Hard Truths of Managing a Restaurant

Image of Stressed Man with Head On His Shoulders Facing the Hard Truths of Managing a Restaurant
// By Kyle Thacker // , Apr 2, 2019

Topics: Restaurant Management

The allure of the restaurant industry is easy to understand. The money can be good and comes fast. The obligation is often minimal. And the job is built around encouraging indulgence from customers, and that penchant for indulgence often comes full circle once their shift ends. A restaurant can be a really fun place to work. I know I had a lot of fun bartending and serving, and met a lot of great people who are now close friends.

 

But managing a restaurant is a completely different box of donuts. It can be a stressful, never-ending horror story. It's not all doom and gloom when it comes to managing in the industry, but for a moment, let's take a look at the dark side of running a restaurant.

 

High Stress of Restaurant Management 

 

The hours are unforgiving. Long days turn into long nights, and it seems like you're constantly playing catch-up. Your average day managing a restaurant will have you clocking 10+ hour shifts. And those hours will extend well beyond that on weekends. Back-to-back doubles, anyone?

 

One Day Off, 6 Days On

 

It's pretty common for restaurant managers to only get one day off a week. And if you're lucky enough to get two days off, then those two days are probably spaced out over the course the week; rarely do you get two days off in a row.

 

When I managed bars and restaurants, two days off in a row felt like a vacation. And this can make it tough to maintain relationships with people who aren't in the industry. When they're ready to turn up, you're still stuck at work.

 

Text Messages Are Like The Reaper's Hand

 

All workers (in the U.S. at least) are victims of communication overload. It's hard to get away from work when your phone is buzzing from emails, your Slack chat push notifications are dotting your home screen, and text messages from employees are keeping you on edge.

 

The unpredictability of the restaurant industry means that managers are always fielding calls on their day off. If you can, make a hard rule to isolate yourself on your days off. It isn't always possible, but let your employees know that you might not return their calls or text when you leave work.

 

Your Fridge Is Always Empty

 

A nice perk of managing restaurants is that you get meals for free. The manager meal comp is a beautiful thing. Eating great food for free is definitely a benefit, but the combination of long hours at work and the convenience of free food means that you rarely get to the grocery store. So when you finally have a day off, or get home after a long shift, you're often stuck with boxed rice and cans of vegetables. This leads to spending a lot of money ordering and eating out.

 

Irresponsible Restaurant Staff

 

Restaurant work is a transient industry. The turnover rate reached 72% in 2015 and hit 73% in 2017. And while dealing with staff turnover is hard, dealing with  employees still on your payroll can be ever harder. It's common for staff to call off shifts with little notice, leaving you shorthanded for service and scrambling to find bodies to cover for you.

 

The gymnastics management must perform to make sure service doesn't suffer when understaffed is impressive. But it's always difficult when you are dedicated to your job and you have to manage employees who aren't.

 

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Stuck Playing Second Fiddle

 

From servers calling out sick to no-call no-shows, the stress of dealing with a part-time workforce can take its toll on managers and makes it difficult to maintain positive relationships with many workers.

 

Restaurant work is attractive because it allows you to earn money while pursuing other goals. Many on your staff might be in school, pursuing a career in the arts, or working at a restaurant for supplemental income while they start a career in another field.

 

This is all great, but for restaurant managers it's difficult because when you're employing a staff who has prioritize other goals over their job, it's hard to hold them accountable. It can be a really frustrating and thankless task to employ workers who view their job with secondary importance.

 

Staff Turnover and Training

 

As mentioned above, the turnover rate for restaurant employees is staggering. And it means that management is constantly on the hunt for new, qualified workers. It also means that you're constantly training new staff.

 

Were you even trained?

 

Training new staff can put a drain on managers, and keeps you from doing other parts of your job. The unpredictable nature of service always pulls management away to fix problems elsewhere. You often rely on senior staff to train employees.

 

But this doesn't always work out. I've seen it time and time again in restaurants, when an undertrained server or bartender is thrown into service too soon, and often out of necessity. Its a lot of work to train staff on proper steps of service, wine and cocktails, and the food menu. But high turnover means you're constantly training.

 

Low Pay

 

In 2016, salaried restaurant workers saw an opportunity for relief through a new overtime rule that would have changed how restaurant managers were paid. But late last year, the rule was blocked by a federal judge in Texas.

 

Independent restaurants call for long hours from management. Because maintaining low labor costs is often a priority for restaurant operators, salaried employees like restaurant managers can be overworked because those extra hours don't impact a restaurant's payroll.

 

Long shifts aren't always justified by their pay. You probably hit overtime each week, working 40+ hours. The job site Glassdoor notes that the national average salary for restaurant managers is $46,406 a year.

 

Which means that the average restaurant manager would have be eligible for overtime pay if the overtime rule went into effect. But now, management is stuck being underpaid and overworked.

 

I should have stuck to serving

 

The hard truth for restaurant managers is that you can make more money as a server or bartender without the heavy load of responsibility that comes with management. I've seen plenty of managers who get burnt out quickly and leave their job, opting instead to serve or bartend. I've even done that myself.

 

All in all, managing can be very rewarding. It is a great opportunity to grow your skills and gain valuable experience. But there are a lot of difficult realizations that are unique to the job.

Kyle Thacker

About the author, Kyle Thacker

Kyle is the Marketing Director for Backbar. Before helping Backbar connect with the restaurant industry, he managed multiple bars in Chicago, with a love of whiskey and cocktails.

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