Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting
Rules for being a successful restaurant manager, now there’s a big topic. Most people would probably list things like, control your costs, complete your daily checklists immediately, and balance the money at the end of the night. Those are all tasks. I believe being a successful restaurant manager is often more about how you are than what you do. Here are my 7 rules for being a good manager, liking your job, and staying alive…. all at the same time.
1) Have a Plan: This is where I do say follow your checklists and routines to set yourself up for success. Don’t just check off the boxes, asses the data. Know what products you are low on, where you are short staffed, who your weakest links are, what groups are in town and how they can affect business, etc. Know the variables, they are different every shift, and have a plan in place for dealing with the worst. Convey the plan to your team so everyone knows what to do when you give the signal.
2) Throw Away the Plan: Well not completely but know when the plan isn’t working. We try everyday to predict what will happen and we never get it completely right. Restaurants are only two-thirds science, the rest is fast foot work and shuffling priorities. You’re not a bad manager if you don’t see everything coming. You are a bad manager if you don’t react and correct the course.
3) Breathe: Every day you make that plan, then you toss it and you work with the new plans. That’s just the way it is. Cooks burn their hand, iced tea brewers break in the middle of lunch, ovens catch fire, air conditioning condensation drips out of the ceiling, and 30 tops walk in unannounced. That is why you have a job. Remember to Breathe. Perhaps the number one rule of being a good manager is “learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable”. Your face tells your staff and guests if everything is ok. Make sure you take a deep breath and always send the right message. It’s not war, it’s a puzzle. And we like puzzles.
4) Engage: You are not in it alone. Engage your staff. Give them constant updates. Point out the upcoming caverns that they do not see and lead them to another road. Be upbeat, positive, and confident. That is all your staff needs to deliver a perfect shift no matter what the obstacle. Engage your guests as well. Guests are like dogs, they smell fear. If they see you directing your staff and having a good time, while still having time to talk to them about new menu items and upcoming wine list changes, they relax and enjoy themselves. Happy guests are like an energy drink with none of the calories. Their happiness is really what keeps us going.
5) Execute: No matter what the problem, don’t sacrifice the details. Monitor ticket times, check plate presentations, temp food, see that tables are greeted quickly, keep front and back of the house focused on restocking, help close out checks and deliver change. The goal is to deliver consistently every day. That is how you build loyal guests. They know things happen and they are amazed when it doesn’t affect you. They have seen plenty of restaurants fall apart when 3 people call in sick.
6) Assess: Begin your day with a plan and end with an assessment of how the plan worked. Our goal as restaurant managers is to be just a little bit better each day. Weigh the days successes against the challenges. Develop a plan to attack the challenges and celebrate the successes. Never go home without an understanding of the day and never go home without saying thank you to all the people who contributed to the successes
7) Sleep: Balance between work and personal life is crucial to being a successful manager. The hard part here is that you are the only one who can create that balance. No one hands it to you. Train your staff, your peers and even your upper management to think like you do and make decisions the same way you would when you are not around. Speak with one voice and you will stop getting those panicked calls on your day off. Get sleep, do things you love and spend time with people who are important to you. It is highly unlikely that you are ever going to work Monday through Friday, nine to five, but you can still develop a life that feels like you do. It is all up to you.
The hardest part of being a restaurant manager is that it always feels a little out of control. That’s ok. Enjoy the energy that brings, keep it positive, control it where you can, and put it back together when the wheels come off. The public marvels at what we do. Many try to do it, few master it. It’s all in your attitude. Every day it really is about how you are. Make a commitment to always be a good manager and a good leader.