Save Your Restaurant by Saving Your Managers
So much has been written about the effect COVID had on restaurant staffing. There was a mass exodus from the industry because hourly employees realized they were being underpaid with no benefits for exceptionally hard work. Expecting no change in the way restaurants were run, many never returned, and restauranteurs continue to face staffing shortages and an unskilled labor pool.
However, hardly anything has been written about the restaurant managers that continued to work during shut downs trying to keep the restaurants afloat through creative revenue streams that required them to be both manager, marketer, and hourly employee. Likewise nothing has been written about the long hours managers are now working training the staffs they have cobbled together, picking up the slack for unfilled hourly positions, dealing with a less and less tolerant customer base, and still trying to deliver acceptable financial results.
The restaurant industry will never fully recover until our mangers fully recover. Over and over we see so many owners just assuming that things will go back to normal, not realizing that their once solid and effective managers are now running on fumes. Every owner needs to assess their management team and help each member of that team get on top of their jobs and regain their work and personal life balance. Stressed out managers find it hard to be empathetic to the needs of their staff causing a never-ending cycle of turnover where no one wins.
Below are our suggestions on how to get your managers back to healthy and happy, putting your restaurant back on solid ground at the same time.
Set Realistic Goals We have always used the acronym SMART to describe the goal setting process. The A stands for Attainable. Now more than ever our managers need wins. That means we need to give them targets that are attainable. Big picture thinking can be exhausting, but breaking the end goal into small digestible and attainable pieces relieves the pressure. As owners we need to participate in the process and help our managers to evaluate the big problems and break them down to multiple smaller solutions where one success paves the path for the next one.
Listen and React Everyone needs someone to talk to; someone they can share both successes and challenges without the fear of being judged. Safe and honest communication with their superior is critical for managers to evaluate alternative directions and explore problem solving options. Just knowing that someone understands their challenges and is willing to share ideas with them allows them to move forward without fear. Simple words of encouragement are empowering and energizing.
Help Them to Innovate Maybe the first thing we should all acknowledge is that tried-and-true restaurant problem solving no longer works. Managers who had a full tool kit are now walking around with an empty box. Solving problems requires digging deeper than ever to find root causes and using out of the box thinking to find new and unproven solutions. Forgetting everything you ever new to be true and testing new ideas is a scary place. As owners and senior managers it is your job to help your leaders become comfortable with being uncomfortable and willing to take risks.
Provide Opportunities for Growth Sometimes creative thinking requires new learnings, and our mangers are way to busy developing seating charts and completing prep lists to seek out these learnings. We should keep our eyes and ears open to seek out books, articles, seminars, motivational speakers, and classes that will help our managers continue to grow as thinkers and solvers. Just finding the opportunities is not enough. We also need to help them cover schedules and map out the time to participate.
Keep Their Time Off Sacred As a young manager I soon discovered that no one was going to save me, so I figured out how to get the time off I needed on my own. Still I felt guilty once every 6 months when I took a Saturday off. This must change. We have to help our managers figure out how to ensure the operation is not in jeopardy when they are not around, encourage them to take the personal time they need, and honor it by not bothering them on their time off. We also need to refrain from bombarding them with everything that went wrong while they were gone. Instead plan time to discuss the challenges and brainstorm ideas to prevent them from happening again.
Do Nice Things No matter what, restaurant management will always be a hard job that constantly challenges our work and personal life balance. Short days turn into really long ones with one bartender’s flat tire, a fryer that refuses to get hot enough, a late delivery, and live music in the park that wasn’t on the calendar. Simple thank yous and kind gestures go a long way to help your managers deal with the job demands. Offering a random extra day off, 2 tickets to a movie, or a special bottle of wine goes even further toward showing your appreciation.
These suggestions barely scratch the surface but are intended to get everyone thinking. Our managers are tired and facing new challenges or brand new at their job with fewer people and less time to train them. If we are going to build strong future leaders, we need to begin investing in their success immediately. If we assume just because they have a resume that shows a management history they must have all the answers our businesses will continue to suffer.