Restaurant Management: What Every New Manager Needs to Know

Managing a restaurant is like watching over the gears of a complicated machine. Not only do you have the usual managerial concerns of employees and customers, but you’re dealing with food service and the unique baggage that comes along with that.

As a new restaurant manager, this can be overwhelming. It’s a demand for psychology and artistry coming at you at 100 mph. This list is how you make it work.

1. You need to be consistent.

No two days in a restaurant are the same. New crises pop up in a restaurant at the drop of a hat like no other business. Things move fast, and the worst thing a manager can do in that kind of situation is taking an inconsistent approach to how he responds and resolves issues.

What do you need to be consistent in?

  • How you communicate.
  • How you maintain rules.
  • What your expectations are.

When there’s a rush happening at the door and a small circus in the kitchen, your employees need to know that you are going to be consistent. Your consistency makes it possible for them to handle the high-stress loads without cracking.

2. You need to get ahead of the game.

In the restaurant business, things come at you fast. You need to be proactive and stay ahead of the curve instead of reactive. This means that you look and work in the future, not in the current moment, for managing decisions such as:

  • Staffing needs
  • Menu changes and updates
  • Marketing campaigns
  • Inventory
  • Spotting consumer trends
  • Updating technology

If you’re not proactive, you won’t manage the restaurant, it’ll manage you.

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3. Learn the operation by doing the work yourself.

As a manager, the more actual experience you have in working the business the better you will be in problem-solving when something goes haywire.

Be a manager who isn’t afraid to get your hands dirty, who knows how the kitchen operates, what the cooks are dealing with, the stresses of the servers. Talk to your employees about what they do and why they use the methods they use. You’ll gain respect (and knowledge) from your employees and have a better foundation for making decisions that affect them and the customers they are serving.

4. Keeping staff isn’t easy, but it’s the most important.

According to a recent survey, 46% of restaurant managers and owners said that hiring, training, and then retaining staff is their number one challenge.

Not sales. Not inventory. Not trends. Staffing.

Make staff retention a priority. Constantly replacing staff is a huge expense in an industry that already has tight profit margins. Customers in restaurants come for the experience (as we’ll talk about in a minute), and part of that experience is becoming comfortable with the staff they expect to see at their regular haunt.

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5. Keep your eye on customer satisfaction.

Managing customer expectations in any business is difficult, but a restaurant tops that list. You’re dealing with everything from food preferences, dietary issues, traffic flow in the restaurant, irate customers, last-minute reservations, and people who show up to eat five minutes before you’re ready to close.

Customer satisfaction is the end goal for every decision you make when a customer issue pops up. How you go about getting that satisfaction may vary, but the end result is always the same. No joke: a basic understanding of psychology wouldn’t hurt.

One word of caution: get to customer satisfaction without sacrificing your staff. Protect your staff from customer tempers and wrath. Remember, you don’t want to lose staff, either.

6. When it comes to customers, you’re managing more than just food.

The restaurant industry now commands nearly half of the food dollar in the United States. That’s a lot of people eating out instead of cooking at home.

There are practical reasons for this shift from a budget for grocery over to eating out (e.g. don’t want to cook at home because of convenience issues). But there’s more to it than convenience.

Food isn’t just food. According to the National Restaurant Association, 56% of surveyed adults said they’d rather spend money on an experience than simply going to the store to buy food. You might think you’re merely managing the preparation and delivery of food, but you’re also managing the customer experience.

It’s easy to get caught up in the obvious concerns of good food and efficiency, but if you lack concern for the overall experience your diners are having, you miss the big picture. Managing customer experience involves a mix of ambiance, cleanliness (restrooms especially!), friendly staff, fair prices, unique food, and even no-fuss no-wait seating. If people are willing to pay to eat out because they are looking for experiences, a grumpy server or 40-minute wait at the door won’t impress.

7. Take word-of-mouth seriously.

The most popular way people choose a restaurant is by word-of-mouth from friends (78%). The second most popular? Social media. These are essentially the same in that they originate not from your message (what you control) but what others say about you.

Online reviews matter. Making a unique and memorable experience that gets people to talk about your restaurant matters. Have a social media presence matters (as long as you can manage it well). Monitoring what is said about your restaurant on social media matters.

And remember, word-of-mouth can go both ways. It can be positive, or it can be negative.

8. You still need advertising.

A restaurant can’t live by word-of-mouth alone.

You will still need advertising. You need signs, you need print ads, you need online ads— advertising is especially important in a competitive market or when you are a new restaurant.

As a manager, the trick is to establish a budget and stick with it. Obvious, sure, but a smart advertising budget is built on gathering data that fits the needs of your restaurant. You have to be gathering necessary data. That includes:

  • Demographics (Who eats at your restaurant? Advertise where they are. Social media ads can work well and have ample audience targeting capabilities).
  • Trends
  • Sales (Including peak times and seasons)
  • Food trends

That kind of data is useful for many of the decisions you make about your restaurant, but it’s vital if you want to avoid throwing money away on thoughtless advertising.

9. You’re going to need physical strength.

After all of the usual managerial tips, this last one is the most forgotten: take care of yourself.

This sounds odd, but let’s be realistic: restaurant work is hard work. A restaurant manager isn’t sitting at a desk lording over everyone all day. She’s out there on the floor, in the thick of it, pulling long hours, standing on her feet, pinch-hitting in multiple roles.

It’s tiring. And physical weariness can lead to emotional and mental weariness.

Take care of your health, and stay fit. Your staff and restaurant will thank you for it.

The best tip we can offer a new restaurant manager is to find a mentor and get all the tips you need. Find someone who’s already covered the ground you’re facing. If you can’t find one in person, go to websites like Quora, or Reddit. Find forums where managers are asking and sharing.

And remember, don’t lose your head in what doesn’t matter. Keep the big picture—customer experience—always at the forefront. Everything must point to that one main thing.

Restaurant Management: What Every New Manager Needs to Know