9 Essential Restaurant Management Skills and How to Master Them

9 Essential Restaurant Management Skills and How to Master Them
Laurie Mega

By Laurie Mega

You’ve been working as a server, bartender, host, or busser for some time. You love the restaurant industry, and are looking to develop your career, take on more responsibility, and become a leader.

But you have a lot of questions.

How do you start moving up? What are the restaurant management skills you need to succeed and how do you acquire them? Is it difficult to get the right training? Do you need a degree?

According to the National Restaurant Association, there will be 1.6 million new restaurant jobs created by 2029.¹ At the same time, managers still cite hiring and turnover as their number-one concern in a survey conducted by The Restaurant News.

The difference between the number of jobs, and the number of qualified candidates to fill them means there is a lot of opportunity to move up.

And if you think you need a formal education to get there, that’s not always the case. In fact, according to the same survey by the National Restaurant Association, nine in 10 managers got their start in an entry-level position.

So let’s take a look at what a restaurant manager does, what skills they need, and how to brush up on those skills.

What Exactly Does a Restaurant Manager Do?

A restaurant manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of a restaurant. According to Indeed.com and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) restaurant manager's are responsible for the following:²

  • They hire the front-of-house staff, and, depending on the type of restaurant, the back-of-house staff, as well. (If there is a head chef, they may handle the kitchen staff.)
  • They build staff schedules, sign off on hours and oversee payroll (if there is no central Accounts Payable).
  • They make sure the front of the house and (if there is one) the bar is stocked. If they work in a QSR, they make sure the kitchen is stocked, too.
  • They make sure company rules and protocols are followed.
  • In smaller establishments, they may plan the menu.
  • They act as middle-man between staff and owners, or corporate headquarters.
  • They manage budgets and submit profitability reports.
  • They attend meetings and give input on how to improve restaurant profitability.

According to the BLS, food service managers, which include restaurant managers, earn a median pay of $54,240 per year, and they usually hold at least a high school diploma (though that’s not always the case).

Restaurant Manager Roles and Responsibilities

Indeed lists some of the typical roles and responsibilities of a restaurant manager:³

Hire, Train, and Supervise Staff

The average hourly employee turnover rate for food service stands at 155 percent, according to the Nation’s Restaurant News.⁴ So a good portion of a restaurant manager’s time is spent seeking out talented candidates who are a good fit for the restaurant’s clientele, concept, and team. They will hire staff for the front of the house and, depending on the type of restaurant, the back of the house, as well.

They are also responsible for scheduling staff, filling gaps when team members call in sick or don’t show up, handling payroll, resolving employee conflicts and other issues, and fostering a positive, team-oriented work environment.

To really excel, restaurant managers need to be great at managing time and competing priorities, and have excellent leadership and interpersonal skills.

Food Safety Procedure and Creating Safe Work Conditions

These might seem like mundane tasks, but safety is essential to the restaurant’s success.

Restaurant managers make sure food is prepared properly and in a clean environment. They ensure staff wear appropriate attire (hats, hair nets, gloves, etc.), wash their hands, and tables and tableware are always clean for the next guest.

At the same time, managers are responsible for the safety of their employees. They should have a deep knowledge of OSHA and other regulations and make sure all employees are trained on those regulations and are following them.

This is where close attention to detail and deep knowledge of the restaurant industry play huge roles.

Follow and Enforce All Other Company Policies

The restaurant manager sets the standard for all other employees to model.

They should a good example by adhering to all restaurant policies concerning dress, behavior, customer service, drink and food presentation, and other procedures prescribed by restaurant owners or upper management.

Managers show employees how invested they are in the restaurant’s success. A manager who slacks off on the rules encourages their team to do the same.

Meet Revenue Objectives

Restaurant managers work closely with either upper management, if the restaurant is part of a larger chain, or with the owner of the restaurant. They report on monthly or quarterly revenue goals and whether they were met–or not.

They also help set revenue goals and come up with ways to meet them, whether that be through new, higher-priced dishes, a menu redesign for more profitability, or marketing ideas to get more people through the door.

To do that, managers should be good with budgets, have a mind for business, and have a flare for creativity when determining how to increase sales.

Audit and Order Supplies

Restaurant managers keep a close eye on inventory. Not only do they keep track of what inventory to order and when, they conduct audits for the front of the house (napkins, placemats, straws, etc.) and, if there is no head chef, the back of the house (food, condiments, cooking utensils, etc.).

They determine how frequently supplies are running out, where they can save money by changing vendors or products, and monitoring for theft.

This is another part of the restaurant where extreme attention to detail and strong organizational skills come in handy.

What Skills Does a Restaurant Manager Need to Be Effective?

We highlighted some of the skills you’ll need in the section above, but let’s take a closer look at a list of the skills you’ll find in a typical job description.

1. Leadership

Strong leadership skills and the ability to foster a team-oriented environment can help reduce one of the biggest problems restaurants face: high turnover. According to Gallup, an engaged team reduces turnover by 24 percent in high-turnover industries.⁵

An engaged manager who leads by example and listens to his team’s needs, while giving clear direction can help keep staff happy and engaged.

2. Communication

Clear communication is a big part of being an effective leader. According to research conducted by the International Conference on Arts, Behavioral Sciences and Economics Issues:

Communication gives the feeling of belonging and sense of partnership with employees working in the organization. When employees feel they have been heard and that they can communicate with their supervisors at any time, they feel more a part of a group and are more motivated to work.⁶

This is true of any industry. Clear communication is especially important in restaurants, where the pace is quick and stress levels can run high.

