How to Manage Restaurant Staff Without Sacrificing Your Sanity

How to Manage Restaurant Staff Without Sacrificing Your Sanity
Laurie Mega

By Laurie Mega

If you’re transitioning to a restaurant management position, congratulations! This is a great step up in your restaurant career, and one that 25% of all restaurant staff want to make. But with this new opportunity comes a new set of challenges, not the least of which is figuring out how to manage restaurant staff.

There are certainly skills that will help you keep your staff engaged and your restaurant running smoothly, but some of what you need to know can only come from experience.

We reached out to a restaurant manager in an internationally-known restaurant to get her advice on managing a restaurant staff, and provided a few insights of our own.

Let’s lay the groundwork by exploring what it means to transition to management.

How to Transition to Restaurant Management

Whether you’ve been promoted to a management position at the restaurant you were already working for, or you’re starting as a manager at a new restaurant, there will always be a transition period to work through.

If you’re starting in a new restaurant, there’s a learning curve as you navigate new policies, people, technology, and procedures.

If you’ve been promoted within your restaurant, you’re now managing your colleagues, which introduces a whole new dynamic between you and your former colleagues. You’re now responsible for their schedules, their paychecks, their days off, and setting an example for professionalism.

Here are key actions you can take to make a smooth transition into restaurant management.

Create a Sense of Team Spirit

The first thing to do when you become a restaurant manager is to get to know your team. Regardless of whether you’ve worked with them as colleagues before, it’s time to talk to them on a management level. What are their goals and challenges? What do they like about their jobs, and what kinds of changes would they like to see? Meet with them one-on-one and listen to what they have to say.

After you’ve determined their key motivators and challenges, set aside time to meet together either socially or in a work setting. Talk to them about what you’d like to accomplish as a manager and encourage feedback.

According to a 7shifts study, 44% of restaurant staff feel that more face time with management one-on-one or in groups would improve their workplace happiness. Keep regular meetings and team-building activities on the books to foster a sense of team collaboration.

Takeaway: Carve out time for fun group activities as well as regular one-on-ones with your staff to check in. Give your team options for group activities to do together so they can have a say. Make sure you take the time to celebrate team milestones and holidays together, too.

Set Boundaries and Goals

Every team needs direction. You may think that by setting boundaries and goals, you’ll come off as unapproachable or dictatorial (you won’t). On the contrary, when employees have goals for both the restaurant and themselves, they have something to work toward.

Boundaries are particularly important for those who have been promoted from within. You may have formed friendships with members of your new staff, and those friendships will last.

But it should be clear to all staff members that you have taken on new responsibilities and that they’ll have to get used to you running the restaurant and giving directions.

Takeaway: Write down  your team boundaries and goals and hold a meeting to go over them and make sure they’re clear to everyone. Additionally, make them accessible in a shared drive or through your restaurant communication system.

Give Yourself Time

Above all, give yourself time to get used to your new role. No one learns to be a manager overnight, and you will make mistakes along the way.

Just remember to learn from those mistakes, and to listen to your staff. They may have helpful advice or pointers they observed from their previous manager.

If you’re new to the restaurant, let the staff help you get familiarized with the POS, the opening and closing procedures, or the restocking routine. By asking for their help, you’re showing them that you’re open to and value their input.

Takeaway: Book time out of your day to go over the restaurant management resources available to you and familiarize yourself with the processes you need to know. Take the time you need to get trained up on the technology your restaurant uses, and learn best practices.

6 Key Management Skills to Keep You Sane

Someone in a dress shirt writing on paper

As we’ve discussed in a previous post, there are important skills all managers have that help keep their staff working efficiently from shift to shift.

Let’s review what those are.

1. Leadership

Leadership is more than making decisions and giving directives. It’s striking a balance between supporting employees when they face challenges and holding them responsible for meeting job expectations.

It’s setting an example for your team by following restaurant policies and demonstrating enthusiasm for your work.

It’s also listening to your staff to resolve challenges and implement ideas that could make their work better.

2. Communication

In the 7shifts study mentioned above, employees who were at risk of leaving their jobs cited better communication from their managers as a reason they would stay.

Communication is key in every part of the restaurant business. Think about your restaurant’s busiest time of the day. The servers are running back and forth with orders to relay or food to serve. The bar is humming with activity as bartenders pour drinks and barbacks try to stay out of their way as they restock and clean.

In the kitchen, line cooks are busy prepping, sautéing, and plating food.

Everyone is shouting orders and requests. It looks like chaos.

But if you can communicate in a clear, succinct way with your staff, you can keep things running smoothly.

Clear communication goes beyond the average dinner shift. You should also be very clear in communicating your expectations, as well as the policies and expectations of the restaurant.

Make sure everyone understands their roles on your team. Put it in writing so you can point back to it, should you need to.

Finally, good communication can also come in the form of good training.

A 2016 Deloitte report underlines the importance of ongoing training across business types.

Employees at all levels now recognize that “the learning curve is the earning curve,” and they are demanding access to dynamic learning opportunities that fit their individual needs and schedules. Millennials and other young employees have grown up in this self-directed learning environment. They expect it as part of their working lives and careers—and they will move elsewhere if employers fail to provide it. Already, 30 percent of executives in our survey see learning as the primary driver of employee development.

