Restaurant management is often a difficult and taxing job. Long hours, a heft of responsibility, and the unpredictability that comes with working in hospitality. But it can also be a rewarding experience that allows you to mix creativity with personnel management and operations.
This guide will breakdown different areas of management and provides tips to become a successful restaurant manager.
Here's what you'll find in the guide:
The leadership skills and qualities needed to be a restaurant manager take time to build and train. It's a tough position that requires a gumbo of personal, organizational, and strategic skills. If you're entering your first management position, the workload and responsibility can seem overwhelming.
But it's important to remember to take things one step at a time. Focus on small achievements and building a strong foundation for your skills.
While researching the topic of restaurant management skills, I came across a helpful and insightful guide on the qualities of a good manager. The Management Skills Level Pyramid was developed by Dr. Kammy Haynes, who has a Ph.D. in Industrial Organizational Psychology and is the CEO of her own management consulting group. She knows her stuff.
Backbar's visualization of the Management Skills Levels Pyramid
The pyramid system is useful because it shows the skills that you need to adopt in order grow and become more successful as a manager. It acknowledges that building skills, and growing a career, take time and effort.
For this post, we'll separate the different levels of the management pyramid in order to put them in context of the managing a restaurant. Here's a link to read more about the management skills pyramid if you're interested.
The foundational level of the pyramid deals with more tangible skills like planning, organizing, and directing your employees and restaurant. That means the core traits of a successful restaurant manager have to do with being proactive, mindful, and a strong communicator.
This is most basic level of management. It essentially describes the basic job functions of a manager. Working in a restaurant means the unexpected is to be expected. It's crucial that a manager takes the time to plan and account for the resources needed to operate a restaurant, such as:
Proper planning comes down to being mindful of what your restaurant requires to run properly each and everyday. When I was still bartending, one manager constantly repeated a mantra, "set yourself up for success." A good manager sets his employees up for success with proper planning.
After planning comes organization. How will the plan be executed? It comes down to organization. This includes organizing staff and co-workers into a system that is primed for success and handling the unexpected.
Here are some ways to a restaurant manager establishes organization:
Direct is the first interpersonal skill in the pyramid. It's the communication of what you've planned and organized. It's about providing guidance for your staff on a daily basis to ensure they know what the standards and expectations of working at the restaurant are.
Direction is a crucial element of management, and it requires being proactive and open with your employees so there isn't any uncertainty with the day-to-day tasks they're responsible for.
For example, if you require your servers to get their side work approved by a manager or lead server, then make sure each server knows the procedure when they begin working for you. You will be able to avoid many issues this way, and also be able to spot underachieving employees quickly.
Control is the myriad systems put in place to monitor and evaluate how the restaurant is operating. Whether it's tracking financial performance, establishing a depreciating budget for liquor and food purchasing, or ensuring that service is consistent and employees are performing.
Here are some examples of control:
If the first level of the pyramid was the head of a good manager, then Level 2 is the heart. This level deals with less operation and clerical skills than level 1. It focuses more on promoting a positive work environment that creates professional and personal growth for your employees.
Motivating your employees isn't an easy task. And there's no single tactic that will motivate every employee. Sometimes it's easier to start by identifying things that de-motivate employees than it is to spot successful motivational tactics. Things like a lack of effort from management, poor planning, poor organization, will create a sour work environment.
Essentially, a de-motivating environment is created when management doesn't display any of the characteristics of a good restaurant manager listed in level 1 of the pyramid.
It's important to remember that motivation doesn't have to take the form of rah-rah sports motivation often seen in pop culture. Consistent, good work and responsibility is a good way to motivate people, for example. Motivation doesn't always require the high energy of a tense moment in a crucial game, or the victory speech before a big battle in Game of Thrones.
Here are some good ways to motivate staff:
You can also implement more competitive elements of motivation to persuade employees to work harder.
Training has a lot to do with organization and planning. But execution of training requires good communication and motivation to improve employee skills.
For example, providing insightful wine training is a great to engage employees by giving them the opportunity to learn new information skills that will help them upsell to guests and earn more money.
Here are some ways to implement productive training:
Coaching and training sound similar, but the goals associated with them are different. Training is focused more on practical knowledge and operational procedures. It relates specifically to the products you service and the way your restaurant functions.
Coaching, on the other hand, is focused more on performance and professional growth. It could be giving guidance on how to deal with stressful situations, or dealing with co-worker disagreements.
Coaching also provides insights into how to improve performance, and the logic behind handling situations in order to achieve the best outcome.
Here are some ways to implement coaching in your restaurant:
This is a key skill of being a good restaurant manager. Employees want their voices to be heard. No one wants to feel like they're just a body at work. Giving employees the opportunity to make suggestions, improve operations, and impact their workplace will go along way towards employee satisfaction and limiting turnover.
