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Restaurant management 101: Tips to manage a restaurant successfully

Restaurant management can be an exciting career path for anyone who’d like to open their own restaurant one day, or for restaurant employees who want to develop their management skills in the restaurant industry.

But the industry isn’t all about customer service, and it might surprise you to learn exactly what it takes to become a successful restaurant manager.

Restaurant management can involve a surprising amount of administrative work and business decisions about things like profit margins, food costs, labor costs, and budget forecasting. And with the rise of takeout and delivery changing the way restaurants operate, it’s worth considering what kind of know-how restaurant management takes in today’s landscape.

Use this article to explore what it takes to become a successful restaurant manager, including the day-to-day tasks, the soft skills required for restaurant management, and everything in between.

Is restaurant management right for you?

Being a restaurant manager can be an enjoyable, rewarding career, but it’s not for the faint of heart. In fact, a seasoned manager will probably tell you that each of their restaurant management responsibilities could be a job in and of itself.

So let’s take a look at some key information you should know before taking a role as a restaurant manager.

Job description

Restaurant managers are expected to do much more than oversee servers and kitchen staff during opening hours. You may also have to:

  • Hire, onboard, and train new employees
  • Coach and mentor current employees
  • Schedule employees
  • Create and implement a disciplinary process
  • Terminate staff members
  • Deal with food suppliers and food and beverage (F&B) management
  • Create and handle budgets and business plans
  • Manage inventory
  • Run payroll
  • Deal directly with customers
  • Create a marketing strategy and lead the restaurant’s marketing efforts
  • Promote restaurant events and specials online

Working hours

The average restaurant manager usually works a full-time schedule of 40 hours per week — and sometimes up to 50. Because restaurants have to be open during peak meal times for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, the typical work day may not be the average 9-5. Managers are often known for being the first to arrive at work and the last to leave.

With this in mind, your day-to-day schedule as a restaurant manager may not always be the same, and you’ll likely be expected to work weekends and holidays due to higher customer demand. You also might have unusual days off, like Mondays and Tuesdays.

Salary expectations

In a large city like New York, a restaurant manager can make anywhere between $40,000 and $80,000 annually. Restaurant managers in smaller U.S. cities make an average salary of $35,000 to $70,000.

Work experience

Because restaurant management involves so many different responsibilities, most employers want restaurant managers to have anywhere between five to 10 years of restaurant industry experience to make sure they’re familiar with every aspect of restaurant management, from front of house (FOH) to back of house (BOH).

A typical day for a restaurant manager

A lot of ‘jobs’ fall under a restaurant manager’s purview, and you might even have to do some or all of these tasks within the same day. We’ve broken down the typical day of a restaurant manager into urgent tasks and important — but less urgent — tasks to help you prioritize what to do first.

Structure your day by starting with urgent tasks that require your immediate attention and then move on to the important tasks that you can do within the next week or two.

Here’s an example of how a typical day might look for a restaurant manager:

Start of the day

Urgent tasks

  • Check reservations for the upcoming day
  • Check in with delivery drivers and orders for delivery
  • Meet with food and beverage suppliers for inventory delivery
  • Pay suppliers and bills
  • Run payroll
  • Train new employees
  • Inspect dining room for cleanliness

Important tasks

  • Work on improving hiring procedures
  • Create the weekly or monthly employee schedule, so it’s done at least eight days in advance
  • Make your daily restaurant inspection to help you prioritize what you’ll need for the day and week ahead

Meal times

Urgent tasks

  • Be on the floor to oversee front of house staff
  • Train or oversee new employees on the job
  • Help unhappy guests if needed

Important tasks

  • Communicate with team members about customer experience, meal-time successes, and areas for improvement
  • Work on pricing and budgeting for menus
  • Manage and order inventory for future deliveries
  • Put your financial report together to see where you can cut costs
  • Evaluate food preparation and service workflows for areas that need improvement

End of day and closing

Urgent tasks

  • Make your end-of-day cleanliness inspection
  • Oversee the closing of registers and point of service (POS) systems
  • Double-check that staff have completed all closing procedures

Important tasks

  • Look at the daily inspection checklist to see what you’ll need to prioritize the next day

How to become a restaurant manager

There’s no single, straightforward path to becoming a restaurant manager, which is one of the great things about pursuing this career path. While the ‌restaurant you want to work for will play a big part in your career journey, here are a few of the most common paths:

  • Work your way up from an entry-level position: If you have the motivation and patience it takes to work your way up from an entry-level waiter or line cook position, this is a great way to gain exposure to the restaurant industry while gaining teamwork skills and learning from restaurant leadership.
  • Start as a chef. While most chefs prefer to work their way up to an executive chef position, some transition into a restaurant manager role, especially if they want to learn how to run their own restaurant one day.
  • Find a role with a clear path to restaurant manager. If you have some restaurant experience and know that a manager role would be right for you, you can seek out restaurant roles that have a clear path to manager, like assistant manager or head waiter. When interviewing for those jobs, have an open discussion with the hiring manager about your ambitions to transition into a managerial role in the future.
  • Run your own restaurant. While this is a less traditional and certainly more challenging path, another route to restaurant management is opening your own restaurant business.

