How to Excel at Being a Restaurant Manager

Good restaurant managers hold many responsibilities, but above all they must motivate, appreciate, and inspire.

One of the cold, hard truths of running a business is that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

Think back on the timeline of your professional career: If I were to ask you to name an amazing manager who had a substantial impact on your career, who comes to mind? Now, if I were to ask you to name the worst manager you’ve ever worked under, who would you pick?

Great managers motivate, appreciate, and inspire, while poor managers teach us what not to do and who not to be.

Says former restaurant jack-of-all-trades, Lizzy Fitzgerald, of her experiences working alongside great restaurant managers, “I once watched a GM write a $300 check and hand to the server whose money had been stolen. I’ve seen a manager physically step in between a server and an aggressive guest to protect the server from almost certain harm. After an incredibly stressful week juggling my senior year of college, a full-time internship, and a full-time job, a manager once let me cry in his office until I had let it all out, and then gave me the rest of the night off.”

On the other hand, she’s also had her fair share of experiences working for ill-equipped restaurant managers. “I’ve had to work with the flu multiple times because I wasn’t allowed to call out,” says Lizzy. “I once worked with someone who had food poisoning and the manager wouldn’t let them go home because they were ’probably faking.’“

Technically, there’s no right or wrong way to manage a restaurant. Every restaurant manager approaches it differently, adding their own personal flair to the role. Few restaurant managers are great from day one; getting better at your job, any job, takes time, trial and error, and a commitment to professional growth. But before we get into the specifics around how to be a good restaurant manager, first things first: What do restaurant managers do exactly?

What Are The Duties of a Restaurant Manager?
In our industry, restaurant managers really rule the roost. Here are some common restaurant manager duties:
  1. 1. Keeping meal service humming along
  2. 2. Checking in that their experience is in line with (or exceeding) expectations
  3. 3. Ensuring all staff are performing the basic functions of their role
  4. 4. Maintaining open and productive communication between the front and back of house
  5. 5. Tracking sales and inventory reports
  6. 6. Making purchasing decisions
  7. 7. Creating employee schedules
  8. 8. Conducting employee payroll
  9. 9. Responding to online reviews (both positive and negative)
  10. 10. Voiding checks
  11. 11. Updating the menu
  12. 12. Establishing and evaluating the menu pricing strategy
  13. 13. Handling disgruntled guests
  14. 14. Cutting guests off
  15. 15. And much, much, much more.

Besides managing the restaurant’s operations, restaurant managers are also people managers. Meaning, it’s their job to oversee the wellbeing of all employees and ensure that they’re feeling safe, supported, and able to perform the basic functions of their role in the restaurant.

In many restaurants, training of any kind is low on the priority list. That’s because a free moment to devote to anything besides waiting on guests, crafting cocktails, or whipping up entrees is precious and hard to come by. As a result, many restaurant managers got to where they are by staying the course, learning from their surroundings, taking the initiative to become a leader in their restaurant, and showing their superiors they’re capable. Not exactly the typical path to management you’d see in other industries.

The emphasis on learned, experiential knowledge over hands-on management training can be a good thing and a not-so-good thing. Good because many managers know what works and what doesn’t because they’ve lived in both work environments, but also not-so-good because they may lack the technical training that substantially improves one’s ability to lead teams and manage people. Though working in a restaurant can be wildly unpredictable, “winging it” because you lack a background or training is a pretty uncomfortable way to work each day. It’s also likely contributing to the overwhelming amount of restaurant managers quitting.

Whether you’re a new restaurant manager or a veteran looking to improve your skills, there are a number of tools, tricks, and tactics you can use to become a good restaurant manager. We’ve compiled a list of handy do’s and don’ts based on feedback and stories shared by real restaurant people, to help those looking to improve their restaurant manager skills.

Learning How to be A Good Restaurant Manager: 7 Do’s and Don’ts

DO Perform Your Duties As a Restaurant Manager (DON’T Hide in the Back Office)

Restaurant managers have a wide array of responsibilities, and only so many hours in the day to accomplish them. It’s perfectly natural to want to find a quiet place – the back office – and hide there so you can be productive. By doing so, however, you’re leaving your team out to dry by not being present when and where they need you most: out on the floor.

Things happen pretty fast in restaurants. Dishes break, drinks spill, guests get frustrated, people slip. Without a manager available to quickly address, solve, or diffuse a hairy situation, your staff and restaurant are left vulnerable.

Depending on the severity of the situation, you could be looking at a damaging online review, a guest walking out on their check, a staff member put in an unsafe situation, or even a lawsuit (when old ladies slip and fall, they fall hard; I’m speaking from experience.)

Table check in’s are a great tactic restaurant managers use to spot and diffuse a sticky situation before it transpires. They can get a second drink, check on a late order, send back an undercooked dish, or rush payment so that the guest leaves satisfied with their experience. Needless to say, table check in’s are hard to do if you’re hiding in the back office, hunched over payroll.

DO Show Your Restaurant Staff You Appreciate Them

If you treat your staff like they’re expendable, they’ll leave. Simple as that.

“On one of my last days at work at one restaurant (I had handed in my two-week notice already) my boss put a sign up on a door that said “the next employee that slams this door in my presence will be terminated immediately” because he was too cheap to fix the hydraulic door closer thing on the top of the door. I didn’t say anything, but what a way to tell all your employees they don’t matter!” says Miles H.

