Managing a restaurant is a lot of responsibility, but successful restaurant managers make their work look nearly effortless, meeting staff and guest expectations with no wasted effort or motion. Truly great restaurant managers use all their senses at once: they can smell when something's burning in the kitchen, greet a patron who's just arrived, and shoot a discrete head nod to a server to indicate that their table might be looking for them, all at the same time.
There's no shortcut to developing the freak-like intuition and multi-tasking skills required to be a truly great restaurant manager. That's the hard-earned reward of experience and time. But if you're a pretty-good leader looking to get better... well, you're in the right place. Here are some things to focus on in your quest to becoming a better restaurant manager.
Any food & beverage staffer has had at least one manager that hides in the office and avoids actually being in the restaurant whenever they can. The absence of authority in a restaurant can quickly lead to staff not doing their jobs correctly—either by accident, or on purpose.
If a manager is always around, he/she can maintain and enforce good habits in the staff. Being present also allows the manager to step in to guide the staff if things are not being done up to standards. Put it another way: when you're present, you're available. Being available means being able to solve problems quickly.
Pro-tip: Yes, managers are always multi-tasking and scanning the room. But the best managers know how to snap-focus their attention to the person that is speaking to them at that instant. Practice being present not just physically, but mentally as well.
It may sound obvious, but there's nothing more important to running a restaurant than clear, effective communication. And being a better restaurant manager means learning how to foster that communication. With people moving in all different directions and constantly prioritizing their tasks, it's critical not to add to the chaos with inefficient dialogue or confusion over responsibilities.
This starts during the hiring process and training new staff members. Clearly communicating expectations and standards, and confirming that these are understood is one of the most important steps to creating a well-run worplace. (Confirmation is italicized here because as any good restaurant manager knows, there's a difference between your staff listening and actually hearing.)
Commit to training
The flip side of that coin: being a better manager means equipping employees with the tools they need to accomplish the things you're asking of them. If you’ve already shown somebody how to present a bottle of wine up to the restaurants standards and they’ve shown you they can do it, there is no excuse for doing it a different way, right?
Once the expectations and standards are understood and successfully demonstrated by the staff then you can hold each person accountable. If an employee knows how to behave and chooses not to, then you can take disciplinary action, but if they never really learned how to behave, things can get messy.
Be direct when correcting behavior
Communication can be more concise during moments when correction, or even discipline, is required. In these cases, be polite, but don't mince words. See a staffer pour incorrectly? A good manager will pull them aside and say something like: "You know the proper way to do this. I saw you do it incorrectly and I know you know better. Do it the way we agreed upon, please."
This is simple and clear communication, and it will do wonders for the tone and efficacy of your restaurant. You must keep the pressure on the staff to maintain the restaurant's standards. Good managers don't have to get angry or frustrated to get the best out of their staff. Be calm, polite, and concise. Always.
Lead by example
A good restaurant manager never asks their employees to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves. Let's say it again: a good restaurant manager never asks their employees to do something that they wouldn’t do themselves
If you're a manager trying to get better at managing your employees, don't just tell them, but show them that you respect them enough to do any job necessary to keep the restaurant running. And don't mail it in: do everything the right way, every time.
Pro-tip: Your staff is always watching you, they want to learn and see how you do things. They will pick up your habits, so make sure your habits are good. If you take a shortcut then that shortcut is fair game for anyone around you to use.
Look for (and investigate) patterns
Great managers are always looking/thinking about the big picture while focusing on the details of what’s happening around them. If something draws their attention because it seems wrong, they may zoom in on that. But if it turns out to be a one-off, it's on to the next thing.
To get better as a restaurant manager, it’s important to look for patterns of things that could be done better before stepping in to fix them (unless it’s an emergency).
Try to confront every problem, every time you will never be able to focus on things that matter. If a server drops a glass, no big deal. If a server drops a glass four days in a row, investigate. If a guest complains that a dish is too salty, that might just be their preference. If three more guests complain about dishes being salty, investigate. It’s important to prioritize the things that you deal with based on the urgency of the situation and patterns that emerge.
Fun exercise: Stand still for five minutes and look at the restaurant during its busiest moments. Observe and take notes. It’s hard to not help out for those minutes, but you come away with so much information at the end.
Prioritizing and multi-tasking
Here’s a list of things that a restaurant manager ought to be paying attention to while walking through the dining room during service. In a 10-second walk through, great restaurant managers think about:
the amount of water in glasses
empty or near empty beverage glasses
how servers talk to their tables about the restaurant, food, etc
writing next week’s schedule
noticing that the restaurant just sold the last bottle of a certain wine (and need to order more tomorrow)
the bartender didn’t shake that drink long enough
a piece of toast that looks burned
part of the restaurant that needs a spot sweep
This is just a sliver of what's going on—or should be—in a restaurant manager’s head. This is why multitasking is so fundamental to become a better restaurant manager. But multitasking isn't as important as prioritizing for great restaurant managers. Being able to shuffle and reshuffle all your tasks in order of urgency is absolutely crucial. Some things can wait, others can not. Becoming a better restaurant manager means learning which is which.
Ask for help... and delegate
Fact: even if you've trained them well (especially if you've trained them well) your staff wants direction. They want to accomplish things. Don’t be afraid to delegate and distribute jobs to the staff. If you try to do everything yourself you will likely burn out when you could have asked for help. If you've earned your employees' respect by treating them as valuable team members and communicating clearly, they'll be ready and willing to help when you ask.
Good leaders—and especially good restaurant managers—are consistent. If you are consistently present and available, they will respect and trust you. If you're not, they won't. Being a better manager also means projecting that consistency across enforcement of standards and protocol in the restaurant. You must constantly communicate and maintain standards, or level of service will slowly degrade. And never, every play favorites amongst the staff.
Have fun, stay calm
This is the hospitality industry. It’s about people coming together to eat, drink and have a good time. If you're having fun while still doing things the right way, then your staff will do the same. Restaurants are high pressure environments because of all of the timing and details involved. There's no need to add to the pressure by taking it too seriously. If being a manager stresses you out to the point where you can't find any enjoyment in the job, well, then... find another job.
The last piece of advice for becoming a better restaurant manager? Spend time with your favorite managers. Pick their brains about their philosophy, prioritizing, communication style, etc. Watch them in action. Ask them about moments when they learned what not to do. These are usually situations where they've learned things the hard way; avoid those situations for your future self by learning from those experiences.