The 7 best tips for managing your restaurant team

To stay competitive in the food service industry, you need to be strategic about the way you manage your team. The best restaurant managers put a great deal of time and effort into training and developing their staff, so the establishment’s daily operations become almost automatic.

1. Stay organized

The fast-paced nature of the restaurant industry may tempt restaurant managers to try to do everything on their own, but that’s just not sustainable. You need systems in place for everything so you can train team members effectively and avoid the need for improvisation.

Here are just a few aspects of the restaurant manager job you should create — and document — repeatable systems for:

  • Recruiting and hiring
  • Training and onboarding
  • Time-off requests
  • The steps of service
  • Managing the POS system
  • Setting up the dining room
  • Answering the phone
  • Opening and closing cashier drawers
  • Daily cleaning
  • Monthly maintenance
  • Yearly maintenance

2. Communicate effectively

Flawless, high-quality team communication is a must to stay ahead of the typical daily restaurant chaos. But you have to know how to communicate urgent information in a way that’s distinguishable from important information — and train your staff to recognize the difference.

Communicating urgent information

For meal preparation and customer service-related tasks that require staff members to be present and focused, use a clear, direct communication style that may involve projecting your voice to make sure no information gets lost. During training, remind your team that a serious tone doesn’t mean you’re frustrated or annoyed — it just means there’s no time to waste.

Communicating important information

When you’re communicating important information during a training or feedback session, it’s critical to be honest and specific with your staff members. If, for example, you want to discuss an issue between a server and an unhappy customer, use the SBI (situation-behavior-impact) framework to address what went wrong. For example:

  • Situation: During the busy lunchtime rush today,
  • Behavior: I noticed there were a couple of mistakes in how you entered your orders into the POS…
  • Impact: so two tables waited around 45 minutes for their food.

Once you’ve figured out how the issue occurred in the first place, you can discuss how to avoid it happening again in the future and find ways to either tweak your systems for improvements or offer more training to team members who need it.

When working in the busy restaurant industry, shifts sometimes get too busy to communicate important information on the spot. Set your team up for success by using Homebase’s free team communication app to send messages about everything from delivery reminders to shift information to POS tips.

3. Understand both your role and the roles of others

One of the first things you’ll want to do when you transition into a restaurant management role is gain a better understanding of your role, the roles of others, and how they fit together.

The restaurant management hierarchy exists for a reason — restaurant owners want to maximize efficiency. A classic leadership mistake most managers make is taking on too much by themselves, which can lead to bottlenecks in the short term and burnout in the long term.

A good restaurant owner knows delegation is key because it distributes the workload more evenly. Good delegating also paves the way for down-line staff to develop their own careers, gain skills, and even progress towards becoming managers themselves.

4. Lead from the front

Leading from the front means getting involved in daily restaurant operations in a way that’s visible to your staff.

That might mean talking to customers, plating food, or taking a task off of someone else’s plate for an hour or two — not so you can micromanage them, but because active participation can make you a more empathetic manager who understands the challenges their team faces.

5. Cross-train employees

Cross-training involves training employees to do tasks that fall outside their traditional job descriptions. It could look like training a server how to take over as FOH manager for the day or teaching an assistant manager how to manage inventory so they can eventually take that responsibility off your plate.

Cross-training is one of the best things you can do to make sure your daily restaurant operations always run smoothly — because if someone doesn’t show up for their shift and a specific task needs to be done, another team member can take over the responsibility.

6. Listen to your chef

While a restaurant manager isn’t directly involved with food preparation, it’s important that they’re willing to listen and work with chefs to improve customer experience. Why? The chef understands the menu best, and they can help restaurant managers figure out the most efficient way to get a meal from preparation to a customer’s table.

Chefs can also educate both restaurant managers and service staff about menu items and how to create a better dining experience for guests, so your FOH employees will always know how to answer any questions customers have about the menu.

7. Take hiring seriously

Hiring the right staff is one of a restaurant manager’s biggest responsibilities, and it starts with creating a detailed job description and keeping it updated as you’ll likely need to use it regularly in the future.

 

You’ll also want to create a hiring, onboarding, and training system that’s as automated as possible. So ask yourself what kinds of resources you can create to relay information to new employees at training. For example:

  • Digital welcome packets with everything new hires need to know for their first day
  • Digital employee handbooks you send to new hires after they accept your job offer
  • Food safety and food handling guidelines and checklists that employees can refer back to when needed
  • Recorded training videos

Other considerations for restaurant managers

Although managing and developing your team is a significant part of your job as a restaurant manager, there are a few other important back-office kinds of tasks you shouldn’t overlook.

1. Simplify scheduling

Creating a schedule that accommodates all your restaurant staff can take hours of your time. And yet, many restaurants still rely on spreadsheets or basic scheduling and time-tracking templates to do so.

We recommend simplifying your system with a scheduling software that can turn your manual process into an automatic system that can be done in a few quick steps.

