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5 skills restaurant managers must master by 2024

Technology is changing what it means to be an effective leader

Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at leadership, franchisee and GM conferences worldwide. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News. 

“If you are in a shipwreck and all the boats are gone, a piano top that comes floating along makes a fortuitous life preserver. But this is not to say that the best way to design a life preserver is in the form of a piano top. I think that we are clinging to a great many piano tops in accepting yesterday’s fortuitous contrivings.” — Buckminster Fuller

Given the disruption that technology has riven on the foodservice industry over the last half decade, it’s reasonable time to reassess and scrutinize every system, process and organizational hierarchy we currently employ to determine which of them may be outdated and outmoded in the faster-harder-smarter-more world that now defines our industry.

Which of our endemic processes, systems, or behavior is ingrained because they were applied and adapted in a time of need — the piano top in a shipwreck — versus being the best possible solution to our current challenges? This kind of questioning is how and why new technology tends disrupts the status quo.

Think of the all the changes we’ve seen in the last five years. How many of us can realistically imagine what the foodservice workplace will look like five years from today? It begs the question of how our supervisory skills at the unit level will have to evolve, adapt and transform to stay current with — or, ideally, ahead of — this impending change.

Which skills will the most successful unit managers need to acquire and deploy by 2024 that the least successful managers will fail to master? Here are five skill sets our company recently identified that your managers (and recruiters) should begin focusing on in the area of next-gen leadership.

Critical thinking and decision-making skills. This is the primary skill set to start developing in your GMs, junior managers and shift leaders. Knowing how to distinguish between what’s important and what’s urgent is a critical skill to learn. You don’t need more “time.” You need to decide. If you’re still teaching your managers “time management” skills you’re standing still, and if you’re standing still you’re walking backwards. Time management is a payphone skill in a smartphone world.  Learn how to assess options and then prioritize action instead.

Mastery of technology. Today’s important skills will be quaint tomorrow.  The tools you use today are quickly morphing into disruptive next-gen systems that will be unrecognizable in five years. As ordering systems continue to evolve from counters to kiosks and apps, and augmented reality, virtual reality and artificial intelligence transform ordering, training and supplies, and robots move into the kitchen, what new skill sets will your managers need to know and use? Will they have to be part “people-person” and part programmer? I’m thinking yes, and would advise you to start seeking out GMs with affinities for, not aversions to, evolving technology.

Social media savvy. There are currently fourteen sites worth monitoring that post and archive restaurant customer feedback online. Does your managerial team know how to monitor, track, leverage, resolve and respond to all of these posts quickly and effectively? They’d better, because responding to customer concerns posted on social media (and through call centers) is critical. Customer service is now a spectator sport.  Big brands have entire departments that monitor social media do this, but it’s the GM that shapes the experience in which the customer meets the company.  So while GMs may not have time to monitor every social media post regarding their business, they can create an environment within their four walls that maximizes great experiences and minimizes bad ones.

Digital-minded expediting. GMs today need to know how to ensure that every dish looks Instagrammably-good, whether that dish is being plated for a guest in the dining room or being packaged for another guest in their living room courtesy of DoorDash or a drone delivery.  The final look of that food must be picture-perfect, since guests today first eat with their phones, then eyes, then mouths.

Peer-to-peer learning. If a farmer, doctor or retailer from the 1600s suddenly appeared in 2019, they’d hardly recognize their profession. But a teacher or monk from that era transported to a training class today would instantly know where they were. That’s all about to change thanks to technology and a seismic shift in learning systems that will focus on teaching employees how to think instead of merely telling them what to do (see the first skill above.) Effective new coaching systems in which hourly and managerial employees best practices are routinely identified and then directly shared between the practitioner and their peers are being deployed today in U.S. schools, retail and manufacturing, eliminating learning management systems, and in some cases training departments altogether. This minimizes training bloat, maximizes employee productivity, and generates significant labor savings.  What if Alexa led the preshift meeting or recited the risotto recipe in any language on demand? The GM of 2024 will coach in an entirely different manner, deploying the right tech with the right touch. Many of these innovations are already underway.

The “Future” comes at us one hour at a time.  Is your team ready?

Jim’s two books Fundamentals and Multiunit Leadership have sold over 330,000 copies worldwide. You can connect with him daily on YouTube, Twitter and LinkedIn where he has over 400,000 followers. For information on how to book Jim as a speaker for your next conference, visit or email him at [email protected].

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