6 Secrets to Hiring the Best Restaurant General Manager

The general manager of a restaurant is the most crucial position in the entire business. The chef usually gets the glory, but the general manager is responsible for keeping the restaurant operating consistently, ensuring guest satisfaction, hiring and developing the staff, delivering budgeted profits, and driving sales growth. A good general manager can keep an owner, a server, and a dishwasher all happy and all focused on the same prize at the same time. With all of that said, it’s amazing that so little thought goes into the recruiting and hiring process for most general managers. Here are some simple steps to follow that will almost always guarantee success when hiring a general manager for your restaurant:

  1. Know What You Are Looking For Guess what? Really great general managers are not equally successful in every situation because the job isn’t the same in every situation. To find the right person for the job, begin by writing or refreshing the job description. Create an overall summary of the position, then list – in detailed bullets – all of the individual job tasks. Read the description aloud, all the while asking yourself, “what kind of person could handle these tasks?” Those traits should be the job requirements so once you nail them down, set out to find that exact person. Truly, there two types of general managers. You need to decide which one you are looking for. If you are a restaurant with established systems and procedures, you need a strong executor. If you do not have that structure and are surviving off strength and willpower, then you need a creator. An executor is detail oriented and gets things done by following the rules. A creator thinks outside the box and enjoys writing the rules. Rarely do an executor and a creator live in the same body.
  2. Interview a Lot of Candidates Approach interviews armed with questions that will help you test for compatibility to your job description. Put the candidate at ease by smiling while they talk and get them to talk about their experience early on in the interview. To dig deeper into who they are, move into a round of situational questions like the following: Tell me about a time you disagreed with your direct report and how you handled that situation?Do you have any prior employees you consider a success story? Tell me how you aided in their development. How have you handled days where you feel like you are moving from one crisis to the next? Resumes don’t always tell the whole story. If you like the overall way a candidate reads on paper but are bothered by a detail or two – like short tenures in their last 3 jobs or moving around from state to state – interview them anyway. There may be a good explanation for your concerns. And most of all, don’t stop the interviewing process just because you like a candidate. There may still be better candidates out there. It is always best to have at least 3 options to compare and contrast their strengths and areas of opportunities.
  3. Interview Without Bias This may be the most challenging task. Having a two-hour conversation about which of the Harry Potter books was your favorite is not a reason to give someone the keys to your restaurant. If you find yourself replying to everything said, this is usually an indicator that you are having too much fun. The entire interview should be spent listening carefully. Each story the candidate shares should set up your next question. Eye contact, tone, and facial expressions can all be signs that you need to ask more questions on a particular topic.
  4. Use a Personality Profile Test Everyone has personality traits that are a fixed part of who they are. Those traits will never change. We can learn to amend or work around them for a more positive outcome, but they will always exist. Once you have narrowed candidates down to the last two or three, have them complete a personality profile test. The results can validate things you thought you saw during the interview and bring up entirely new concerns that you did not consider. Likewise, the test can validate that you are looking at the perfect candidate for your position. The test results provide an added benefit by arming you with the information needed to set a developmental path for the candidate, should you decide to hire them. Very rarely will one person be everything that you want them to be. It is much better to begin the relationship armed with an awareness of potential problem areas, allowing you to be prepared to deal with them when they arise.
  5. Check References I am always surprised when people don’t check references. The common excuse that former employers will only validate “span of employment and eligibility for rehires” is simply not true. Unless you find yourself dealing with an HR director, you can almost always get a little something extra out of the person on the other end of the phone. If the candidate was a great employee, the former employer is usually happy to tell you this. If the candidate was not, you get a lot less. It helps to use all your connections in the restaurant business. In the management ranks we all can usually find a friend of a friend that worked for the candidate’s former boss and then use that connection to gain more information. Even the tone in which someone speaks about a former employee can sometimes tell you whether or not they were good at their job. Any information you can gather is another helpful piece in getting to know the candidate. 
  6. Interview Final Candidates Again That’s right! Even if you love a candidate you should put them through one final questioning session after the personality profile and reference checks are complete. Follow up on any targeted areas of opportunity uncovered and make sure it is something you can work with. Remember that a great track record is not all that is required for a general manager to be successful running your restaurant. They need to fit well with your style of communication, company values, and mission. Hiring a general manager is like getting married and the interview process is dating. Make sure your new hire is someone you want to keep around for a long time.

Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

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