The 3 Big Problems with New Restaurant Managers

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Managing a restaurant is not all sunshine and rainbows. (Disclaimer: If you think it is all sunshine and rainbows, seek mental help immediately because you suffer from a condition called delusion.) Many new managers find this out the hard way, sometimes through the lackluster results they get when taking the management wheel.

If you find yourself in a new management position, take notes. If you’re reading this “for a friend,” you should take notes and pass them along. Just remember that awareness precedes choice and choice precedes change. You have to realize that there’s problem before you can ever find a solution. Ignorance is not bliss, it’s just ignorance and delusion (see the above note about delusion).

Restaurant success as a manager isn’t really that complex. Success does leave clues, and so does failure. Time to get out the pen and paper—we’re going old school, so take notes!

Now, in this post I’ll drop you some not-so-subtle clues you might want to pay attention to. You can tell these clues by the hashtag #WTSD. It stands for Write This Shit Down!

Here are the 3 biggest problems facing new managers:

They Use Outdated Management Theories (Poor Modeling)

Your early management style is like a mashup of every supervisor you’ve had in your past. It’s not good nor bad, it’s just that down to our DNA we are creatures that mimic the behavior of those we hang around with the most. It’s like the cliques in high school: the athletes hang together, the band kids stick together, and so do the book-smart kids.

I hate to break this to you, but these cliques are a constant in your life, even as you get older. Your peer group is a large determination of your success level. Sometimes you’ll need to dump your current group if you want more success; water seeks its own level.

Your current management style is a product of your past. Now, if you were extremely lucky (like struck-by-lightning-twice-in-the-same-day lucky) you worked with exceptional leaders that developed your skills and made you a “natural.” If you’re like the majority, you endured some mental torture that would make waterboarding seem fun!

Read this: How to Build Your “A” Team in 90 Days!

The most common and outdated management technique out there is “breaking them down to build them back up.” To be honest, early in my chef career, I thought that was the way to do it. I learned the technique from the chef I worked for in high school—my father. He was a master of the break-you-down mindset. He just wasn’t very good at the putting people back together part, like many managers. I always wondered why we would have so many new people working at the restaurant. His common reply would be that “they weren’t the right fit for the team.” Hmmm...delusion is a powerful mental drug that keeps us stuck in average.

Solution: If this is your go-to tool for whipping your team into shape, stop immediately. You aren’t building a better team, you’re tearing your team apart. When I started to see the mass exits of people on my team when I became a chef and restaurant owner, I had a long talk with myself about getting better results.

I never liked when my father did it to me, so why was I doing it to others? Answer: it’s the only management technique I knew. I dropped that outdated tool and picked up a few new ones, like coaching and mentoring. #WTSD: You can hold the standards in your restaurant without being a jerk. You can be firm without insulting people. You can be a leader and not an asshole boss.

They Don’t Communicate

If you recognize problem number one above, number two is not far behind. We tend to either talk down to others or not communicate at all, assuming they “should know what to do.” Well, I have good news and bad news.

Bad News: If they really knew what to do they would probably do it! If your team is not producing the results you want, your duty as a true leader is to keep training them until they do know and it becomes a habit. Does that mean train just until they get it right and say, “That’s it, my job is done. They can do the task adequately”? No. Your duty as a leader is to train and train and train and train and train until they can’t get it wrong. How do you replace old habits? #WTSD: You keep on repeating the new habit with constant, steady pressure until the old habit doesn’t even show up anymore.

Read this: Never Say These 3 Things to Your Staff

Good News: You have the skill and the power to break old habits. It starts with changing your old habit of not training enough. All change starts first with a change to ourselves.

Solution: Up your commitment to communicate more directly to your team. Passive-aggressive emails, text messages, notes in the logbook, or Post-It notes left on the cooler door aren’t improving your results—they make your team avoid you. When you finally do speak to them they have a look of terror on their faces because now you want to talk. Do this test: Walk up to a team member right now and say, “I’d like to talk to you in the office.” Note the expression on their face. If they look petrified and their eyes got big...you are not communicating enough with your team. That changes today. #WTSD: Talk with your team, not down to your team.

They Think Success Comes from Hard Work

Is success easy? Of course not. But it also doesn’t have to be relentless 14- to 16-hour days sacrificing your life to the restaurant. Many new managers think that throwing more hours at their problems will fix them. That’s not necessarily the case.

You are human and everyone has a personal limit on how long they can go. It’s called internal kinetic energy (think of it like a battery). Some people have boundless energy and can go all day just like the Energizer Bunny! Some people put in two hours at work and start asking if they can take a break.

New managers think long hours are required to get respect. #WTSD: Working long hours in a restaurant is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity, poor planning, a lack of priorities, failure to develop your team, and a fear of saying no. The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less bullshit. It’s facing the truth.

Solution: Stop buying into the lie that success comes just from hard work. There are a lot of people who work extremely hard and find success like a mirage on the horizon—they keep chasing after it and never catch it. Success comes from knowing who you are and what you’re great at doing. Build a team around you to compliment your strengths and make up for your weaknesses. Being a leader is not about being the best at everything, it’s about being the best at what you do best. If you suck at spreadsheets, hire someone who loves them and turn them loose! Stop wasting time doing things that do not match these three criteria:

  1. Makes you better
  2. Makes your team better
  3. Makes your brand better. 

Make yourself better by investing some time for self-care. That means taking some time each day to recharge yourself. Go to the gym, go for a walk, read a book, take 10 minutes to meditate. #WTSD: If you say you don’t have time to take better care of yourself, then you’re not prioritizing your life properly.

Invest in your team members to help them develop and improve their skills. Bring in someone to help train with a workshop, get them access to some online training, buy them a book, take them to a food show. Do something that shows your team you want them to grow and develop. #WTSD: Investing in your team’s development will also reduce your turnover.

Read this: Stop the Turnover Bleeding

Improve your brand by staying on top of the numbers and knowing where your business is every day. You must keep your hands on the pulse of your business, and the heartbeat is found in your P&L. What are your operating costs? What are your food purchases for the week so far? Is anyone approaching overtime? If you don’t know the answers to these simple questions, you can’t make intelligent decisions that can improve your business. #WTSD: If you don’t know your numbers, you are part of the problem in your restaurant. Be the solution by getting a grip on your day-to-day numbers. 

Restaurants become better when the people in them improve. That starts with you as the owner, operator or leader. Don’t wait for things to happen, act and make them happen. Become the leader your team is looking for.