Management is a tough gig — one not well-suited for the faint of heart. It’s a constant tightrope walk to establish rapport with your team, tackle the seemingly unending problems and issues that crop up, and keep patrons happy.
Over the past two decades, I’ve worked with hundreds of restaurant level, or unit, managers in all types of settings. Based on my observations, here are four behavioral traits that all highly skilled managers possess.
1. They take ownership of their people.
While you certainly don’t “own” your employees, the best managers do “own” the process of acquiring, training, and molding exceptional team members. Taking ownership, or accountability, for your team typically happens in two ways.
First, through recruiting and hiring efforts. Even if your company has a full-time recruiting team, either in-house or out, managers can play an integral role in successful recruiting and onboarding. Not only can you provide an overview of the qualities, skills, and characteristics you’re seeking in new hires, you can develop or identify onboarding best practices. Unfortunately, one trend that I’ve noticed is that managers who are chronically short-staffed are also frequently the ones who don’t take ownership over the staffing process. Success will come when you take full ownership and accountability for staffing your restaurant and utilize dedicated HR and recruiting teams as support.
Second, great managers hold their teams to a high — yet obtainable — standard by setting expectations and demonstrating those in your own behavior. When someone slips up, your immediate focus isn’t likely on discipline. Instead, it’s about being relentless in your overall expectations and standards, which means taking the time to make sure the employee understands why their behavior or actions are not acceptable while also explaining the WHY behind it.
Essentially, managers understand that being a wonderful manager or even a fantastic employee isn’t about having just one amazing, defining moment. That’s not what makes you great. It’s the accumulation of all the little things — like arriving on time and ready to work, greeting patrons as they enter, speaking kindly to coworkers and patrons alike — from which greatness is built. So persistence and achievement in those smaller increments is important. Great managers don’t let those teaching moments pass unnoticed, and instead, grab hold of them and use them to encourage growth and greatness in their team.
2. They are skilled problem-solvers.
Managers must make dozens of decisions each day, each one having the potential to impact employees, customers, vendors, and beyond. The top managers understand that many times the solutions aren’t simply black and white and they are skilled at navigating the gray areas, stripping away the irrelevant debris and extracting the critical components.
In addition, managers act with a sense of urgency when addressing any problems and issues. It’s not an over-the-top, maniacal frenzy. It’s a calculated, intentional, and productive way of engaging with others that communicates the importance of the issue at hand and compels others to action.
3. They communicate quickly and simply.
Restaurants are notoriously hectic environments where seconds and minutes matter. And with all of the moving parts, it can be tough to break through the noise and communicate effectively with team members without hindering the workflow. But highly skilled managers have got it down.
When communicating with their team, they exhibit a laser-like focus, expressing their thoughts quickly, simply, and with precision. By focusing only on what matters in that moment, they advise and encourage their team without stifling productivity. They don’t muddy the airwaves with unnecessary details that can bring even more confusion.
For example, “Carrie, can you please clear tables 2, 7, and 13 and then report back to me in the kitchen?” Simple, straightforward, and it gets to the heart of the matter right away, allowing the team member to nearly immediately launch into action. Of course, there are times when more in-depth conversations are necessary, though the timing for these is critical. Saving those interactions for team meetings and before or after shifts can be extremely helpful.
One more thing about communication: Great managers actively listen. They engage in two-way communication, allowing someone to fully complete their thought before expressing their own. They aren’t formulating a response in their head while the other person speaks either. Instead, they’re taking in every single word.
4. They care about and work toward being a better leader.
Unit managers have a lot on their plates. But despite all of their responsibilities, the top unit managers care about growing and evolving into a better, stronger leader and choose to work on improving those skills daily.
Not only that, but they also recognize and acknowledge the general differences between managers and leaders. There are certainly some crossover areas, but all in all, managers tend to use their skills to plan, organize, coordinate, and motivate others while leaders tend to inspire and influence people. The best managers I know want to expand their leadership skillset and often have a mentor or attend related conferences and trainings. And they absolutely push themselves to step out of their comfort zone each and every day.
While it may sound corny or cliché, truly talented restaurant managers can and do change lives. There has long been a stigma associated with restaurant careers — hurtful and derogatory comments are sometimes made that restaurant managers are just “flipping burgers” or “slinging slop.”
The reality is that highly skilled restaurant managers have the ability to impact the lives of their employees and patrons, bringing encouragement, inspiration, and joy into each interaction. They have the honor of guiding people to uncover, develop, and curate their greatest potential. It’s an absolutely vital role, one that too often doesn’t receive the proper respect or admiration. Restaurant management offers countless opportunities to collaborate with and motivate others and is just another reason why people are drawn to the industry — an industry where 90 percent of managers start out as entry-level employees. Who better to sculpt the next generation of managers than those who have worked in similar positions and are skilled managers themselves?
It’s an immensely rewarding career…in more ways than one.
Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram for more HR and leadership insights. Or check out my company, Restaurant HR Group, to learn how we help restaurants manage their greatest assets.