Become A Better Manager

Become A Better Manager

Your Toughest Job: Managing and Supervising People

You can go to chef’s school, be an apprentice and learn culinary skills; but many restaurateurs never take a single management class. With so many disparate personalities under your supervision, managing people can be a daunting job. Here are some guiding principles to help you become a better manager and develop your leadership skills:

Work on your communication skills. The natural leader of any group is the best communicator. Let people know the goals of the business, what you expect and be liberal with constructive feedback. If you are the silent type, work at engaging your staff in conversation and inviting ideas and comments. If you tend to shoot first and ask questions later, practice restraint and think before you speak. In spite of the metaphors relating business to war, in business it is hardly ever necessary to react, but it is sometimes appropriate to respond.

Keep your promises. This sounds easy, but it can be difficult. You may have promised an employee that you’ll give them an answer about something that day; but the next thing you know, it’s 6 p.m. and dinner service is in full swing. It’s easy to let that happen, but it doesn’t help your credibility. Often, in an attempt to show employees that they are accessible, managers make unrealistic promises. It’s better to tell an employee who wants your time, “It’s crazy now, but I can meet with you around 11 tomorrow.”

Not everyone will do it the way you do. From janitorial to kitchen prep work, you can be sure your employees will approach projects differently than you would. You may want it done your way, but you have to stand back and see how your employee does on his own. Pick your battles carefully, as they say. If you believe your way is the best way, and it’s an important task — such as in matters related to food preparation — hold your ground. But for the hundreds of other activities that take place in every restaurant, there is rarely only one “right” way to do something. Preserve morale by showing some flexibility. Besides, you might even find that your employee’s way is better than your way.

Criticize in private. Praise in public. In the fray of a busy shift, it’s easy to blurt out criticism on the fly. If the time comes when you must talk to an employee about behavior that has to change, make sure that you make the encounter as discreet as possible. When it comes to praise, bear in mind that everyone wants to feel appreciated. Don’t save your praise for special occasions. When you make a positive comment to an employee about a small event, that employee will know that his efforts are appreciated.

Think before you speak. As a corollary to the above advice, it’s easy to lose your cool in the pressure of a busy night. “What the [bleep] are you doing, you [bleeping] idiot?” is not a useful managerial comment. No one screws up on purpose. Rather than escalating a difficult situation with harsh words, take a deep breath, count to 10 or do whatever you have to do to stay calm. No good manager flies off the handle.

Be the old dog willing to learn a new trick. Your staff brings to your restaurant years and years of experience at other places. You’ve probably seen some neat technique or way of doing something that impressed everyone. “How’d you know to do that?” you ask, and your employee will no doubt say, “Well, I learned it from a dishwasher in a restaurant I worked in about 20 years ago.” When you tap into the expertise of your staff, you’ll learn new things, too.

Stay visible. Your employees want to know that you’re on-site and in charge. If you’re not in the kitchen, it’s easy to get involved in your work and stay in your office during nonserving times. Make it a point to walk through your restaurant frequently. Take the time to chat with employees about what they are doing. Vary your approach so your actions look natural, and take the time to listen when your employees have something to say.

Originally published in 2009 Restaurant Startup & Growth magazine.


This article is an excerpt from the Handbook for Excellent Restaurant Operations (HERO), published by the Washington Hospitality Association.  Want a hard copy of the whole manual?  It’s one of the many benefits of becoming a member!  Find out more about joining the Washington Hospitality Association here.

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