This set of skills is focused on the manager themselves. While the bulk of management is managing others, how you manage yourself is also important. It will dictate your ability to execute all the skills involved in the first two levels of the pyramid.
This is about knowing yourself. Your strengths, weaknesses, and your limits of endurance. Understanding the skills you need to improve on, or which tasks should be delegated is important.
The restaurant industry can be overwhelming for managers. So it's important not to becoming a load bearing structure, where if you collapse, the whole thing comes crashing down. Taking on a larger work load than possible is not a noble thing, because you're shorting yourself and your employees.
Here are ways to improve self management:
When you work in a restaurant, time disappears faster than shift meal. So it's important to understand how to invest your time when you're at the restaurant.
Create a schedule that works for you. If lunch service is hectic and it pulls you away from office work, then plan your day accordingly so you can get office tasks done without interruption.
Here are some strategies to improve time management:
Congratulations, you've reached the summit. Once you can learn to handle the technical, organizational, motivational, and self-management skills required to be a successful restaurant manager, you can focus on the bigger picture.
Leadership is more than simply managing employees and operations. It's having the ability to inspire people to work with and alongside you. A good leader executes all the skills of a good manager, but they do it consistently, and with passion, so people are willing to follow them.
It means that your overall vision for the restaurant - what you want to be known for, how you want to be viewed within the community, what experience you want to provide your guests - is consistently served by the strategies employed through the lower levels of the pyramid.
Essentially, a good leader holds their vision accountable to the work that needs to be done to achieve it.
In the breakdown of skills we tangentially covered a good number of management duties. But not all management jobs are the same, so duties can differ. The following breakdown of duties by manager position is a generalization. A lot depends on the restaurant you work in and the other staff on hand. And across restaurant types, there is a lot of overlap across job titles.
For example, managers in a corporate restaurant setting often have a more standardized and focused set of responsibilities.
On the other hand, managers at independent restaurant or part of a small group will often have a wider scope of responsibilities than corporate counterparts. That said, it will also allow them to have more input, control, and creative license.
Determining what qualities you value in a job will help you decide which management style and career path you'd like to pursue.
For restaurants and bars, high turnover rate for employees is a major hurdle that many restaurants struggle with. With staffing, consistency is key. It's easier to input and uphold standards of service. It allows restaurants to maintain an identity. It helps when building loyal repeat customers.
A low turnover rate means that restaurant and bar managers don't have to spend their time reviewing resumes, scheduling and conducting interviews, and training new staff.
The restaurant industry runs on personal connections. It's part of the business model in hospitality. It's also a great way to find stellar staff members. If you have an employee with a great work ethic that performs all their job duties well, then lean on them to recommend new employees when you are hiring.
More than likely, a strong worker will only recommend other strong workers. The reason is twofold. One reason is that their reputation is on the line. Good employees won't want to refer a poor worker to their employer because they feel a responsibility for the referral and their reputation is on the line.
The second reason is more selfish, in a good way. A good employee won't want to work alongside someone who is underperforming because it will affect their job performance and workload.
Industry Job Boards
Job boards like Culinary Agents, Poached, or iHireChefs are a great resource to find high quality staff. And because they are industry focused, you'll generally find more qualified applicants than posting on craigslist or general job boards.
Though postings on these boards does cost money, the return you'll get is better odds at landing a great new staff member.
Asking the Right Questions
The interview process is crucial when hiring staff. That should be a no-brainer. But many bars and restaurants who are short staffed need help quickly, and can end up hiring bodies instead of hiring professionals who are the right fit.
Here are some areas to focus your questions on:
Styles of service are different for many restaurants. If you're hiring a bartender for a nightclub, then you'll want to find someone who has nightclub experience, or at least experience with high volume, speed, and an even-tempered demeanor.
Conversely, if you manage a fine dining restaurant, you'll want someone who has white table cloth experience, a strong knowledge of wine, and who has clear communication when explaining complex dishes or suggesting food and wine pairings.
Understanding the specific skills needed to thrive at your environment will help you find staff who possess those skills.
When trading in customer service, the unexpected, odd, and uncomfortable can happen without much notice. An uncomfortable situation may be the need to cut a customer off from ordering drinks. Ask interviewees how they would approach a situation like this, or even better, how they've handled it in the past.
A resume doesn't just tell you about experience and references. It also tells you something about loyalty. Though turnover in restaurants is high, make sure to take note of how long an applicant has stayed at past jobs.
A resume littered with job stints of 2-3 months could indicate that this person has a higher likelihood to leave your restaurant in the same time period. Another red flag is if they don't list duration of employment for past jobs. This could indicate that they are trying to downplay their job hopping past.
For younger applicants, job history may not be as relevant for hiring because of a lack of possible experience. It's also important to ask what factors have cause employees to leave previous jobs. How they talk about this is a good indicator of what they value
After hiring, the next step is training staff. A strong training program is a great way to establish standards of service and also provides value for staff who will feel more comfortable and knowledgeable when they work on the floor.
