How to be a successful restaurant manager

Amanda Kavanagh
Author Amanda Kavanagh

Being a successful restaurant manager means having double vision. Not only do you need to have your eyes on the finer details, but you also must balance this with looking at the bigger picture. It's a difficult double act to master, but when you do, you will be an invaluable asset to your team, and your employer.

What does a successful restaurant manager do?

Successful restaurant managers are proactive and reactive. In the restaurant business, there is a constant avalanche of immediate needs but the best managers know what to prioritise and how to keep long-term goals ticking over. It’s not easy. Restaurant managers look after their staff, manage supply chains and procurement, introduce and integrate new technologies, and ensure health and safety regulations are complied with.

A restaurant manager stands in front of an empty restaurant interior while holding a large notepad

Restaurant manager duties and responsibilities

Depending on the size of the restaurant, a manager's duties can include welcoming customers, taking reservations, planning menus, and marketing. However, the following responsibilities are common across all restaurant sizes.

- Drafting and tweaking the staff roster to ensure sufficient cover, while also managing staff requests

- Motivating staff and ensuring workflow is working efficiently

- Coordinating front and back of house operations

- Dealing with customer complaints

- Controlling operational costs and optimising for efficiencies

- Keeping on top of inventory, ordering supplies and procuring suppliers/vendors

- Ensure health and safety regulations are adhered to

- General admin and reporting

Successful restaurant manager skills

Typically, restaurant managers have experience working in more entry-level roles in hospitality. This gives them a better overview of how the front and back of house work. Valuable skills include:

- Leadership

- Motivational

- People

- Finance management

- Commercial savvy

- Problem-solving

- Teamwork

- Communication

- Customer Service

- Attention to Detail

- Flexibility

A restaurant manager briefs floor staff before service begins

Successful restaurant managers value their staff above all else

In many countries, the restaurant industry has quite a lot of movement. Hiring and training staff can be a constant workstream, particularly in larger premises. Retaining restaurant staff is key for consistency, and it makes your life as a manager easier. If you're not doing so already, make sure you conduct exit interviews with any staff leaving the business. Of course, there's plenty of factors you can't control, but there's many you can, and you can use exit interviews to identify patterns. Here are some questions to consider asking:

  • How have you found the pace?

  • Did you feel shifts were generally adequately staffed?

  • Did you feel there was scope for progression in position and/or salary?

  • Do you think the tips are fairly managed?

  • Did you feel valued as an employee?

  • Is there a good sense of teamwork?

  • Is the roster fairly managed with enough notice and flexibility?

  • Is it a supportive work environment?

  • Were any of the benefits a draw for you?

  • Did you feel there were opportunities for further development?

  • Did you think management listened to your feedback?

You can make all the assumptions you want, but no one is more honest than an employee already leaving a company — they have nothing to lose — and this feedback can be very useful, if a little hard to hear sometimes. But don’t wait for exit interviews. Be proactive and ensure you hold regular one-to-ones with staff and iron out kinks before they become bigger issues.

Create and continually update your restaurant handbook

Think back to when you were new. The business is second nature to you now but every restaurant has intricacies and quirks that need to be learned. Consider downloading all your brain knowledge and putting it on paper in a restaurant handbook. This can be a real weight off your mind too. Consider including:

  • How your restaurant operates

  • Covid-19 safety protocols

  • The restaurant’s unique selling point (USP)

  • The restaurant’s etiquette for greeting and communicating with customers

  • The ethos behind your restaurant menu

  • The menu items currently available

  • The stars of the menu

  • Sommelier notes and/or training

  • Food provenance and suppliers

  • Responsible service of alcohol policy

  • Restaurant uniforms

  • Staff processes and policies for rosters, annual leave, sick leave and complaints

  • Roles and responsibilities for each staff member

  • Tech how-tos for online ordering systems, POS systems, last mile delivery services etc.

  • First aid and fire safety policies and training

  • Manual handling and hazardous chemicals trainingStay ahead of changes in technology

In The Spoon's 2021 Restaurant Tech EcoSystem, the food tech insights experts note how the pandemic accelerated tech adoption across the restaurant and hospitality industry.

"The most notable growth areas were in the areas of Ordering/Delivery and On-Premise Ordering/Payments Tech, including kiosks, mobile ordering and payments, and cashierless checkout."

Certainly, this is something we have seen at Flipdish. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve helped restaurant businesses of all sizes get online quickly, and now as hospitality begins to reopen, we’re providing Table Ordering to pubs, hotels, cafés and restaurants. Technology that had its early adopters and successes has now become a basic necessity for many businesses. And not one industry insider predicted how technology use would accelerate in just 18 months.

Successful restaurant managers stay ahead of the curve by subscribing to trade magazines and industry websites that spell out how new technologies can make day-to-day operations easier, and how they integrate into existing software and hardware, including POS systems.

Manage your own time well

Time management is a challenge in most industries, but the quick-fire nature of the restaurant trade means there are constantly new problems to resolve. It helps to organise your week into regular slots. For example, if it's known you update the roster every Monday, staff know to get their requests in by Sunday. Of course, there can always be leeway but not everything has to be a last-minute request.

Before clocking off, prioritise your To Do list for the next day. In the morning, do a very quick scan of your phone and email for emergencies to deal with, before closing your email and turning off your phone. This takes great willpower, but if you "eat the frog first" and deal with the most challenging deep work while you're fresh, you will be starting out your working day right. If you are tempted too often to prioritise multiple, smaller problems, your long-term goals will suffer.

Additionally, if you have an open-door policy, reconsider it. It’s hard to get anything done when you are interrupted constantly. Could you have designated hours a day as “open-door hours”? These should coincide with the time you allocate to shallow work.

A man wearing glasses and a navy shirt works in restaurant at a tablet

Get out of the office

Tempting as it is, the best restaurant managers do not hide away in the back office. Things happen quickly on a restaurant floor and your staff need to know you are on-hand for support and to diffuse delicate situations. Managers who spend most of their time in the office end up being out of touch with the needs and realities of their staff. By being on the floor, you’ll gain regular information on staff needs and pressure points by osmosis, you will see technology in action, and it will be easier to identify efficiencies.

How to measure success

How exactly do you know if you are a successful restaurant manager? It all depends on the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you set with your boss. These could include:

- staff churn and retention

- profit margins increase

- revenue increase

- food waste reduction

- average spend increase

- wine spend increase

- cocktail spend increase

- time saved with technology

- loyalty programme uptake

- social media growth and engagement

- media coverage

Agree on a combination and focus your efforts on achieving improvements in those areas. Don’t try everything at once. Improvements are best when gradual, strategic and sustainable.

Summary of how to be a successful restaurant manager

As we have explored, becoming a successful restaurant manager is a great balancing act. Here are five key points to remember.

1. Value your staff above all else

2. Be empathetic: leave the office

3. Stay ahead of changes in technology

4. Download your brain into a restaurant handbook

5. Protect your time to do deep work

Interested? Get in touch for a quote today

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