8 Skills That Make a Great Restaurant Manager

Updated on July 10, 2019
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I have been a server for over two decades, during which time I've had many managers of all types.

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I've Been a Server for Many Years

I have been a server for many, many years—over two decades, in fact. (FYI, it’s an exceptional “day job” when you’re pursuing hard-to-achieve opportunities, such as being a filmmaker, but I’ve already written that article...)

In all my time serving, I’ve had many general mangers, floor managers, service managers, beverage managers, and supervisors. And I’ll be the first to agree that those positions can be thankless, similar to serving, except they don’t make tips (at least, not legally).

Great management, however, can revolutionize a restaurant and grow it daily. They are at the helm. Average management can maintain the status quo and hit numbers, and poor management can sink the ship. That’s how I’ve seen it.

Below are the eight characteristics I’ve noticed a successful management team has, especially in regards to the general manager, as they are the one setting the tone for staff morale and customer service.

8 Characteristics of a Great Restaurant Manager

1. They Show R.E.S.P.E.C.T

I can’t stress this enough. If a manager shows respect for the staff and guests, the staff will give that respect right back to them and the guests. I’ve seen it happen. Many times. But when management demands respect without giving it—oh dear, it always blows up in their face. Respect has to be earned. When forced, it’s not respect. It’s obedience.

2. They Understand That Servers Are NOT the Enemy

I can’t tell you how many managers, including GMs, have shown they think the very servers who work for them are the enemy. Full disclosure, and it’s no secret in our industry, servers can often make more than management, when it’s broken down hourly. But servers have no security, management does. Servers have no managerial benefits, which add to wages. And, no one is telling a manager not to go back into serving. In fact, I know many who wind up doing just that.

3. They Lead (They Don’t Rule)

I’ve witnessed what a ruler does. They do not walk beside their team, but rather rule from above. They believe they have the answer rather than a desire to figure out the answer with their team. A ruler makes their word the last say. A leader lets truth and reason be the last say. The difference is extraordinary and one can judge it by how the staff treats their bosses. Sure, there are the brats, those who will always disagree with management, but if the general consensus is one of hate, yeah… chances are management needs to regroup and lead rather than rule.

4. They Communicate

I’ve never seen anything be management’s best friend more than communication. What your staff doesn’t know will hurt them but also you and most importantly, the guest. As management, it is your job to make sure your staff knows the rules and keeping them consistent is key. Failure to communicate is a red flag. If each person is treated with their own set of rules, all it implies is that rules are circumstantial and then, they become meaningless.

5. They Know What Matters to Guests—and What Doesn’t

When a guest sits down to eat, do you think they know if the server station is organized? I’d bet a lot of money they do not. And could likely care less. Do you think they remember if a manager stopped by to see if they enjoyed themselves? Absolutely. I’ve heard it, over and over. Great restaurant management understand that while behind the scenes is important, we are in a hospitality business first and what we do for a guest is what matters the most.

6. They Don't Overstaff

I get it. You want enough servers on the floor to make sure guests are happy. But if the intent is have servers be on the floor because other positions are not—such as bussers, runners, and yes, even managers—then you’re asking for trouble.

See, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect servers to do a share of the bussing and running, but great management understands that a server’s number one priority is to make sure guests have the best dining experience they can have and that does not always allow time to focus on other positions, ones they tip out. Bad management may decide to cut down sections, to “ensure” servers make the time, but all that does is ask for animosity and soon, not only is the server unhappy and halfway out the door, but the guest suffers too. I’ve been asked to run in addition to serving, but then, I didn’t tip out a runner so it made sense.

7. They Don't Talk About a Server’s Money

The laws are murky around this, with tip pooling and service charges, but the bottom line is that tips are not the property of management nor the restaurant. If pooling happens, management is there to ensure fairness, not dictate percentages, but sadly many GMs like to play God. I’ll never forget one GM telling me she felt like Santa Claus, giving out tips for a private event. It made me cringe. I wanted so bad to shake her and tell her she wasn’t giving us gifts. We worked damn hard for that money and it was owed to us.

8. They Know Their Boundaries

Nothing is more uncomfortable than a manager crossing a line. You hope they don’t do it and that’s that. But sadly, they do. And great management keeps their personal life out of the restaurant. We don’t need to know when they check emails, went to sleep, or clocked in. That’s their business. And please, please, please, never think doing payroll is something special. It’s the job. Own it. Or maybe return to serving?

As always, this is just my (informed) opinion . . . what say you?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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    © 2019 Christina Parisi

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