Once at a Restaurant Trade Show in Italy, I met one of the most successful restaurant managers in the world, famous for opening more than 50 restaurants within Europe and the UAE. Asking him what his secret was, he replied: “I become one of the best when I realized I wasn’t the best restaurant manager in the world. I always had something to improve.” When a restaurant doesn’t work, managers and entrepreneurs usually think that the causes are somewhere ‘out there’. They blame the staff, high competition, non-central location or limited marketing activities. They look for the reasons everywhere except for where the problem often lies: within themselves.
Everybody plunges into the world of restaurant management convinced at being able to make it a success; only a few don’t throw in the towel within a couple of years. Managing a restaurant may be gratifying but at the same time, it can make you fall into a depression if don’t know how to be a good manager.
During my career as a marketing consultant, I’ve met managers and owners of all kinds and nationalities. Among them, those that have led their restaurants to be successful had certain traits. Everyone thought that behind the business failure there was a lack of an effective promotion plan, and in some cases this was true. But sometimes, an enterprise collapses because the entrepreneur or the host don’t have certain essential characteristics. Since marketing is not only promotion or advertisement but a strategy aimed at improving the customers’ perception starting from the bottom, it is advisable to take a close look at yourself to make sure you (or your supervisor) are equipped with those qualities and skills crucial to the success of a restaurant.
The top must-have 10 traits to be a good restaurant manager
Based on my experience, I’ve summed up the top must-have 10 traits to be an effective restaurant manager:
1. Don’t act as an “employee of all work”.
Whether you are the owner or the supervisor in charge, your job is being a managing director, not a “Jack of all trades”. The manager is the only person who can and must manage the business. Sometimes the new owners act like one of the waiters, and although this may be a good money-saving method, you will not have the required overview of the business. It is useful to help your staff during the busiest times as well as to show them you’re the first to roll up your sleeves, but in general, if you are involved in restaurant operations most of the time you will not be able to take the appropriate strategic decisions. If you work as a full-time waiter, who will manage the outlet?
The essential duty of a manager is staying aside
In 1955, Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald’s, opened his first branch and he never went to carry out operational tasks inside the restaurant. Instead, he focused on the analysis of work procedures, analysing every operational function, from cleaning toilets to cooking meat, regularly implementing improvements without changing the essence of the restaurant. After creating all of these standard procedures, he found himself able to show anyone how to run a restaurant profitably. Have you ever come across the McDonald’s owner in a branch?
2. Don’t be a slave to your tastes.
Focusing only on what you like will lead the restaurant straight towards bankruptcy. Instead, finding out what your customers want and love is the key ingredient in the recipe for success. No matter what you like on a personal level, it is the customer who decides and pays the bill. More and more frequently do I see many new openings close down because the owners choose menus, products, and services led by their personal tastes and passions, ultimately failing to pay attention to what the market wants.
3. You must be patient.
If Mother Nature didn’t endow you with a good deal of patience, forget about becoming a restaurateur. Unfortunately, you won’t deal only with good-hearted customers, but also with those that will try your patience. You must know how to face the different kinds of guests you may find on the table, and doing so requires a high level of tolerance. You must be able to handle the stress efficiently as not only will customers make things difficult, but also your staff or your boss if you’re not the owner.
4. You must be passionate.
In the Food and Beverage field, if you are not in love with what you do, a painful failure is just around the corner. It is not a mechanical work; you must always be on the case. What makes one outlet different from another is the passion and the commitment that the manager puts into its everyday operations. If you intend to open a restaurant just to make money, be aware that you won’t go anywhere.
5. You must be creative.
The market and habits change, and you have to be able to adapt your business to the transformations. A good manager always brings fresh ideas in step with the new trends. Every product or company passes through four stages: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. In economics, this sequence is known as the “Product Life Cycle.” In the last step, if you leave everything unchanged, and you are not ready to bring a wave of freshness, your dining room will soon be empty.
6. Don’t be a boss, be a leader.
Do you know what the difference between a boss and a leader is? I’ll tell you. The first one develops and trains the team with fear and intimidation; a leader builds respectful and trustful relations with the team members. “I” is the favourite word of a boss, “we” is the one of a leader. The real leader is not a bully who likes to control other people. Such behaviour, in fact, undermines morale and performance, frustrating the personal initiative and skills of team members. You can have the most wonderfully located outlet in the world, but if you act like a commander-in-chief your staff won’t sacrifice themselves for the sake of the restaurant. Listen to your people, be cooperative and be able to delegate efficiently.
7. You must have excellent social skills.
One of the best traits of a successful restaurant manager is their ability to speak and listen to their customers smoothly. Communicating, interacting, and entertaining all kinds of clients is your duty. Besides, a good socializer is particularly useful to calm down angry customers as well as stimulate their loyalty.
8. You must be a good body reader.
In addition to verbal communication, people communicate with non-verbal signs, namely gestures and postures. To better understand your guests, you must observe and interpret their body’s messages. When a customer walks into your restaurant, are you sure you know what they want? When you pass by the tables and ask if everything is ok, what should they answer if not with a curt “Yes”? To find out if there are any problems with food or services you need to observe people. The body doesn’t lie! You don’t take for granted that prospects step into the restaurant only because you do the best pasta or pizza or the town, or to drink a glass of your exceptional wine. You must involve all your senses when you try to understand your customers.
9. You must be a high-tech manager.
In the era of social networks, smartphones and tablets, not exploiting the endless potential of new technologies is a great pity. You don’t have to become James Bond; it is good enough to have a decent smartphone. Besides the many apps that will support you in restaurant management, it is the primary tool to market your business on the net. You can snap pictures and record videos for your social network followers, answer in real-time the questions coming from your guests by WhatsApp or email, get new reservations from online services like TripAdvisor and so on.
10. You must have a clean and fresh look.
It may seem obvious, but in my career, I’ve seen many restaurateurs that neglect their personal appearance. Long beards, bad smell, dirty fingernails, dandruff, and crumpled clothes are just some of the things that make customers flee. You don’t have to be Brad Pitt, but having a good clean look is critical in any job in which you have to deal with guests.