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3 Things They Won’t Tell You About Managing a Restaurant


Ben Goldstein


Whether it’s full-service or fast food, many of the challenges and stressors of managing a restaurant are the same. Here are three common issues that often take new restaurant operators by surprise. But keep in mind: When working with a team to serve customers in a high-pressure environment, the way you communicate, handle stress, and coach those around you will affect your day more than any tip or trick.

The Less Time You Spend on Schedules, The Better

Rule #1 to keeping your sanity as a manager/supervisor comes with two magical words: “SET SCHEDULES.” Don’t let yourself get worked up into “rotating” staff to ensure they get an even share of tips, good shifts, or any other reason you can make up. Studies have shown that fixed schedules make managers and staffs happier than rotating schedules. More importantly, they save time, energy, and money; the average manager can spend up to 10 hours a week working on or adjusting the schedule when it’s rotating/changing.

Put the responsibility on the employee to find coverage (with the manager’s approval) for a day off. It’s their shift, and their responsibility. Using a “request off system” leads to managers making choices that create issues amongst staff, especially if two employees request the same day off. Do yourself, your staff, and your bottom line a favor and stick to set schedules.

Inventory Will Make You or Break You

Inventory takes time; it is a necessity and can make all the difference in your profits and overall growth. It is a measurable item that everyone involved in your restaurant needs to be aware of. When the usage of an item is 100 units each week, but the store is consistently buying 150 units a week, that’s a problem. Taking time to do inventory on costly items every night, medium-cost items weekly, and low cost, low use items monthly allows you to keep track of many issues before they arise.

It is hard to address an inventory issue once a week and try to fix it over the next 168 hours (seven days) efficiently. Often times, managing the daily routine takes place of fixing the issue; front of mind goes out the window when the restaurant is short staffed on a Friday.

Take the time and do inventory nightly on a handful of items and use them to evaluate waste issues on your best and worst shifts. Having the information to show your staff where the issues are helps fix the problem. There is a big difference between saying you have to watch inventory in general, and keeping an eye on chicken dishes for the week. The fewer items to focus on, the more likely that the problem will be identified and addressed.

You Will Upset Your Customers, Guaranteed

If you serve 300 customers a day at your restaurant and you are spot-on 98% of the time, that means you are messing up or upsetting six customers a day, 42 a week, or 2,190 a year. No matter how hard you try, you will make mistakes and there will be issues. Focus on showing the customer that you understand the circumstance, apologize for the issue at hand, and focus on the solution. Don’t focus on the blame, the issue or “what happened;” simply fix it and make it right.

Related: Three Tricks for Dealing With Negative Customer Feedback

Having a “staircase approach” to addressing customer complaints is a great solution to larger issues. Have your shift managers (or shift leads) handle the issue as best they can, and if the customer is still upset move them on to the General Manager and eventually upper management (area manager, owner). More times than not, the issue isn’t just the food or service, but the other stress in the customer’s life that came before it.

If you can turn the situation around, make it positive, and show the customers you care about them, you can tag their bad day with a positive emotion and your brand/location. This is how you build regulars, long term customers, and good will: turning someone’s frown upside-down.

Conclusion: Who Are You Serving, Anyway?

At the end of the day, it’s your job as the store manager to remove obstacles from your employees. If you are part of the problem, adding to their stress and not removing it, your team will not excel and your customers will suffer. Ultimately its about serving your staff, who in turn serve your customers. If you are defensive, controlling, and demeaning, how do you think your staff is going to act with your customers when they are stressed?

Related: How Are You Spending Your Human Capital?

We are creatures of habit, routine, and the environment around us. A great manager can turn an average employee into a rock star just as much as a negative manager can ruin a great employee. Make sure you are leading by example, communicating properly, and coaching up your staff to support and grow with you.

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