It’s hard to be in this business long without meeting a few bad managers. They’re the ones hiding in the office, avoiding confrontation, failing to support their employees, and not learning from mistakes. They’re the Peter-Principle models; men and women too qualified for their previous jobs and incapable of handling their current ones.
One critical fact of this business is that it is sometimes a landing point for people who have failed in other businesses. This should be a motivating factor for those of us dedicated to excellence, and one step we can all take is to learn from their mistakes. A bad manager can teach us as much about success as the great ones, if we take a moment to understand the glory of their bad habits.
In fact, it’s not too hard. Most bad managers have the same tendencies – bad habits they share with bad managers around the world. Here are a few of the most common.
Hiding in the Office
One of my first managers told me a coach wouldn’t be in the locker room when the game’s going on. So why would a manager ever be in a back office during service? Hiding in the office sends all the wrong messages to a staff. It emphasizes laziness and a lack of leadership. It tells employees they’re not worth getting out of the office chair for.
Restaurant management is a demanding, non-stop, draining position. It is built for people with high motors and endless endurance, and those of us with management careers know it’s often more about fixing toilets and apologizing to customers than using our passion for food and service. That said, the manager has to be the captain of the ship, and the ship is running in the kitchen and the dining room.
Good managers empower employees to be who they are. They cultivate a sense of ownership in employees, and support them through the challenges innate to the business. Unfortunately, bad managers do the exact opposite. They’re absent, fault-finding, aggressive, or aloof. In fact, they may be these things only some of the time, but they fail to demonstrate the opposite – that they’re in the building to support their employees.
Managers who undermine employees usually do so because they’re insecure or because they thrive on conflict. There’s no place for undermining employees in a small business, and doing so cultivates an unhappy workplace.
Failing to Hire
Managers who don’t hire employees wind up only hiring when they need to. In many restaurants, a hiring manager who is not ready to hire is obvious. These are the restaurants with an inexperienced staff or with many new hires at the same time. They’re the ones with servers who’ve never waited tables before, or line cooks who’ve never worked in a restaurant. Failing to hire leads to hiring when it’s too late and rushing new hires through training. In the end, this habit is apparent to everyone in the building.
Having Knee-jerk Reactions
Bad managers have knee-jerk reactions. They get too angry when things go poorly and get too excited when things go well. This business is all about the big picture, and it’s essential to not get too high or too low. Knee-jerk reactions have many disadvantages, including:
- Flying off the handle at employees
- Firing employees without a warning
- Creating a prickly work environment
- Switching vendors without reason
- Alienating the staff
This business is a breeding ground for knee-jerk reactions. The long hours, complaining guests, selfish employees, and fickle recipes all lead to emotional responses. But managers set the tone for the building, and knee-jerk reactions are not the right tone.
Being Cheap Instead of Working Cheap
Cheap products are apparent to everyone in the building – from employees to guests. Managers in restaurants that are in the red often reduce costs by cutting corners – by ordering choice steaks instead of prime or one-ply toilet paper instead of two-ply.
The right way to be cheap is by making your own products when possible, portioning out food, and throwing away nothing. It’s about recycling cleaning supplies when possible and pricing out vendors to find the lowest prices. There’s a right way to be cheap, and it takes hard work. Cheapness and laziness will almost always lose in the long run.
Being Married to One Vendor
Finding multiple vendors and comparing prices is a cardinal rule of the restaurant business. There are three ways to get stuck relying on a solitary vendor:
- A relationship with a Sales Rep
- Living in a remote outpost where there’s only one food vendor
That’s it. Relying on one food or beverage vendor leads to high food cost every time. Comparing vendors and shopping around leads to improved cost and quality.
As the restaurant industry grows, so must we grow along with it. Too many managers fail to grow, either because they’re tired of learning or feel as though they already know how to run the business. New challenges constantly appear to experienced managers: new restaurants opening up, new technologies to improve the business, or new opportunities for revenue.
There’s too much to learn to stop trying, such as:
- Taking a class on refrigeration or electricity
- Talking to vendors
- Improving marketing
- Getting online
- Challenging employees to teach the manager
- Reading this blog
The last one is just a start. The manager who fails to learn is failing to succeed. The world around us always catches up with us if we don’t commit ourselves to learning.