Leadership skills every restaurant manager must have


It’s just not enough to have a trendy restaurant or delicious food. The viability of your dream and passion hinges on the execution of ideas. Ideas about how staff will greet customers, how the entrees will be plated, and the culture that will be embraced. And it’s this execution – or lack thereof – that separates the thriving restaurateurs from the mediocre ones. But proper execution requires one more thing: leadership.

Restaurateurs may fill the leadership role themselves or they may seek out and hire those who are better-equipped. Either way, having a great coach and leader working with the team you build will make all the difference in reaching your ultimate long-term goals.

So, what skills or traits should leaders bring to the table?

Communicate Effectively

Effective communication is tricky. It requires practice, patience, and prioritizing – all of which take time and energy. But when leaders prioritize its importance, amazing results abound. Whether it’s simply verbally thanking your hostess for staying late last night or personally checking in with each staff member about the most recent menu change, the positive transformation that often takes place is astounding. In the same way that like breeds like, a leader’s knack for communicating with staff will breed more open communication and positivity within the walls of your establishment. And naturally, that overflows to your customers as well.


Improve Everyday

One potential pitfall that threatens every leader is complacency. If you opt out of learning, it seriously stunts your ability to grow – both in your role as a leader and as a fellow human. And by proxy, your staff can easily take on the same lackadaisical mentality. So instead, successful leaders set an example by seeking to improve when and where they can. They acknowledge their successes, of course, but find their time is better spent focusing on how they can be better. By setting the example, that mindset can trickle-down to your staff as well.

Take Risks

Taking risks can be scary. But, leaders know that with risk comes reward. And the opportunity to grow both professionally and personally. For example, in the restaurant industry, there’s a phenomenon of the “jinxed” location. That is, some think that a restaurant will fail if it rents a location that once housed a failed restaurant. Burgatory, a burger bar located in Philadelphia, took a risk and rented a building that had previously seen four restaurants come and go. And their first week in business ended up setting records! They wouldn’t have seen such tremendous success if they hadn’t pushed the fear aside and taken a risk.

Build Great Relationships

Leaders have the opportunity to make each interaction count. Every day brings the chance to build bigger, better, and stronger relationships. And that’s not limited to just your staff. It overflows into working with management, vendors, and of course, your customers. When leaders truly care about their staff and make an effort to express that, it sends a powerful, positive message. And one that won’t quickly be forgotten either.

Make Decisions

Leaders are decision-makers. Sometimes those may be quick, easy decisions and sometimes a lengthy look at the pros and cons is necessary. But a “can do” attitude can make a world of difference – and make the impossible happen! By focusing on the end goal, and not getting bogged down by the elements out of your control, leaders find that the world really is their oyster. It sounds silly, but that simple shift in mind and attitude can move mountains. And here’s a little reminder about why decisions need to be made, even if it ends up not being the right one:

  • The best thing a leader can do is make the right decision.
  • The next best thing a leader can do is make the wrong decision.
  • The worst thing a leader can do is to do nothing.

Teach and Coach

Leaders’ roles are really two-fold: teaching and coaching. The saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” is a worthy reminder and motivator. Here’s another place where putting in the time pays dividends. You can give a new chef your recipes and have him learn by trial and error, with no additional coaching. The chef will probably eventually learn the ins and outs of the dishes, but it will be a rough, frustrating process. Or a leader can provide the recipes and walk the chef through each dish. Plus, be available for questions and feedback going forward. The benefits to this approach are many; mutual trust and respect are fostered between leaders and staff, and staff are given the tools and information they need to be successful.

Solve Problems

Great leaders are also great problem-solvers. They can remain impartial, listen to both (or all) sides of a story, and have the confidence to take action when needed. While it’s crucial to identify the actual problem(s) that might be hindering your restaurant’s success, it really has to go beyond that. Relying on feedback and assistance from team members is important too. Leaders know that enlisting the help of staff and working together to solve a problem is much more effective than doing so solo.

Adapt Their Style

A true leader adapts their style as needed, whether that’s to a person or a situation. Just as servers do with customers at a table – no two customers are the same, right? – the same holds true for leading people. What motivates one person, doesn’t necessarily motivate the next, so adjusting your approach and leadership style is key. Leaders are able to:

  • See perspectives other than their own
  • Master reading people as well as a scenario
  • Quickly recognize that a different style is needed and act accordingly

Lead by Example

Successful leaders understand that their words and actions should be in sync. And they’re not afraid to get in the trenches and work side by side with their staff. In fact, that’s the best tactic to use. By committing to a hands-on approach, leaders gain credibility and respect. They may work various positions within the restaurant from time to time, so they can see first-hand what their staff is going through. Plus, it provides an opportunity to influence and connect on a deeper level with your staff. Team members will know that you have their best interest at heart, and they appreciate your willingness to see – and experience – things from their side.


The traits discussed so far are definitely important for the leaders in your restaurant. But perhaps the greatest opportunity for a leader to lead effectively lies in their ability to inspire those around them. Luckily, each trait below offers the chance to influence and inspire, both those in your circle and beyond.

  • Communicate Effectively
  • Teach and Coach
  • Solve Problems
  • Improve Everyday
  • Take Risks
  • Build Great Relationships
  • Make Decisions
  • Adapt Their Style
  • Lead by Example

I truly believe great leaders can impact the lives of so many people.

“To the world you may just be one person,but to that one person you may just be the world.”   ~ Bill Wilson

Follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube for more business human resources and leadership insights. For speaking engagements and membership services, visit me here. Or check out my company, Restaurant HR Group, to learn how we help manage your HR, restaurant payroll, and benefits administration.

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