Why Your Restaurant Management Needs a Tune-up

By Donald Burns, Foodable Industry Expert

Commercial Kitchen Operations

Things move quickly in the restaurant industry, seemingly changing overnight. Faster and better seems to be the key for a lot of up-and-coming concepts. Adaptability ranks right up there with consistency for top-performing brands. If you don’t have your finger on the pulse of the consumer, you will quickly find yourself left behind. Improvements in technology and state-of-the-art equipment pushes our industry forward into the future. Yet, what about management techniques? Why has the industry not put in the same energy into improving its management skills?

If you read the current headlines, they say that restaurant turnover is high and the prospects to fill those openings are low. Maybe it’s because we cling to outdated management styles that our current workforce (Millennials) have a difficult time understanding or accepting. Times are changing. Let’s look at how you can bring your management up to date.

A Brief History

Management, as we know it today, started with the rise of the Industrial Revolution (1860). It’s strange that having a career as a manager did not really exist until the 1930s. Before that time, people were known as “captains of industry.” Professional managers realized they had responsibility to three groups: employees, stockholders, and the public.

The 1950s and 60s brought about the implementation of systems. It was at that time that the psychology into management theory was introduced. In his book, the Human Side of Enterprise, social psychologist Douglas McGregor broke down management into two categories:

Commercial kitchen with plated food

Theory X where the controlling and authoritative manager believes most of his employees do not like to work and will only work under the threat of punishment.

Theory Y where the democratic manager believes employees can be trusted and generally want to do a good job and improve their own skill levels.

The 70s were characterized as a more contingency approach to management. Basically, people were saying there’s no one way to really match and it all depends on the circumstances. The 70s also saw the introduction of William Ouchi’s Theory Z. This was an attempt to merge American and Japanese management practices into a more consensual and participative management style.

The early 80s saw the introduction of total quality management (TQM), where the emphasis is on managing the entire organization so it excels in all areas. TQM brought about the best-selling management book, In Search of Excellence by Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman, which remains a popular book today.

Things really didn’t take off as far as new management theories until 2000, when Jim Collins published a book titled Good to Great. Here, we were introduced to what has been known as the hedgehog concept. Managers focus on the simple core concept that allows the company to focus on performance in a few areas rather than spread out over a lot of projects.

If you read through all of these, you can probably see the management techniques and theories from the 1960s that are still prevailing in today’s restaurants. Today’s workforce is unlike any that have come before. Whether a gen-Xer, baby boomer, or Millennial, they have their strengths and weaknesses, and can’t be managed like it’s business as usual. It’s time to make a shift.

Out with the Old, In with the New

Commercial kitchen

Old: Command and control – success is driven by the manager.

New: Engage and empower – success is driven by tapping into the natural strengths of the team and unleashing that power to improve the organization.

Old: Goals and objectives – the team is forced to comply with company standards.

New: Purpose and values – the team is motivated by being a part of something they believe is truly meaningful.

Old: Processes and systems – changes driven by implementation of new systems and checklists.

New: Culture and behaviors – sustainable change is driven by understanding and altering how the team thinks and behaves.

What’s the underlying theme here? People make the difference. It is sad how many restaurants claim in their literature and websites that ‘people are our most valuable asset,’ but don’t act like it.

Managers have to come to the realization that people on their team are more than a line item on a profit and loss statement. Actions speak louder than words; talk is cheap. Sure, they’re clichés, but your employees will notice. Your behavior solidifies and reinforces the words you say.

Management Change Starts with Mindset

Millennials dining with wine

Would you say your management style is more like a game of chess or checkers?

Managers who use a checkers style tend to be reactionary. When something happens, they react to the situation. These people are the firefighters, who wait around for some kind of drama to pop up and then spring into action. They tend to hang out in the office and bark orders at the team. These managers subscribe to Theory X.

Managers who use a chess style tend to be more strategists. They look at the strengths of each team member and plug them into the game where they would best help the restaurant. While these type of managers are actively involved, they trust their team and allow their natural strengths to shine. These managers are usually working alongside their team – coaching, training, and reinforcing the standards. They talk about core values, and they live them. These managers subscribe to a new theory, Theory C.

Theory C is one where culture is the new commodity. They understand that while a lot of restaurants in their market might be able to compete with similar standards on food and service, it’s their culture that separates the great.

Every restaurant has a culture; however, it might not be the culture they want. The good news is, you can change. It starts with a change in your mindset about how you view your role as a manager. You can keep doing things the same way and hope they improve. Oh, by the way, Albert Einstein called that the definition of insanity. Or, you can make a conscious decision to create a culture when your team can thrive.

The Millennials are here. They will be your workforce of the future. Stop holding on to old management techniques and styles that do not serve your restaurant or create a culture that attracts and retains top talent. To keep doing this is true insanity.