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General managers reveal insights during the Emerging Restaurateur Live Learning Series.

General managers share insights in Live Learning Series

Leaders from Jersey Mikes, McDonald’s and Shake Shack offer keys to success in role

Discovering a spark of passion both in management and line employees remains important, according to general managers participating Wednesday in the “Emerging Restaurateur Live Learning Series.”

“Whether it starts out from your team members up into current management,” said Sarah Rambert, general manager at Shake Shack Inc., “once you start to see that spark — where that passion starts to grow, not just for what they do day-to-day but for the brand, for our guests, for each other — once you see that spark it tells me, ‘OK, this person is ready to like really learn more.’”

Rambert joined Claire Andrew, a general manager with McDonald’s Corp., and Madison Burroughs, the manager of the year at Jersey Mike’s, in the Emerging Restaurateur Live Learning Series, which Nation’s Restaurant News offers in partnership with Savory and Guest XM (formerly Black Box Intelligence) and with sponsor Harri.

The session was moderated by Alicia Kelso, Nation's Restaurant News’ executive editor, and Andrew K. Smith, Savory Restaurant Fund managing director, and featured data presented by Victor Fernandez, vice president of insights and knowledge at Guest XM.

All three managers had been featured in NRN’s General Manager Power List, published earlier in the year.

Kelso said the general managers are “these critical leaders sit at the intersection of guest experience, team culture, sales performance, and profitability. It's a huge job with an even bigger impact on your business.”

Smith of the Savory Fund, which has more than 550 general managers at its portfolio brands, added that management’s job is to “to make sure that the GM has the skills, the abilities, the experience but also the tools, the communication, the vision, and the pathway for them to be a success.”

Smith added that the GM role has become the “hardest job in the organization” because of demands for new technology in the restaurant business.

Fernandez said Guest XM, which tracks more than 100,000 restaurant locations and 300 brands, said that “every single interaction with the guest counts,” given the number of restaurant options that consumers have, and “that culture of performance that the GM is setting needs to be there. It needs to be at the best possible position for you to succeed.”

Rambert added that general managers “are the glue in our restaurants.”

“We kind of keep everything and everyone together,” she said. “We keep everything running as smoothly, as smoothly as we can.”

Andrew of McDonald’s added: “To be an effective GM, you need to continue to be that strong leader for your team and to understand that you have to connect and communicate with your employees in such a way that you can be productive.”

Burroughs of Jersey Mike's said that investing in employees is also important, and that includes training as well as communication about work-life balance.

“Know what they have going on outside of work,” Burroughs said, “and understand that they need work-life balance as well. I think a lot of that makes our job easier in the end, too, because you put people first and I honestly truly believe the profit just kind of falls in place after that.”

Andrew said recruitment and retention of staff members is also a role general managers must master.

“I really have to commend McDonald's corporate for taking the time out to ensure that we understand the different generations that we have within our restaurants,” she said, noting that the burger brand has a program for interviewing, hiring, and onboarding new workers. Also, allowing growth of skills to those workers such as educational programs and other benefits are also important, she said.

Burroughs noted that general managers must look ahead to positions that may be opened because of graduations or other events.

One of the challenges of the general manager role remain the people, Burroughs said.

“We say the people are the best part of this job and the hardest part of this job,” she said, especially by workers who have been conditioned by the pandemic. “There was no COVID handbook,” she added.

Embracing change was a big lesson of the pandemic, Rambert said, adding that “I think it elevated us to the next level.”

Dealing with different generations within the workforce was cited as a challenge by Andrew.

The McDonald’s leader advised emerging brand to support their general managers.

“Have regular check-ins with them to make sure that their goals are being set,” Andrew said, and make sure the training curriculums are updated.

“What you learned 10 years ago may not be relevant now,” she said.

The Emerging Restaurateur Live Learning series is available on demand at the CREATE website.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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