Why Are Restaurant Managers Not Visible Anymore?

On Father’s Day, my family took me to a pancake restaurant in downtown Atlanta. It’s one of those portfolio add-ons to a restaurant group that has already earned their wings through more ambitious dinner concepts, so this one, I suppose, was created because…well…why not? I’ve been to this restaurant three or four times and each time it’s difficult to tell who is in charge. For sure, the food and service are executed at a minimum level so there must be a correlation. I see this a lot: nice place… cool décor… nifty name… cool sounding menu assortment… but no visible leadership. Come to think of it, when looking back at the last dozen or three restaurant experiences I’ve had, I’ve only been able to identify a “leader” five or six times…and half of those were simultaneously running an hourly function like waiting tables or bartending.

When there is a leadership vacuum, it’s not out of bounds for an hourly employee to step up to take charge…but at that point aren’t they just firefighters keeping the place from burning down more than they are intentionally driving the guest experience envisioned by the creators? Based on my experience in these restaurants, it’s clear that it’s the former. The door greet is lackluster (where I’m almost interrupting their screen time), service has devolved to order taking, empty plates and straw paper and general debris pile up, plating is sloppy, when food arrives it is auctioned, check-back timing is late if it comes at all, the first round of drinks arrives after appetizers, …and I never hear “I’m sorry” from anyone in the building…as if doing so will expose the restaurant to liability or puncture the server’s self-esteem. Indeed, I often get quite the opposite: if I ask for extra napkins so I can wipe up the sweat from my water glass or I (God forbid) send a drink back because it was undrinkable, I receive the scowl of shame and have to worry that my food will be enhanced with ingredients not found in the recipe.

Ok, I won’t pretend not to know what’s going on anymore. High labor costs and high commodity prices are eroding the bottom line, so arms-length owners need to do something to survive. They’ve already increased prices as high as the market will allow. They’ve given all the raises they can without turning their net income red. The next easiest thing to do is to cut back on management. They’re salaried after all, which drives a sentiment that they can be worked 70 hours a week without paying extra money. This creates a revolving door which is actually convenient because no actual management labor reduction needs to happen…when managers and chefs quit, the owner doesn’t replace them. If a restaurant is designed to run with a GM, AGM, 2 Managers, Executive Chef, and 2 Sous Chefs it can suddenly end up operating with a GM, 1 Manager, and an Executive Chef. When the conveyor belt moves, battlefield promotions happen, and the hourly staff is given more responsibility.  Survival becomes more important than driving the brand or protecting the guest experience. So why is it important for restaurant patrons to be able to identify the manager on duty?

  1. Customer Service: The manager is typically responsible for overseeing the overall customer experience in the restaurant. If patrons have any issues, concerns, or feedback, being able to identify the manager allows them to address their concerns directly to someone who has the authority to address and resolve them promptly. This helps to ensure a high level of customer service and satisfaction.
  2. Problem Resolution: Sometimes, situations may arise that require immediate attention, such as incorrect orders, food quality issues, or service-related problems. By identifying the manager on duty, patrons can quickly bring such matters to their attention, increasing the likelihood of a swift resolution. The manager can take appropriate actions, such as offering replacements, refunds, or complimentary items, to rectify the situation and prevent further dissatisfaction.
  3. Feedback and Suggestions: Customers often have valuable feedback or suggestions to improve the restaurant’s offerings, ambiance, or service. The manager is typically responsible for gathering and acting upon this feedback. If patrons can identify the manager, they can easily share their thoughts, ideas, or recommendations, contributing to the continuous improvement of the restaurant.
  4. Safety and Security: In cases where safety or security concerns arise, identifying the manager becomes crucial. Whether it’s a medical emergency, a disruptive customer, or any other situation that requires immediate attention, the manager can coordinate appropriate actions, such as calling emergency services or implementing necessary protocols to ensure the safety of patrons and staff.
  5. Special Requests or Accommodations: Sometimes, customers may have specific requests or require special accommodations due to dietary restrictions, allergies, or other reasons. The manager is usually the point person who can address these requests and ensure they are fulfilled appropriately. Being able to identify the manager facilitates communication and ensures that the necessary arrangements are made to meet the patrons’ needs.

Overall, being able to identify the manager on duty empowers restaurant patrons to have a direct line of communication with someone who has the authority and responsibility to address their concerns, provide assistance, and ensure a positive dining experience. The manager is the brand champion…the one who ultimately cares if guests come back. If you go to a restaurant and can’t immediately spot the manager, you can bet that your experience will be middling at best.

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