Offering ongoing training on tech, job skills, managerial skills, and even areas of personal interest can help you retain your most valuable employees.

3. Planning and Organization

If you’re coming into a management role from a server, bartending or kitchen position, you may be used to frequently working on the fly.

As a manager, planning and organization will become a bigger part of your job. Depending on the type and size of restaurant you manage, you could be responsible for staff schedules, payroll, FOH and/or BOH inventory, and even menu planning.

You will need systems and tools to keep shift hours covered, team members paid, and the restaurant fully stocked.

You can do that with a simple spreadsheet, or you can use tools like 7shifts to help you keep it all straight.

4. Multitasking and Flexibility

Of course, planning and organization will only take you so far. During any given shift, you may have staff call out sick, a spill that suddenly leaves you without salt, or a large group of patrons walk through the door at your busiest time.

Good managers can think on their feet and solve problems as they arise. They may have to jump in to help cover a shift, move staff members around to keep large crowds happy, or solve a kitchen issue. Again, smart technology can help you manage your workforce efficiently—especially when it comes to staying ahead of schedule changes.

5. Interpersonal Skills

Having great interpersonal skills allows restaurant managers to be successful in two ways. First, they help managers work with a variety of personalities on their staff, from the gruff head chef to the outgoing server.

Good interpersonal skills also translate into good customer service skills. Anticipating customers’ needs, responding to their requests, and addressing their complaints in a friendly way can turn one-time customers to regular patrons.

6. Tech Skills

According to the National Restaurant Association, over 80 percent of U.S. restaurants have implemented technology into their business, and 44% of restaurant employees feel that better workplace tech would markedly improve their happiness. In this age, restaurant workers are tech-savvy—so the management has to be, too.

Restaurant tools, apps, and management platforms help managers organize and keep both the front of the house and the back of the house running smoothly. Think of the tech your restaurant uses now: online reservation services, payroll and scheduling platforms, menu builders, apps to manage inventory, and communication apps are all part of a successful restaurant operation.

It’s important for managers to stay-up-to date on the latest tech, whether you or the corporate office is responsible for introducing it. It will be your responsibility to learn how to use new apps and tools, and then train your staff on them.

How to Manage Restaurant Staff: 5 Tips From a Pro

Barista making pour over coffee

Understanding what it takes to be a manager is a good first step in keeping your sanity.

It also helps to learn from a seasoned professional. Find a mentor or shadow another manager in your restaurant to pick up on the tips and tricks they use to keep everything running smoothly.

We reached out to Sai J., general manager at Kosushi in Miami Beach to get her take on the most important lessons all restaurant managers should learn.

Infographic of 5 key restaurant management tips

1. Treat Your Team Like You’d Treat Your Family

“We all have different positions and responsibilities, but make sure to be a team and family,” says J. “In the hospitality business, restaurants especially, we might spend more time and [even] holidays together, more than our own family.”

Scheduling small team meetings to check in, or even one-on-one time, can help staff feel heard and valued.

“Once we are off the clock, I always make time to listen to [my staff] about their issues with their work or personal life.”

2. Communicate

“Keep communication simple and straight,” recommends J. As we mentioned above, a chaotic environment, like a busy dining room or bustling kitchen, instructions that are complex or unclear can cause confusion and slow down work.

Getting straight to the point helps your team understand your directives and get their work done.

3. Do Someone Else’s Job

This is especially important for managers who have never worked in the kitchen or dining room before.

A good manager truly understands the needs and challenges of their staff. To do that, take on some (or all) of the responsibilities of a server, barback, line cook, or other team member.

“I work in the kitchen here and there just to see how it’s functioning and what the staff is dealing with on a daily basis,” says Sai J. “No one wants to be told something before we understand what it is.”

4. Show Your Appreciation

“I always express myself and let [my] staff know when they do [well] and thank them. It’s the bottom line. They all need to be recognized and know that they are appreciated.”

5. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Every day comes with its own surprises and its own challenges. Sai J. recommends taking it all in stride and keeping your cool during shifts. She understands that her staff already deals with plenty of pressure during the restaurant’s rush times.
“It’s not fair for the staff to have unnecessary pressure from each and every angle,” she says.


J. has one last piece of advice for new and aspiring restaurant managers: “Be human before being a manager.”

You can have fabulous organization skills and a knack for learning the latest restaurant tech. But if you aren’t engaged with your employees on a daily basis, it’s going to be very hard to keep them engaged in their jobs.

Listen to them and keep an open mind. If they are having trouble with job tasks, work with them to get to the bottom of the issue and obtain the right training. If a personal problem is affecting their work, hear them out and try to support them, if you can. Keep an eye on your employees’ engagement statistics within 7shifts so you can offer support to the employees who need it.

Build and retain a team of highly skilled workers that are willing to put in the work because they are treated well.

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Laurie Mega
Laurie Mega

Laurie is a writer with family in the restaurant industry. She lives near Boston with her husband and two boys and has been published in, The Economist, and more.