It's important to remember that training isn't just for new hires. Ongoing training for staff is crucial for keeping them engaged and providing value for them so they don't feel bored or uninspired at work.
Every training program should start with a solid plan. Write out the goals you want your staff to achieve. Make sure they are measurable, so you can determine what is working or what changes need to be made to reach success.
Utilize the same plan for each employee that comes into your establishment, making adjustments when needed. Consistency ensures that everyone is on the same page and are held to the same set of standards.
Within your plan, prioritize the tasks so your employees understand the importance of some duties over others. For example, a server should have an in-depth understanding of the menu before they begin waiting on tables and making suggestions to guests.
Training should be scheduled consistently to reinforce what staff needs to know, new additions to the menu and focus on areas that are falling short.
To help you kickstart your training plan, here is a training checklist for different areas to cover.
Each individual learns in a different way. There is no, 100% correct method to train waitstaff, but by paying attention to the way they learn best, such as visually, auditory, and kinesthetically, you can more efficiently convey information. There are three approaches in the way you teach your staff:
Shadowing and Demonstration
This is a method in which an employee follows a more experienced staff member who physically shows an employee how to complete a task. The trainee watches and then replicates the actions later. This is meant to give a new employee a feel for the way responsibilities are completed, start to finish. It also gives the trainee a glimpse into real-life scenarios.
Instructing and Supervising
Instructing is a more passive form of training. A new hire is provided with a set of instructions on how to accomplish a task, without demonstration. This is a more hands-on approach, in which an employee can either finish a task successfully or learn from the mistakes that they made. They can keep the directions as a reference when they officially start the job. A trainer is provided to supervise performance and make suggestions when needed.
This form of training allows new hires to experience what might happen in a real-life situation, without the pressure of a real-life situation. Trainers act out the role of the customer to test trainees on what they have learned. This helps to build confidence before a new employee has to interact with real customers.
Take Care of Your Employees
It is important to start your new employees off on the right foot. Make sure they are educated on your products and concept. Let them sample food and beverages on a regular basis so they can provide honest, detailed recommendations for customers. Provide the proper equipment and training for the job they have been assigned to do. Checklists and procedure outlines are your friend. Set them up to succeed!
Make sure it is very clear what you expect from your staff as well as what they should expect from you. Be consistent with policies and procedures. When you ask questions, be very direct so there is no confusion down the road (tip: check out these 5 important questions to ask any bartender). Define clear and specific expectations about what success looks like for any given role.
Pay Every Employee a Living Wage
If you're not sure how much that is, you can go to this site that provides examples depending on where you live. Another way to show your staff that you care about them is in-house employee discounts. For example, a server working at a restaurant may receive 50% off of any food he orders while on the clock, and so on.
What of the most important skills for a restaurant or bar manager to develop is time management. So many issues can crop up through out a shift that will pull you away from your to-do list. But by planning ahead and delegating tasks, managers can make sure they get the administrative tasks or pet projects are done in order to ensure the restaurant runs smoothly and operations improve.
Restaurant managers don't operate on the traditional 9-5 work timeline. But it doesn't mean that we can't utilize some of the best practices used in office environments. One of those practices is the weekly sprint. This is a list of items you want to take care of that week. You should prioritize these to know where you should focus your energy first.
Weekly sprints generally focus on a larger project and all the tasks required to finish it.
The project could be reorganizing your liquor room. This might require you to take inventory, re-sort liquor, wine, and beer bottles, put together labels or a map of where to find things, and add additional operational procedures like liquor bottle sign-out sheets, and finally communicate those new systems to your staff.
All of these tasks fall under the same project, and acknowledging every step that goes into completing a project will help you plan time accordingly, and not feel overwhelmed if it takes longer that initially expected.
Aside from large projects, a crucial step of planning weekly sprints is to analyze your past week. Reflecting on service issues that came up, coolers that caught fire, operational weak points that need fixing, will give you a good understanding of what you should prioritize next week.
A nice perk of managing a restaurant is getting to sample new wines, beers, and spirits that your sales reps bring to you. But the cost of that is sales reps popping in to talk with you at their convenience. This can be a real disruption when you have a lot of work to finish.
By giving hard time windows to reps for when they can stop by, it can minimize this distraction.
The key is to communicate with your reps. Even requesting that they call or text prior to dropping in can help you plan for visits.
One of the biggest time-eaters for restaurant managers is the hiring process. The entire process—posting jobs, interviews, on-boarding—only seems to start arguably after it ended, like you're stuck in a GIF on endless loop. Hiring good staff is a big challenge, so much so that 36% of restaurant operators identify "staffing as their biggest challenge to success.
