From host to waitress to manager, I've worked every position in the restaurant industry and learned that just like with most businesses, the best managers can motivate a team, command respect, and even inspire. The worst can do a lot of damage.
Nothing has prepared me to manage a restaurant better than working as a hostess, server, bartender and cook for some wonderful, and mostly terrible, managers. The terrible ones taught me to never to yell at my staff in front of guests, never to gossip about my employees, and to never needlessly micro-manage. The good ones taught me to constantly learn and grow from successes, but more so from mistakes.
These are some lessons I’ve picked up, and some lessons I’m still learning.
1. Set a Good Pace
As a server (bartender, busser, etc), it’s infuriating to watch a manager sipping a cappuccino and taking a breather while you're busy working your butt off. I once had a senior manager tell me, “If you have nothing to do, walk around the dining room as fast as you can.” At first the advice sounds absurd, but she had a point: Idleness is never a virtue. On the other hand, it's always better to find something to do as opposed to running around like a headless chicken. Help out a guest. Help out your staff. There's always a surface that can be wiped down or a counter top that could be a little tidier or cleaner. Demonstrate that you value hard work by sweating a little.
2. It’s All About your Staff
Hire carefully. A manager is only as good as their staff. You can teach, train, and educate. You can foster a culture of great service and high standards. But people either bring passion and motivation to their work or not. Enthusiastic, dedicated members of your team inspire others. They make your job easier. In the service industry, your customers come to feel taken care of. Your employees should have a genuine warmth and concern for others. Otherwise, even with all the knowledge and experience in the world, they are in the wrong business. The restaurant industry is notorious for its grueling hours. You spend significantly more time with your staff than with your friends and family. So hire people you like!
3. Focus on the Money, Honey
It’s easy to get wrapped up in details. Why does the silverware keep disappearing? Why do the guests say the food isn’t hot enough when it comes right out of the oven? Why all the no shows? Remember to give amazing food and service, but also remember that you’re running a business. That means the test of your success is not only happy bellies, but a happy P&L. Manage your costs carefully. It was sad to get rid of shift drinks for staff, but we could see streamlined liquor costs almost instantly. I know my staff needs the money, but when I cut gratuitous waiters on a slow night, everyone stays more focused and makes more cash. At the same time, never sacrifice quality. Your customers can tell. Even though it was cheaper to outsource desserts, we’ve started to make our own. Its worth the few extra dollars to have guests return just for the molten chocolate coconut cake. They know the difference between the rich, mellow cake we make and the cake from a box.
There’s no point discontinuing shift drinks if your staff still thinks it’s time for their nightly beer. It’s bad for everyone if you 86 the red snapper and your bartender doesn’t know: bad for the kitchen, the front of the house, and mostly for the guests who really want that snapper. Set up a system that helps information travel fast. Have pre-shift meetings so your staff knows where to direct their focus. Do you need to sell that white Burgundy? Do you need to turn those tables? They can’t read your mind, so make sure you take the time to communicate what’s important.
5. Trust the System
Which means you have to build a system first. If the runner is always serving bread, no one else needs to focus on bread. The best systems for service means all the bases are covered. The ice gets filled before it is empty. The staff knows what their priorities are: first greet customers, then run food, then drinks. Help guests before you reset that empty table. Texting is on the bottom of the list. Once your system is in place, do your best not to micro-manage. An employee who works on their own initiative is more empowered and will ultimately be happier and more productive, even if there are a few hiccups on the way. Once everyone knows what to do and when to do it, then you’re set. Enjoy the cappuccino. Just not in front of your staff.
Image credit: aidypoos