Restaurant manager key skills: how to spot the right person for the job

28 July 2017

Alena Tikhova

Dodo Pizza partner

Alena Tikhova

Recently, we talked about how important it is to make your restaurant less dependent on you as its owner so you can carve out some time to grow your business. And you can’t achieve anything here without a reliable general manager who will take care of your joint’s day-to-day operations. The question is: how do you find an employee with really good restaurant management skills?

Try googling this topic, and you’ll come across a plethora of posts cataloging qualities that an excellent restaurant manager must have to make a career.

They all go like this: a successful general manager has to be hard-working, tireless, proactive, communicative, always positive, accustomed to being in constant stress, and creative. On top of that, good GMs have a profit-oriented mindset, deep understanding of customer relations, systematic thinking, and are tedious and accurate while dealing with all their paperwork.

A common restaurant management skills list looks simply endless. It will definitely decorate your resume. But don’t you think that just for one human being all of this is a bit too much to ask?

It’s true, though, that many people simply aren’t cut out for this job. In my experience, being passionate and “active” isn’t enough. Even being smart isn’t enough. Sometimes, you promote your most loyal, hard-working, and brightest employees to management positions—and they totally lose it.

I think that there are only three essential restaurant manager skills and abilities you need to look for in the members of your team aiming for the GM position.

First essential manager skill: she needs to be a bore—in a good sense

Managing a restaurant or delivery can be a super demanding and creative job sometimes, but it also entails doing the same things day after day. If a person gets bored after a week, she won’t make it till the end of the year. To be a pizza shop manager, one needs the tenacity of a professional sportsman who knows that exciting wins come after days and weeks and even years of monotonous training.

Small and even petty details can give you a hint about how your people deal with run-of-the-mill work.

  1. If someone is always on time for the shift, no matter how bad the traffic was, it’s a small but still reliable sign: at least this employee knows how to manage herself.
  2. If your shift supervisor carefully follows every step of your morning checklist you have spent so much time putting together to raise your kitchen productivity, it means that she will follow all the other checklists you will offer her in the future. Being a stickler is one of the essential restaurant manager skills.
  3. If a member of your team has already changed a dozen jobs and places of residence despite being just twenty-something, you can make a wild guess that she won’t stick with you for more than a season.

At the same time, you need to have an insatiable craving for perfection

Some people become too attached to their routine, to the status quo. They stop noticing imperfections that can and should be addressed. For a restaurant manager, this is a dangerous quality. Leave your joint to such a person for half a year and everything will very routinely come apart.

While running a pizza shop, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can divide all the people into two types based on what they do when they see a piece of paper flying about in the pizzeria’s parking lot.

  1. Some people just go from their car straight to the door and do nothing. Because it’s just a piece of paper, right? And the world is full of garbage, right? And who cares? And it’s not their paper, and it’s not THEIR pizza shop.
  2. Others, even without thinking about it, deviate from their track, pick up the paper, and put it in the trash. Because they feel like they somehow own the world around them, and because this world looks much prettier without garbage, and most importantly because it’s no sweat, right?

These are not “good” and ‘bad” people, their minds just work differently. But guess who is more likely to gain restaurant manager key skills over time? To run a pizza shop, you need those restaurant managers who just can’t stand even itsy-bitsy imperfections and are ready to take action to address the wrong without even asking for permission.

It looks like you have to be an artist and a Marine Corps sergeant at the same time…

Do you feel that these two restaurant manager skills and qualifications I mentioned—being a “bore” and a perfectionist—are incompatible with each other? What can I say: You’re right—they are incompatible. Yet some people manage to possess both these qualities—and you should look for this rare combination in every human being joining your team.

Finally, high “emotional intelligence” is a “must have” skill for any restaurant manager

Simply put, she should love talking to people and learning about their sh&%t.

Your team members aren’t machines. They have feelings. They can be exhausted, vexed by personal problems, or just lazy, or feel undervalued, or struggle with health issues, or lose their motivation, or get into a quarrel with another employee. And it is never constant—it always changes (no matter how good you are, your staff turnover rate will tend to reach 80–100% a year).

A list of skills for restaurant manager doesn’t have to be endless, but a good general manager must have a knack for spotting these things and taking action to help every member of the team. If she doesn’t feel for people naturally, if talking to her peers is a burden for her, she’ll be losing too much energy sorting it out.

So when looking for an employee with good restaurant management skills, I pay attention to informal leaders with a high level of emotional intelligence. Sometimes, a regular member of the team has no formal management power, but it’s her whom others ask for help and who deals with problems. That’s the type of person you will need to fill your shoes as the general manager.

And that’s about it

After a few years in this business, I now believe that one needs only these three skills for working in a restaurant and killing it as a manager: she should weather routine, she has to be creative enough to be constantly improving this routine, and she must feel for people and thus become their leader long before she seizes formal power.

At least that’s what we’re looking for in people aiming for manager positions at Dodo Pizza.

Want to add something to the conversation? Drop a comment! And one more thing: We publish a newsletter for restaurant owners and managers—subscribe here.

Recent posts