3. Problem-Solving and Conflict Management

Speaking of stress levels running high, problem-solving and conflict management skills play an important role in the restaurant manager position. In a white paper, consulting firm Arbinger Institute estimates that each conflict costs an organization about $255,000 in lost time, lower productivity, poor decision-making, and even attrition.⁷

If you can communicate clearly and build a sense of team spirit, you’ll likely to reduce the number of conflicts in your restaurant. But a few are bound to pop up, either between staff members or between staff and patrons.

Keeping a cool head, listening to both sides and negotiating a fair solution is key.

But solving problems among staff and customers is just part of the job. You will also be called upon to solve snafus like supply or food shortages, last-minute employee callouts, or (heaven forbid) emergency medical situations.

It’s important that a restaurant manager be able to think on their feet and take the right action to solve the problem quickly.

4. Positive Attitude

It’s also important for restaurant managers to keep a positive outlook on the job. In his book, The Positive Leader, former Microsoft Europe Chairman Jan Mühlfeit emphasizes the power of positive psychology in motivating a team.

Positive psychology is not plastering a cheesy smile on your face and making half-attempts to look on the bright side and be nice to people in the office, it’s about fostering a mindset and workplace culture that’s been empirically proven to fuel greater success and achievement. -Jan Mühlfeit

Simply put, a positive, supportive boss grooms happy, engaged workers. And happy workers are the foundation for business success.

Mühlfeit cites several studies that illustrate the effects of a positive attitude on a business’s overall success, including a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Warwick in the UK. They discovered a 12 percent spike in productivity with happy workers and a 10 percent lag in unhappy ones.

Focusing on the positive, particularly during stressful moments (which are common in restaurants), will help inspire and motivate happy staff, reduce turnover, and add to your restaurant’s bottom line.

5. Attention to Detail

From budgets to schedules to table settings, there are a lot of small–yet important details restaurant managers need to keep track of. No manager can keep it all straight all of the time.

It’s important to train yourself to analyze situations and pay attention to detail. And, of course, there are apps and programs that can help you stay organized, from time-tracking and scheduling apps to budgeting and inventory apps.

The important thing is to stay organized, to keep all of those details from slipping through the cracks.

6. Flexibility

Now imagine everything we’ve mentioned above — budgeting, resolving conflicts, keeping track of staff and inventory — is all thrown at you in one shift. To be a successful restaurant manager, flexibility and the ability to multitask is key.

It’s always great to set a plan for each shift. For your breakfast shift, for example, you may open, count the cash drawers, make sure everything is clean and in place for the day, and take care of some payroll work. Just keep in mind that problems and questions will arise, which will throw off that set plan.

Being able to switch gears quickly will help you manage all that’s thrown at you.

Mastering the Skills of Restaurant Management

There are a few different ways to gain the skills you need to become a restaurant manager. Let’s take a look at each one.

7. On-the-Job Training

When you look at job boards, many of the entries don’t list a college degree as a job requirement, or they list it as something preferred, rather than required.

Instead, many restaurants are looking for candidates who have experience in the restaurant business, either as servers, bartenders, assistant managers, hosts, or a little bit of everything.

They want people who have been in the trenches, so to speak, had proven success interacting with customers and problem-solving in a highly stressful environment.

8. Formal Education

That said, there are some restaurants looking for a candidate with a college degree, The most common degrees in the field, according to CareerBuilder, are business administration or management, culinary arts, accounting, or hospitality administration or management.⁸ Some colleges and culinary schools also offer degrees in food services management.

While some more specialized or higher-end restaurants may require a degree, most simply see candidates with a college education as having an edge.

9. Certificate Programs and MOOCs

Want to expand your skill set, but don’t want to spend a lot of money on higher education? There are certificate and even massive open online courses (MOOCs) that can help you do that. Colleges that offer related degrees may also offer certificate programs, which take much less time and money.

Then there are MOOCs. These are online, often free, courses from reputable colleges and institutions around the world. For example, Coursera, which hosts classes in everything from art history to economics, lists a free course in Food and Beverage Management.⁹

Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Restaurant Manager?

It’s true what they say: Great leaders aren’t born, they’re made. If you’ve been working in the restaurant industry for a while, chances are, you’ve already acquired some of the skills you need to make that next step to restaurant manager.

But if you feel like you could polish a few of those skills, there are plenty of resources to help you. Find a good mentor who can train you up. Look into certificate programs or MOOCs to get the business and soft skills you need. Or if you have the time and where-with-all, look into a degree.

Taking that next step in the restaurant industry is very attainable. It’s all about having the right attitude and the right skills to get the job done.

If you're interested in working at a restaurant and becoming a restaurant manager one day, read our blog post: Working in A Restaurant: Everything You Need to Know


Sources:

  1. https://www.restaurant.org/research/restaurant-statistics/restaurant-industry-facts-at-a-glance
  2. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/food-service-managers.htm
  3. https://www.indeed.com/hire/job-description/restaurant-manager
  4. https://www.nrn.com/workforce/10-challenges-restaurant-operators-can-expect-2019
  5. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/237737/powerful-ways-reduce-restaurant-employee-turnover.aspx
  6. http://psrcentre.org/images/extraimages/15%20512507.pdf
  7. http://ws.arbinger.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/2015-WHITE-PAPER-The-Financial-Cost-of-Conflict-in-Organizations.pdf
  8. https://www.careerbuilder.com/advice/restaurant-manager-career-spotlight
  9. https://www.coursera.org/learn/food-beverage-management

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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 HomeandGarden.com, The Economist, and more.