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How to become a restaurant manager your team will love

Posted by Anna Dolce on Apr 27, 2017 8:30:00 AM
Anna Dolce

Between wearing many hats, the pressure to wear them all well, and juggling what can seem like a thousand daily tasks, restaurant management is survival of the fittest. 

It’s a job where shifts notoriously last 10-14 hours (sometimes longer), which can be taxing on the body and overwhelming on the mind. Managers can easily fall into the slump of going through the motions, losing enthusiasm for their work.

And when your enthusiasm goes, so does the trust and respect you receive from your team.

Here are 5 steps to be more fulfilled at work and become the restaurant manager your team loves to work with.

5 Steps to be the Manager Your Team Wants to Work With.png

1. Lead Yourself First

Contrary to your title of manager, your number one job is to lead your team. And until you can lead yourself, you have no moral authority to lead others.

Leading yourself means having the confidence and discipline to do the things you know you need to do, especially when you have a solid excuse for not doing them.

Start with the basics.

Too often, restaurant managers make excuses for their unhealthy eating (“it’s all that’s around at work”), not working out (“I have no time”), or not sleeping enough (“I work long hours”).

"You may sacrifice weekends, holidays, and important dates, but living to work is not a badge of honor."
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I know 50+ hour weeks are common in the restaurant industry. But what keeps restaurant managers fat and grumpy is not the hours – it’s not recognizing what’s most important and lacking the discipline to follow through on those priorities. Not having time for health and self-care is inexcusable.

Before health and self-care can be effective, however, you have to make a conscious choice to undo your bad habits.

I once had a manager who would bite his fingernails until they bled. Another one who had a daily drinking habit; one night he passed out in the office while counting money at the end of his shift. Another manager who was 30 minutes late to every one of his shifts.

If you come to work moody or short-tempered, why would anyone look forward to working with you? If you don’t have enough discipline to do the right thing for you, why should your team trust that you’ll do what’s right for them?

If you are not leading yourself, how are you fit to lead others?

2. Get A Life

Many managers I’ve worked with prided themselves on having no life outside of work. They would grind ungodly hours every week only to become cynical and even bitter over time. 

The definition of success is different for each person, but choosing one or the other (e.g. work or family) is not real success. Your work may be important to you for obvious reasons (income, passion, professional growth) and not so obvious reasons (recognition, a stepping stone to future opportunities). You may sacrifice weekends, holidays, and important dates, but living to work is not a badge of honor.

Not giving yourself enough of a margin for self-care, family, relationships or other interests can make you resent your work. Your team wants to follow a leader who has energy and enthusiasm, not an overworked, disgruntled manager who complains about how hard his job is and does nothing to change it.

If your work schedule leaves no room for a life outside of work – and believe me, I have been there – negotiate for a more freeing schedule or change your job to find a schedule that allows you to live a life, not just live to work.


3. Your Team Doesn’t Work FOR You, They Work WITH You

Words matter as much as actions do, sometimes even more, because the words we use launch us into corresponding actions.

Too often restaurant managers refer to their team as staff or employees, or they say “he/she works for me”. This language creates a separation between you and your team, and makes them feel excluded and less important.

The role of the manager is more intuitive than tactical. Leadership requires more soft skills and emotional intelligence than technical knowledge. It may be true that your restaurant has an organizational hierarchy and you have a staff working under you, but in reality, the only way you and your restaurant succeed is because your team works with you.

A true leader has confidence in himself and doesn’t need to point out his authority. His actions and demeanor make his authority known. He understands that the people he leads are not below him. His team is a critical part of his success and he regards them as such.

A true leader practices humility, which doesn’t mean thinking less of his own worth, but thinking more of the worth of others. 

When referring to your teammates (not staff or employees), always say they work with you. This language of inclusion creates togetherness. It eliminates any possible Us vs. Them mentality and strengthens the bond between you and your team.

Acknowledge, Praise, Reward

Restaurant managers are often hired and trained to identify and fix problems. As a result, managers become cops, seeking problems to handle, rather than team builders and collaboration leaders. These cop-managers think pointing out what's wrong will prevent it from happening again. They think if they slap your right hand today, they won't have to slap the left one tomorrow.

While problem solving is a critical skill for a restaurant manager, identifying what's going right is even more important. 

"When referring to your teammates, always say they work with you. This language of inclusion creates togetherness."
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The fact is, what's wrong is always available. What are the chances that at any given moment one of your team members is doing something other than what you expect? I'll say it’s guaranteed. At the same very time, there are also many things that are going precisely the way you want them to. Which of these do you consistently focus on?

I'm not suggesting you disregard problems, but rather become more effective at lessening the chances of them reoccurring. You can do this by acknowledging, praising and rewarding good behavior.

What we focus on expands. What we reinforce multiplies. What we reward gets repeated.

If you consistently acknowledge, praise and reward good behavior, instead of trying to beat down the bad, you'll have far less disciplining to do. It's a human need to be seen and recognized. Your team will show up eager to work with you and earn your praise.

5. Get In The Game

The greatest generals fought alongside their troops. The greatest restaurant managers lead from the front of the house.

The fact is, most diners never even see a manager, let alone get acknowledged by one. And most restaurant teams never get the true leader they deserve to work alongside.

I know it sometimes feels like you need a body double just to get through a shift as a restaurant manager. Being pulled in many different directions can make your head spin and easily cause you to lose focus. Putting out constant fires feels trivial and you can forget the bigger purpose you serve as a restaurant manager.

The most important role of a restaurant manager is to build collaborative teams that ensure an excellent guest experience.

You have to build the synergy between the back of the house and front of the house. You have to get to know your guests. You can't do that by sitting in an office, not talking to your guests and not getting your hands dirty.

Know what's going on in each department. Be present. Be supportive. Set the example. Constantly communicate with your team. Get to know guests. Lead from the front.


What is your number one tip for being an effective restaurant manager? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Anna Dolce.png  Anna Dolce is a life and business strategist, restaurant and small business expert, writer and speaker. Anna helps restaurant owners and various entrepreneurs grow their businesses and get the most out of their lives. Anna has spoken from the TEDx stage, major conferences and industry shows on the topics of service vs. hospitality, entrepreneurship, leadership and restaurants. Visit annadolce.com to get in touch. 


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Topics: Hospitality career tips, Hospitality managers, Restaurants, Hospitality training