The Restaurant Manager—a most peculiar species. You’d think that someone who can neither cook on the line nor serve on the floor would be useless in a restaurant. However, The Restaurant Manager takes these deficiencies and harnesses them, becoming an indispensable part of the restaurant. How does he do it? How does a community college dropout whose idea of literature is the latest issue of “Food and Beverage News” manage a motley crew of truculent servers and holier-than-thou chefs? I’ll tell you how: volume. No, but seriously. When business management specialists from the 22nd century look back at what succeeded in 2014, they’ll point to The Restaurant Manager as the one heroic individual in a dining room of chaos. And they’ll probably look to the very managers that I, Chris the Weekend Waiter, work with as the very paradigms of efficiency, ingenuity, dedication, and discipline, qualities which lead to the success of the restaurant and the benefit of all its employees. Seriously. I don’t know why the folks at world-renowned management consultancy McKinsey & Co. aren’t calling them RIGHT NOW and asking if they can start a case study on the secrets of their managerial success. Since they haven’t, however, I’ve decided to reveal them now. These are…..
THE SEVEN HABITS OF HIGHLY EFFECTIVE RESTAURANT MANAGERS.
…..or how you, too, can be the best restaurant manager in the five glorious counties of Southern California.
(1) Be unavailable.
This is the most important habit. You must be extremely difficult to find. You can hide out in the office for most of the day, true, but at some point you have to be even more elusive. You can build a second office that’s in a separate building from the restaurant, as my old managers did. You can lock the door to the main office but then—and here’s a classic display of Restaurant Manager ingenuity—you can go out to the parking lot and hang out with other restaurant managers. It’s hilarious because the servers will think you’re having an important meeting in the office but, NO, you’re nowhere near the office! While this all seems counter-intuitive, you’ll be teaching your staffing the much needed principle of independence. They’re like toddlers and you need to push them out into the world. They can’t depend on you forever! Because you know that’s what they do, right? They really depend on you. Who would process their comps if you weren’t around? Because you really must be in control of comping off birthday desserts. Could you imagine a world where servers were allowed to order birthday desserts willy-nilly, for zero dollars and zero cents, without requiring a manager to comp them? It would be anarchy. They would be ordering birthday desserts left and right. You know this because you know servers love giving away free birthday desserts.
Please note that Being Unavailable is not the same thing as being lazy. I mean, obviously you are lazy. That’s why you’ve become a restaurant manager. There’s a reason why the Three-Toed Tree Sloth is the mascot of the International Fraternal Association of Restaurant Managers (I-FARM). There’s a reason why a picture of a man wearing ill-fitting clothes from TJ Maxx, leaning back on a counter, drinking a cup of coffee, is the official logo of I-FARM. But being lazy and being unavailable are separate things. You can be both at the same time but you’re doing the concept of Being Unavailable a disservice if you don’t treat them differently.
(2) Be Vague.
You must ignore everything you’ve heard about the importance of precision and detail. I realize that famous CEOs from Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs have constantly and consistently pushed the value of being specific when issuing instructions but let’s be frank, here—what do either of them know about managing something as sacred as The Restaurant? We serve FOOD here, for chrissakes, and sometimes we only have 37 minutes to serve a medium-rare steak AND a plate of seared ahi tuna. What have THEY ever done, besides inventing more things than any other person in modern America and building the most valuable corporation of the 21st century, respectively? All these so-called Business Legends have no idea how hard it is to run a restaurant, right? While they’re busy working on things like Providing Electrical Current Throughout the Continent or Making All Human Knowledge Accessible Anywhere in the World, the much-maligned Restaurant Manager has to do truly important things like Ensuring that No Servers Park in the Manager’s Parking Lot and Making Sure The Food Runner Knows Where to Run The Food That We Ordered for the Three Hour Manager’s Meeting That We Are Having on Saturday Night at 5:30 pm.
Anyway, be as vague as possible. This means you always have a chance to be right. I mean, I know you were rejected from a For-Profit Online-Only Business School because you got all the questions on the GMAT wrong but, dammit, now you have at least a CHANGE to be right. I mean….you won’t ever be right but you can possibly perpetuate the illusion of maybe being a little right. Most of your time will be spent managing servers whose idea of “educational bragging” is talking about how they were admitted to a liberal arts post-graduate program at the local Cal State, so you don’t have to worry that they’ll notice if you actually ever are right or not.
When a server asks you question like, “Are we still having No-Corkage Thursdays,” answer them right back with a question with added vagueness. “Hmmm. No-Corkage Thursdays? Were we ever having No-Corkage Any Days and Especially on Thursdays?” This presents you with the opportunity to challenge the knowledge of your servers while simultaneously shrouding your own lack of knowledge with that vaunted quality of vagueness. If a server asks, “Should we comp off this steak? The guest only ate half of it but said she really didn’t like it,” answer with, “Do we ever comp off anything for anybody if they only eat some predetermined portion of it? And what do you mean she didn’t like it?” Look. LOOK. Your job as a restaurant manager is not about making important decisions. Your job is force others to make those decisions and then criticize them days later about those important decisions.
Being vague is all the more important when assigning additional work to your servers. Make wildly sweeping requests such as, “Chris, before you start, I need you to deep clean all the booths in the restaurant.” Or, “Lilly, I need you to sweep all around the restaurant.” SWEEP AROUND THE RESTAURANT? EIGHT MINUTES BEFORE OPENING? That makes perfect sense. I know the last book you read was a novelization of an Adam Sandler movie but if you remember a certain author from your childhood named Charles Dickens, you’d be one of those characters who makes their employees do crazy things for very little monetary reward. Or as this one frat-guy-server I used to manage once said, “Clean? I’m a server you know, not a janitor. I’ll clean a little bit but I’m not a janitor.” This is actually a strikingly valid point. They’re not the cleaning crew. They should be so busy serving tables that they don’t have time to clean. You should have specialists who can clean more efficiently, at a lower cost, if you really want a sparkling restaurant. However, you must ignore all this LOGIC and RATIONALITY. If you want logic and reason, go to the latest Ayn Rand Retreat. A restaurant is no place for objectivism. (By the way, why is every Ayn Rand disciple unemployed, living in a double-wide trailer in Western Kentucky, making a living by selling fur taken from road kill, and still a virgin at age 45? I seriously doubt that when Ayn Rand wrote the Fountainhead that she based Howard Roark on that person.) Being vague means you don’t have to follow any sort of logic. The second habit is Be Vague First, Criticize Often, Especially While Someone Is Doing the Very Thing That You Asked Them To Do.
In part 2 (of 3 parts)…..
the third habit: Be Passive-Aggressive, or why the anonymous posted note is your best ally.