Tools like Homebase’s free scheduling software let you manage employee schedules and shift trades from your phone. That way, it’s easy to communicate with your staff when an employee calls in sick or you need to summon extra line cooks and servers to deal with a large party.

Advertise your restaurant

Restaurants don’t often have marketing departments, so restaurant managers usually have to do a lot of restaurant marketing. With nothing more than a website and a social media account, there are lots of ways to get your restaurant’s name out there. For example:

  • List your restaurant on restaurant and travel apps like Zagat, Yelp, Zomato, and OpenTable
  • Ask for customer reviews and respond to them
  • Post about upcoming events, specials, and employee profiles on your social media pages like Instagram and Facebook

3. Prioritize cleanliness

Just like your other responsibilities, you’ll want to prioritize all your cleaning tasks according to level of importance. Create detailed cleaning checklists and inventory lists for:

  • Front-of-house
  • Bar
  • Back-of-house

And prioritize tasks by what you need to do:

  • During a shift
  • After a shift
  • Weekly
  • Monthly
  • Yearly

4. Create an effective tip policy

Restaurant managers typically work for salaries, but many of their employees get paid largely in tips, so it’s important to create tipping policies that are fair for the whole team.

When it comes to tipping, your options are:

  • Traditional tipping, where a customer chooses to tip their server based on the service quality. In the US, that amount usually falls between 15% and 25% of the cost of service.
  • Tip pooling, where tips collected by bartenders and waitstaff are pooled together and distributed fairly at the end of a shift or work week.
  • Tip sharing, where a certain percentage of the total tips is split between non-salaried employees (usually a voluntary practice).

Keep in mind: Homebase can also automate your payroll process by calculating wages and tips and processing tax filings for you.

Traits of a good restaurant manager

We’ve talked about the day-to-day responsibilities of a restaurant manager, but let’s have a look at some of the so-called soft skills restaurant managers need to be successful. You should be:

  • A good communicator. As a service-based business that falls under the umbrella of hospitality, people skills and friendliness are critical to successfully manage a restaurant.
  • A multi-tasker. It’s not uncommon for a restaurant manager to be juggling a few tasks at the same time, especially while tending to customers during a busy meal-time shift.
  • Honest and responsible. You’re going to make mistakes, and if you can learn to take responsibility for them and use them as lessons, you’ll inspire your employees to do the same.
  • Passionate. If you love what you do, don’t keep it to yourself. The restaurant industry can be tough, but you’ll build a healthy team culture if you’re open about your passion and get staff members excited about what they’re doing.

Let Homebase take some work off your plate

If there’s one universal fact that connects all restaurant managers, it’s that they’re extremely busy.

Homebase can help. An easy-to-use, all-in-one platform created to make managing small businesses easier, Homebase has scheduling tools, payroll tools, mobile time clock features, and access to expert HR and compliance guidance — all designed to help you focus on managing your team and keep your restaurant thriving.

Restaurant management FAQs

What is restaurant management?

Restaurant management includes all the daily operational, administrative, and customer-oriented tasks that are part of helping a restaurant thrive as a small business. While a restaurant manager role rarely involves serving customers or preparing food, they should understand all front of house (FOH) and back of house (BOH) roles and prioritize systems that minimize bottlenecks between FOH and BOH operations. 

What does a restaurant manager do?

A restaurant manager works closely with the restaurant owner, chefs, BOH staff, and FOH staff to make sure all daily operations meet both restaurant and customer expectations. Behind the scenes, the restaurant manager is also responsible for: 

  • Hiring new employees
  • Training new and current employees
  • Scheduling FOH and BOH staff
  • Gathering timesheets and running payroll
  • Using feedback to improve customer service
  • Creating workflows and organizational systems for efficiency

Is managing a restaurant hard?

Managing a restaurant can be challenging, but if you take the time to put the right systems in place for hiring, training, onboarding, and delegating tasks when you need to, you can be a successful restaurant manager without burning out. You don’t have to do it alone, and you shouldn’t. Choosing the right team — and the right tools — and reaching out to restaurant owners and supervisors for help when you feel overwhelmed can also help you thrive in this role.

How can I be a better manager?

To be a better manager, avoid the trap of doing everything by yourself. It’s impossible and doesn’t do anything to help build trust between you and your employees. Instead, empower your team members by educating them about the systems they need to master to be as independent as possible. You should also delegate responsibilities to them when necessary by creating processes that make handover easier.

How to find a restaurant manager?

To find a great restaurant manager, we recommend posting a detailed job description including your restaurant philosophy, manager responsibilities, required years of experience, and salary on:

  • Popular job post sites like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Glassdoor, and Craigslist.
  • Restaurant-specific job sites like Poached, Culintro, Sirvo, and Culinary Agents.
  • Your restaurant’s Instagram or Facebook page, or reach out directly to experienced industry professionals who are ‘open to work’ on LinkedIn.

You can also:

  • Talk to your employees for referrals and ask them to reach out to their networks.
  • Promote your own restaurant assistant managers or head servers — they know your restaurant operations and company culture better than anyone.

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