We all know it is very challenging being a restaurant manager. I spent 10 years managing Balthazar and Per Se in NYC, and I have many satisfying memories based on moments where I got involved and made a difference. Between constantly interacting with people, managing a team, standing up for quality and sanitation standards, and collaborating with other managers to helping the restaurant hit its financial goals, there is always something to do. This requires tremendous energy and experience and as well as a desire to contribute, collaborate and connect. But there are also amazing bonuses. If you are making the job fun and satisfying, the long hours will fly by. Here are my secrets of success.
1. Make peace with repeating yourself. Ours is a business of repetition, in fact it was Thomas Keller himself who reminded me that we start fresh every day in our business. While this is a wonderful “clean slate,” we also must accept that we are constantly repeating ourselves as we approach service day after day after day. Remember that you must repeat your actions and your philosophy for your team to retain the information and bring life to their roles and your restaurant.
2. Do a 180. When you’re facing one guest this means that you are giving your back to someone else. When I was a maitre d’ at Balthazar a customer complained that a manager was always turning his back on their table in order to talk to another guest. If you give your attention to one guest, you must turn around and give the same attention to the person who was just at your back. ‘Nuff said!
3. Develop a routine. As a manager at Per Se I developed “the route” for my opening duties. The route took me through the FOH and BOH spaces in such a way that I could do everything in preparation for the day. My route made the tasks physical (“when I’m here I do this, when here I do this”) and this muscle memory helped ensure that nothing would get overlooked.
4. Keep your energy up. This means making sure you are hydrated and have occasional snacks as you work. It is hard working in an environment where you are constantly serving food and drink, and you may be terribly thirsty or hungry. I have learned that when I am tired I need to reach for a glass (or two) of water before going for the caffeine. And I always have some sort of snack so when hunger strikes I am prepared.
5. Think of the next guy. Many restaurants have a daily shift log, which helps managers understand what happened shift to shift. But also think of who might be in need of your incredible insight long after you’re gone. It is so important to consider the next guy by making good notes about the staff schedule. Empathy can give more meaning to your tasks and sharing your insight makes you valuable beyond your time.
6. Realize that you don’t know everything. As involved as you may be in service, you cannot know every little detail. Your team may have incredible insight for solving problems, so ask them and involve them. And then give credit where it is due; in this way, everyone wins.
7. Stay positive. So many restaurant employees develop a good sense of humor. It is a must as working with the public can sometimes be demoralizing and just plain hard. If you can share a laugh as you work it helps keep your mood and energy level high and buoyant. The entire staff can help one another with kindness and humor. It helps break the spell of stress and the camaraderie is a tonic to the hardest of services. At Balthazar we were always silly with one another. Catching the eye of a co-worker across the open dining room, controlling a giggle, your eyes shining; it looks like the staff is enjoying themselves. A great sight in a busy place.
Kate Edwards is a hospitality consultant, service expert and executive coach based in NYC. Her business is devoted to helping entrepreneurs and companies develop their ideas, accomplish their goals and realize their potential through consulting, coaching and training. Contact her at [email protected].