No doubt the general manager of a busy restaurant has a big job — overseeing day-to-day operations, ensuring profitability, meeting food-safety standards, pleasing customers and team members, setting goals. Simply put, the GM has to understand the balance sheet as well as why an employee may be struggling through a shift. It’s a juggling act, to be sure.
But what makes a GM great? According to Karen Ancira, KFC’s chief people officer, it’s those who embrace authenticity and build a culture.
“Of course, GMs run multimillion-dollar businesses, but they are growing people and building the leaders of tomorrow,” Ancira said. “They’re the first contact a lot of people in this workforce have and it’s a big responsibility. Soft skills are playing a massive role now, so having a leader that is authentic is critical.”
Paul Hendel, owner of McDonald’s franchisee Hendel Products Group, spent time earlier in his career as a GM and said things have changed quite a bit in the 30-plus years since.
“The people part of our business is so critical now. Some of the older managers are great managers and know how to run operations and the P&L, but the people part of it — that’s part of your personality, it’s innate. That’s what makes you really stand out in this role, which is the heart of the store,” Hendel said.
Hendel added that one of his GMs, Claire Andrew, is a good example of what makes a great GM.
“People want to be like her. She is a great mentor and role model. She is setting the culture for our company,” he said.
Darren Espy has spent his entire life in the quick-service segment and today oversees the Taco Bell Cantina on the Las Vegas Strip — the busiest Taco Bell in the world. He said his role as GM has also evolved to “relate to today’s employees.”
“When I was a GM in 1991, it was my way or the highway and that’s just how it was,” he said. “Now, it’s important to know your people and develop and trust your people. That is what helps you not lose someone to another restaurant down the street, and that is what helps you work smarter, not harder.”
Joe Hyslop, division vice president at North Italia, added that expectations for GMs are higher now than they’ve ever been because of the expectation of having more empathy toward staff and guests.
“It used to be more transactional, but now it’s about making guests and employees feel comfortable and welcome and making the staff feel like this is more than just a job, it’s a community,” Hyslop said.
Click through this gallery to meet these and other outstanding restaurant general managers.