Which is to say, if you treat your staff like they matter, because they do, they’re much more likely to stick around.

“I was an assistant manager for a pizza place for 10 years,” says Miranda P. “I think the most important thing I learned over that time was to focus on your staff. Because like the quote says, they don’t quit the job, they quit the management. If you put good energy into your staff, you’ll reap the benefits. Genuinely caring but holding them responsible for duties goes a long way.”

Employee turnover is expensive; replacing one hourly employee costs around $6,000.00. Staff appreciation, on the other hand, is an incredibly inexpensive way to improve your employee retention, workplace culture, and guest experience in one fell swoop. It also feels good showing another person appreciation. Seriously: Try giving one of your staff members a compliment without cracking a smile. Exactly my point.

DO Foster and Support Your Staff Members’ Professional Growth

As we touched on earlier, many restaurant managers got to where they were with hard work and elbow grease, not by following a laid-out path and climbing the steps in a career ladder.

Career advancement is a largely unaddressed area in the restaurant industry. Few restaurants devote time and energy towards helping employees identify clear paths, or even suggesting actions they can take to move to the next level in their hospitality career.

The restaurant industry has an incredibly high annual employee turnover rate: currently 75%.

Which means many restaurant staff members aren’t seeing the value in sticking around long-term. If we gave them a reason to see a future in the industry (by way of career advancement opportunities) and a goal to work towards (promotion), we just might see those terrible statistics shift.

“I worked as a doorman at a popular beer bar. I’d scheduled a meeting with the owner to move to a permanent serving role, after having already subbed in that position a couple of times. The owner rescheduled the meeting three times,” says Kamil M. of an experience with a former manager. “The next time I saw him was when I was bartending at another establishment.”

Want your employees to be in it for the long haul? Don’t be like Kamil’s manager, and cancel career-related conversations three times because something came up. Here are a few ways restaurant managers can be a resource to staff looking to grow their career in hospitality:

  • • Maintain an open-door policy
  • • Provide hospitality skills training
  • • Consistently have career growth chats with your staff members
  • • Clearly outline to staff what it takes to get to the next level from the role they’re currently at
  • • Set career growth goals with your staff

Offering the chance for staff members to move up in your restaurant is a practice known as promoting from within. Promoting staff members to available leadership opportunities is a very effective way to increase staff engagement and productivity, decrease turnover, improve your workplace culture, and breed staff loyalty. If your staff members know a future in management at your restaurant is an option, they’re much more likely to stay and see it through, instead of leaving to join another restaurant.

“I worked at a frozen yogurt chain that was hiring for manager positions and several current employees were looking to be promoted. GM went with an external hire. That guy was skimming money from the register and was fired. External manager number 2 was on the job 3 weeks before he was fired for predatory behavior. External manager 3 had an anger management issue and tossed a blender across the kitchen” says Eric M. of his experience with a restaurant that chose to hire externally instead of promoting from within. “It was at that point they promoted internally, but a lot of the original candidates had left after being passed over.”

DON’T Make Your Staff Feel Uncomfortable or Unsafe at Work (It’s Illegal)

Where other industries have progressed in establishing guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable workplace behavior, the restaurant industry has fallen noticeably behind. According to a report conducted by Buzzfeed news, more sexual harassment claims are filed by restaurant employees than in any other industry.

“More than 170,000 claims were filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 1995 and 2016. Of those, 83 percent came from women. Just over 10,000 were filed by employees of full-service restaurants” reports Daniela Garlaza in a piece for Eater about sexual harassment in the restaurant industry. “An additional 1,000 came from those who work in other types of eating establishments, including bars or limited-service restaurants...The EEOC notes that these complaints only represent the ones that were not resolved internally — and of course don’t count the ones that were never reported at all.”

We get it — part of the charm of working in a restaurant is the relaxed, non-traditional work environment. But when those loose boundaries enable a guest or staff member to cross a line, it’s the restaurant manager’s job to address the situation, and do all that they can to ensure it never happens again.

“I worked at a rooftop Mexican bar in NYC, and we had one manager that was best described as ‘inappropriate’, “says Matt H. “We had constant complaints of him being too handsy with female coworkers and patrons, making inappropriate comments, and making promises to his ‘friends’ that they could skip the busy line to the rooftop on the weekends. The frustrating part was he was actually very good at his job, but his behavior eventually had him removed.”

Creating an employee handbook, mandating yearly sexual harassment training, and schooling staff on safe alcohol serving practices and how to spot an intoxicated guest are all ways you can help foster a safe, supportive workplace culture.

Beyond that, establish yourself as a resource for staff members who may have found themselves in an uncomfortable situation. “We have an open-door policy. If staff ever feel threatened, they can obviously come in and let us know and we’ll have a meeting” says Logan Hostettler, owner of 1894 Lodge in New Washington, Indiana. “And whenever something does happen, we talk about it in our pre-shift meeting. ‘How did this affect you guys? Is this something that’s emotional to you? Is this something that you agree with, disagree with?’”

For Job Seekers
Tips for Being a Good Restaurant Manager, What Does a Good Restaurant Manager Do, Traits of A Good Restaurant Manager
Seeking restaurant jobs?
Sign Up Free Now
Need to Hire?
Sign Up Now

Related Articles