franchise, I believe this best ensures the standard of food is the exact same every time, in every restaurant, no matter where you are.

Keep it simple

I had a look at their website before I went and everything on there is easy to find and ordering is as easy on their website as it is in their restaurant. 

Their menu is simple. It’s either a burger, cheeseburger, bacon burger or bacon cheeseburger. They also do hot dogs and sandwiches and they’re kept simple too. With a simple menu, it’s easy to decide what to order. The only challenge is to decide which toppings to have!

You’re charged for the burger, the fries and drinks separately. With your order, you can choose from a selection of toppings. You can choose from as many or as few as you like, they’re all free. The premise is that you get your burger your way.

From a business perspective, it can be easy to go into too much detail about what we offer and end up confusing the potential customer. I’ve certainly been guilty of that.

Stick to the original plan

This was a big one for me and very refreshing to hear. They started out with one simple plan, to cook burger and fries to perfection. Doing it their way and not being distracted by anyone or anything.

Think of how many brands you’ve seen come up with a ‘new and improved recipe’ or changed the way they do things and it doesn’t taste as good or has put you off in some way.

The only change Five Guys have made to their business model in recent years is to introduce Just Eat and Deliveroo. They previously insisted on collecting your order so that you received it in perfect condition. I believe that with the delivery option, they include details on how to reheat your order so you eat it as close to the way you’d receive it at a restaurant.

The Takeaway (pun most definitely intended!)

When I take these lessons, create a filter and look at my own business through this lens, I’ve got a bit of work to do to improve in all areas. This doesn’t mean that you’ll get an extra scoop of fries with every training session, sorry to disappoint!

The biggest lesson was sticking to the original plan. When I started my business 17 years ago, and indeed my reason for becoming a Personal Trainer in the first place, was to help people achieve things they previously didn’t believe were possible for them.

Where I’ve gone wrong is since we went into lockdown and having to redesign my business to help people on a remote basis, I’ve found myself continuously changing the messages I’ve put out to try to appeal to more people. I much prefer to work with people on a 1-1 basis as that’s where I offer my best service and I’m able to help people in ways that online personal trainers and online fitness programs can’t.

Unfortunately, when you try to appeal to everyone, and constantly change the message, you lose what made you stand out in the first place.

Ironically, the lessons I’ve learned from Five Guys resonate with what I’ve learned from marathon training, and used to apply in my marketing previously, and I’ve only remembered this since I started training for the Edinburgh Marathon in May. Insert face palm emoji here!

I won’t lie, the last 2-3 years since Covid came along have been the toughest since I started my business. The road is still a very bumpy one but I’m pleased to have discovered Five Guys and the lessons I’ve learned from them.

Next Steps

As you can see, inspiration to get started on moving to where you want to be can come from the most unlikely source!

For me, it’s going to be a day of writing down all these lessons, updating the website and start telling you more about how I can help you and the little things you can do yourself that will help you get to where you want to be.

Writing this post has been really cathartic and I’m excited about the journey ahead. I’m away for a run now to think it all through then get to work.

In the meantime, anything IS possible if you can dream it and believe in it. I’m here to help you achieve it. If you’ve got a dream goal you’re not sure is possible for you, how to start or even where to start, get in touch here and let’s have a chat.