By Ilse de Vries
Being a restaurant manager is not for the faint hearted.
To most people, the restaurant manager is simply that person they call when their waiter hasn’t given them a satisfactory answer to: “Is this crème brûlée supposed to look like this?”
But you know it takes much more to get this job done well. For one, a superhuman mixture of drive and patience. An eye for detail and the big picture. But what does it really take to excel – and, are you that rockstar restaurant manager yet?
Make 2020 the year to take your game to the next level with veteran advice from successful managers, owners and specialists from the restaurant world.
1. Let passion be your guiding force
“It’s is more than a restaurant to me – it’s about the persona of the brand. It’s about the culture and food ethos that encompasses this restaurant. I love the ideology, integrity, and philosophy.”
– Stephen Gersowsky, CEO and shareholder of Jamie’s Italian South Africa
When a restaurant manager truly gets the restaurant’s brand and radiates enthusiasm for it, it’s infectious. You also become the model for everyone’s engagement journey – it builds excitement and genuine interest in dining trends, what it takes to knock guests’ socks off, and how to be brilliant at and proud of what you do.
Passion also keeps you internally motivated to raise the bar every day. You instil at least two of Deloitte’s Simply Irresistible Organization™ model’s five elements: Meaningful work and a Positive work environment. Plus, you automatically hit the other three for your restaurant when your passion inspires your team: Supportive management, Trust in leadership and Growth opportunity.
2. Cultivate respect and grow your dream team
“One of the most difficult aspects of restaurant management is getting the introverts (kitchen) and the extroverts (front of the house) to learn to work together. It is almost like a football team with different positions that depend on one another to make the event happen. If you respect each other’s’ job and position, you are headed in the right direction.”
– Wandile Ndala, owner and manager of the famous Soweto restaurant Wandies Place
As a restaurant manager, your success is inextricably tied to how well your team works together and with guests. At times it seems like a never-ending cycle of new hires, cheer-leading, reprimands, and having to jump in yourself.
A strong foundation of respect will make the cogs turn a lot smoother. This respect (between your staff members and between yourself and your team) will also naturally translate to deeper respect for your guests and their dining experience.
Phil La Duke, a speaker on organizational change, says there are six keys to respect in the workplace: honesty, feedback, attitude, compensation, respect, protection, and treating people like adults because they will then “exceed your wildest expectations”.
3. Keep your suppliers close
“Your supplier is your biggest ally or worst enemy. Treat them with respect and honesty and don’t sit there and haggle for the cheapest price all the time.”
– Fortunato Mazzone, owner of the award-winning Forti Grill and Bar in Pretoria
Your restaurant’s supply chain should be one of your biggest assets, bringing you high quality ingredients and resources consistently and on time. It is not built up overnight, and the glue that holds this often-fragile ecosystem together, is the relationships.
Business efficiency writer Simon Collins reminds us in his article on supplier relationships that “it’s a human relationship, not a digital one.” What advice does he offer? Keep cultural differences in mind, get your communication right, set the tone from the get-go, and be honest. Meet them in person and understand what they are about – this mutual empathy and respect will serve you in the long run.
4. Train your team for the entire customer journey
“It’s sad how many restaurant owners and managers do not train their employees. They wing it. Waiters must be trained on how to deal with everything from a disastrous meal to a demanding customer.”
– Nancy Friedman, well-known restaurant customer service specialist
When staff deal poorly with customer complaints, ask the following questions before assigning blame: Was the person skilled enough to handle the situation? And, very importantly, was he or she empowered to turn it into a win? A well-considered customer journey with specific focus on what to do when things go pear-shaped is the starting point here, to prepare your staff to handle and excel at every step.
If you’re wondering how much training is enough, keep in mind that many world-renowned restaurants have training sessions every day before they open. Cape Town restaurant Melocino has an incubation training programme that runs through seven shifts. The test that follows “covers everything from service and menu item descriptions to what happens if there is a complaint,” says co-owner Paolo Carrara.
Your training strategy will further depend on the restaurant’s size and type (theme, cuisine, level of formality), expectations for the customer experience, and the restaurant’s future goals. Your individual staff members and their unique motivations, strengths and opportunities for growth will guide you in the style, content, and learning aims.
5. Attract the right hires with a magnetic culture
“In our industry there are only two groups of people: the people who come through the doors and the people who keep them coming through the doors. Keep people who come from a place of energy and enthusiasm. Do not keep people who don’t understand the vision and don’t respect the process.”
– Harry Dimitriadis, owner and manager of Jameson’s Pub
How do you create a culture that will propel your restaurant’s success? The online shoe retailer Zappos is often cited globally as a company that gets their culture right in a brilliant way, with practical values like “do more with less”, inspirational ones like “be passionate and determined” and quirky ones like “create fun and a little weirdness”.
Marketing executive Mark Miller suggests four steps to follow in Zappos’ world-renowned footsteps:
- clearly define your culture
- hire people who fit
- make the culture real (with employee engagement)
- align it with your business goals (e.g. creating an truly unique customer experience, getting return customers or establishing a new restaurant concept).
6. Create a spectacular customer experience
“It doesn’t matter if you have a trendy looking place, or a cool looking bar, or the greatest chef in the world. You have to engage the people that come into your place, day after night after day after night, and remember who they are, and why you’re here.”
– Jim Parker, owner and manager of Red Hat on the River
What do customers want? Deloitte’s cut-to-the-chase research on the restaurant guests’ experience powerfully sums up the five elements: engage them, empower them, hear them, delight them, and know them.
We all know a core ingredient for a 5-star review is an ecstatic restaurant guest. Not ‘happy’. Not ‘satisfied’. People who feel ‘seen’, that are ecstatic, moved and deeply delighted, are the building blocks of your restaurants’ success. Only a truly engaged team and a clearly defined desired customer experience gets your there.
But every restaurant is different – how exactly do you delight your customers? And how will you know when you’ve got it right and keep them coming back? A Voice of the Customer programme will give you much deeper, actionable insights than a survey or questionnaire. This is because the restaurant experience is such an emotional one, and people’s stories need to be decoded into workable tactics that will catapult your restaurant way ahead of your competitors.
7. Take care of your #1 asset: you
“One thing I wish I knew when I started out in the industry is that balance is everything. My relationships with family and friends suffered, and so did my mental and physical health. I’m finally learning how to balance my work and personal life… everything is brighter and always moving in a positive direction.”
– Dennis Tay, owner and manager of DaiLo
Managing a restaurant can at times be as physically and mentally gruelling as a Warrior race. Coupled with late nights and an erratic eating regime (or a 100% coffee diet), it might even put you at risk for more serious ailments. You are the key to becoming a rockstar restaurant manager (ahem, the new generation rockstar that is. The ones that does yoga and drink purple smoothies).
And as clichéd as it might sound, yoga might be just the thing. Why? It saves you time as both your fitness regime and stress management tool.
And what if it can also transform your managerial career? In How to be a better leader with yoga Stephanie Cusack makes this case. Sleeping better and keeping the chiropractor away aren’t new reasons to take up yoga. However, it can also re-wire bad habits, help you make better decisions and let you relate to people in a more meaningful way. Switching off after shifts for a better work-life balance is also a core benefit.
We can help you make 2020 a spectacularly successful year for you and your restaurant.
Tell us a bit more about your restaurant and your customer experience of staff engagement needs, and we’ll get in touch with unique advice or tailored quotations.