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Give unit managers tools to work more effectively

Give unit managers tools to work more effectively

An open letter to foodservice owners, operators and area supervisors from your unit managers.

HEY, BOSS. IT’S ME. Remember when you said at our manager meeting last week that running a restaurant is not rocket science? That being a restaurant manager is like wearing a Speedo at the beach; anyone can, but not everyone should? I know you were just trying to be funny, but the inference left me and the other managers a little bit steamed. Sometimes we wonder if you overlook how much we truly accomplish everyday in relation to how little we’re given and the resources we work with. It may not be “rocket science,” but I’d love to see a NASA engineer step in for just one shift and do what we do.

The fact is that being a restaurant manager is maybe the industry’s toughest job. It’s not just the Freudian smorgasbord of characters and personalities we have to interact with; it’s the cumulative emotional labor, intractable problems, imperfect processes, constant demands, and endemic fire-fighting that make this job such a bear.

I know you read books and attend conferences that encourage you to get your managers to transform into leaders. Hey, we’re all for it, too. But the fact is your expectations are sometimes way out of whack with my daily reality.

Most days I tackle shifts in which the science of management trumps the art of leadership; two crewmembers are late, a delivery is short, a fryer’s on the fritz, the health inspector shows, but a cook doesn’t. Unfortunately, then you called about whether I’d read that article you just e-mailed about New Age Leadership and what was I doing about it. That was right after Jess cut her finger, the car broke down in the drive-thru lane during lunch rush, and the busload of coupon-clutching seniors came in. Well, the truth is, I was just trying to keep the train on the track, money in the till, customers happy, nobody hurt and smooth all the ruffled feathers. But I consider that a good day.

Could I do better? Absolutely. But can you meet me halfway here? Maybe by sharing the following list of basic manager’s rights I can help you understand how to make us more productive and profitable.

Help me prioritize. As I struggle to get everything accomplished, you often suggest that I simply work harder. But “working harder” doesn’t improve skill sets I may not have or improve focus you did not provide. If you could help me get better at prioritizing and getting the big rocks in place, we all achieve more.

Seek parity and balance. Before you introduce into my workday a new “better way” or additional paperwork or duties to perform, you must take an equal number of other duties or paperwork away.

Ask for my opinion. Too many owners and area managers look for a more powerful engine instead of first fixing the leak in the boat. Maybe I have some ideas on this since I implement and oversee the systems shift after shift. Just ask.

Empower my brain. Teach me how to think instead of just telling me what to do. Too often you give us answers to remember rather than problems to solve. You hired my brain, too. Let’s engage it.

Respect my day off. Please keep the false urgency to a minimum. Your priority du jour should first be considered in context with all our other goals before it’s added to my priorities on my day off via an “urgent” phone call or e-mail. The more time I have to replenish my energy, the better your return on investment.

Make tacit knowledge explicit. “Knowledge” isn’t power, shared knowledge is. Please devise a system whereby my fellow managers and I can share best practices on a regular basis.

Hire power. You want me to recruit and retain high-performers and cut turnover in half? Fine, then teach, train and coach me better on how to do it and give me the right screening tools and resources so that I can do it most efficiently.

Ground me, don’t grind me. Don’t wear me down with a lack of encouragement or recognition, especially for the small daily victories. Good managers are like spouses—if you don’t show appreciation, they’ll go somewhere else. Use purpose and not just personality to lead us.

Thanks for listening, boss, and I hope this doesn’t sound whiny, because that’s not what I intended. I’m not asking you to stay out of my way. I’m asking for clearer direction, better resources, daily encouragement and focused coaching. After all, if we’re not it in together, we’re not in it to win it. Whoops, gotta go, a server just called in sick.

Jim Sullivan is a popular speaker and consultant on service, sales-building and leadership. You can get his free monthly e-newsletter and product catalog at

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