One of the ways to prevent staff turnover is with proper training. And proper training will also help prevent you from wasting time on tasks that your employees are more than capable of handling.
Outside of food and beverage training, it's important to focus training on operational procedures. This makes sure the necessary work is getting done.
Here are a few examples and tips for instilling best practices in your staff, that will in turn save restaurant managers time.
Bartenders, servers, kitchen staff, and support staff should all have checklists that breakdown the opening and closing duties for shift they work. This prevents you from having to micromanage staff because they are aware of their responsibilities and have documentation that holds them accountable if the duties are not completed.
To take it a step further, you can appointment a lead server for each shift, this should be your closing server or bartender, who is responsible for authorizing that their co-workers have completed all of the duties.
This saves you a ton of time towards the end of the night and also is a great way to reward good workers with more responsibility and authority.
There are countless apps available for the restaurant industry. But are you using any that can help boost your productivity? From reservation apps to scheduling apps, you can remove tedious tasks from your everyday routine.
Consider how you spend time each day, and the management tasks that compromise your workload that you'd like to streamline. Inventory and beverage management apps like Backbar can certainly help you save time on mundane tasks.
You just need to make sure that the apps or software you use make a real impact on your day-to-do tasks.
Knowing your sales numbers is a crucial way to build a deeper understanding of how your restaurant runs. Looking at the rate of sales for wines or cocktails can impact how often you order certain products.
Looking at your table turns and knowing your busiest hours allows you to streamline staffing decisions. By reviewing restaurant data, you can make decisions faster and with more confidence.
Time management means more than assessing productivity and the physical component of completing tasks. It also has a lot to do with the mental aspect of managing a restaurant, which includes the time spent making decisions and stressing about the decisions you've made.
Knowing your data means less time and energy spent on decision making.
If you have the opportunity to create your own schedule, or influence when you're scheduled to be at work, then make sure you schedule a time each week that you can be in the restaurant alone.
Having time to yourself to get paperwork done, plan for If you have the opportunity to create your own schedule, or influence when you're scheduled to be at work, then make sure you schedule a time each week that you can be in the restaurant alone.
Having time to yourself to get paperwork done, plan for events, or put together training programs will put you in a better position to handle issues with service and staff when they come up.
This most likely means coming in early, before food or drink service starts, so you have time to work without interruption. Creating a fortress of solitude where you can work without distraction is a boon to your time management—both physically and mentally., or put together training programs will put you in a better position to handle issues with service and staff when they come up.
This most likely means coming in early, before food or drink service starts, so you have time to work without interruption. Creating a fortress of solitude where you can work without distraction is a boon to your time management—both physically and mentally.
A big part of being a manager is building relationships by coaching and mentoring your employees. In short, management is about being a leader. That skill doesn't come natural to everyone. A manager could be a wine expert, or be wonderful with customers, but they may still lack critical interpersonal skills when managing employees.
Experience is the best teacher when it comes to leadership, but there are other great resources to learn from to become a better manager.
This is an amazing resource for anyone who wants to learn. Coursera goes beyond hospitality education, they are an educational technology company that offers online courses from top universities for free. Visit the site and you can find Food and Beverage Management courses, Hospitality Management, and classes on coaching and leadership in management roles.
National Restaurant Association
The NRA has a great section on their website that is focused on restaurant management training. The articles range from useful training tips to guidance on the hiring process or even insight into policy and regulations regarding restaurants.
The social media site that is fully powered by user-generated content is a great resource for restaurateurs and eager-to-learn restaurant managers. The best forum, or in local parlance, "subreddit," for restaurant information is /r/restaurateur. Here you can ask questions related to restaurant operations and field answers by the restaurateurs and experience restaurant professionals in the subreddit. Forums like these are best used for answering specific questions than a full on training course. But it's usefulness as a resource is undeniable.
Restaurant Rockstar Academy
The Restaurant Rockstar is Roger Beaudoin, a successful restaurant owner and operator who now works as a consultant and has built a training program called The Restaurant Rockstar Academy. It details how to best run and operate a restaurant and build a successful team of employees.
Service that Sells
We have not used this service previously, but they have a strong web presence, and their focus is on creating customized training programs that fit your restaurant. We think this is a great feature, and appreciate the personalized touch. Of course, this also means a custom price tag comes with the service. They specialize in server and employee training, but also have dedicated training for management.
Books on Operating Restaurants and Bars
A great leadership guide for those who are just starting out in managerial roles and looking to learn how to be a leader, not just a boss.
This is as close to a restaurant management bible as it comes. Now in its 4th edition, the updated best-seller dives into all aspects of running a restaurant, including managing and training employees.
This book was written in 2008 by one of the most successful restaurateurs of our times, Danny Meyer. The CEO of Union Square Hospitality details the lessons he has learned about the restaurant business through his climb to the top. A must read for any manager on the rise in the modern restaurant world.