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How to Manage Multiple Restaurant Locations in the 21st Century

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Allie Van DuyneAuthor

Right now there are over 1 million restaurant locations in the U.S.

How many of them are yours?

For some restaurateurs, one is enough; others, however, dream of more. Whether you’re ready to expand your one-and-only, grow an existing franchise, or explore a new culinary concept altogether, managing multiple restaurants comes with a special set of challenges.

At the end of the day, you might have fifteen restaurants, but there will only ever be one of you. So, how can you ensure your fifteenth is every bit as successful as your first?

Read on for actionable advice on how to manage multiple restaurant locations.


The Restaurant Expansion Checklist

Learn how to expand into your second, fifth, or tenth restaurant location.


Common Challenges Multi-Unit Managers Face

Growing a healthy, thriving, multi-unit restaurant operation requires time, money, and resources — often even more than you’d expect.

With that, a word of caution: know before you grow. Not sure if you’re making the right move? Ask yourself:

  1. Do my financials support expansion?  Your social media following might be off the charts, but if sales are an ongoing struggle, now might not be the best time to venture into a new neighborhood, city, or state. Whether your goal is to open a new location, invest in new equipment, or just manage cash flow over the next few months, you're going to need a reliable source of funding to make your dreams a reality. Toast Capital provides eligible Toast customers with access to loans from $5K to $300K that can be used for any restaurant need. Toast Capital Loans have one fixed cost with automated repayment that flexes with sales* – with no compounding interest and no personal guarantees. Once you’ve been approved and signed your Toast Capital Loan agreement, you can expect funds to be sent to your bank account in as soon as one business day**.
  2. Am I willing to relinquish (some) control? Above all else, managing multiple restaurant locations requires a willingness and ability to delegate. Because micromanaging removes accountability, squashes creativity, and discourages future participation, you’ll need to get comfortable trusting your business in the hands of people other than yourself.

If you answered “yes” to both these questions (and have a rock solid restaurant business plan in place) — good on you! You’ve laid the foundation that will make navigating the challenges of managing multiple restaurants (and trust me, there will be challenges) significantly less stressful.

Here are four such challenges you can expect to face as you expand your restaurant operation, along with some tips to protect your sanity and bottom line.

Challenge #1: Balancing Time and Attention

It’s easy to become so swept up in the excitement of growing your business that you start to overlook and even exclude the places and people that came before it.

Yes, you’ve proven you have what it takes to create a successful bar or restaurant, but failing to give each unit proper, ongoing TLC can negatively impact sustainability.

You’ll also want to pay special mind to how many resources you are pulling from your first location over to your second – whether temporarily or permanently. Experienced staff are some of your best brand ambassadors and can help make onboarding new team members a breeze, but taking too many for too long might compromise the quality of service guests receive at your flagship establishment.

Understanding there will likely be a heavier time and energy investment upfront for a new location, you should plan to divide your time between locations as best you can by scheduling regular visits. These visits offer the opportunity to give and receive feedback based on observational data around how employees, supervisors, and customers are interacting with one another and with the physical space.

Challenge #2: Managing Overall Performance

Becoming a successful multi-unit restaurant manager means shifting from day-to-day operations into company-wide, big picture issues. Suddenly, you’re concerning yourself not only with sales at one location but how sales across all locations are impacting the company’s health.

The key takeaway here is not to be afraid of technology. In fact, technology in the form of handhelds drastically improved operations at Odd Duck in Austin, Texas – raising revenue by $500,000 and server tips by $7,000 annually.

When it comes to monitoring and managing performance, technology is your friend! Investing in cloud-based software for features like inventory management, point of sale (POS), and restaurant employee scheduling gives you instant and full visibility of how things are going.

Challenge #3: Creating a Consistent Restaurant Experience

We’ve talked about streamlining, but now let’s move to consistency.

This is mission critical from a brand standpoint; especially if you’re opening up a second location, your customers will already have set expectations for your bar or restaurant.

When a guest walks through your doors, they receive more than a burger or a cocktail – they’re part of an experience. It’s important you do everything in your power to meet those expectations and make it the best experience possible.

When it comes to a consistent restaurant and guest experience, standardizing your operational procedures is key. It’s important you spend the time documenting everything — from hiring and firing processes to employee training manuals, recipes, cleaning and maintenance checklists, and how to manage customer complaints.

No stone left unturned.

To be clear: consistency does not mean inflexibility. Oftentimes, a case can be made in favor of personalization (though this should be treated as the exception, not the rule). Here is when you can really draw on the knowledge and input of your local management teams to decide on things like location-specific promotions, menu items, or a unique twist in decor.

Challenge #4: Maintaining Open Lines of Communication

Managing many locations requires much communication on your end; that way, the people you’ve hired have the information and tools they need to put their skills to work.

Even if your restaurants are geographically spread out, staying connected to your teams has never been easier. Sure, face time is great, but so is FaceTime! There are so many user-friendly, cost-effective video and text-based communication tools out there that keep the dialogue open and ongoing, allowing for virtual check-ins between in-person visits and company-wide collaborations.

Open, honest, and ongoing communication between yourself, your management team, and their staff creates a sense of cohesion that is valuable both from a profitability standpoint (there is a proven relationship between engagement and revenue) and for a healthy workplace culture.

But remember: you’re a coach, not an autocrat. While it’s important to set expectations early around managers’ decision-making authority, too much force and not enough flexibility can cause your team to feel disconnected and disengaged.

Toast Capital Loans are issued by WebBank. Loans are subject to credit approval and may not be available to borrowers in certain jurisdictions. WebBank reserves the right to change or discontinue this program without notice.

*Toast Capital Loans offer different target repayment terms ranging from 90 days to 360 days, depending on eligibility. The maximum repayment term is 60 days following the end of the target repayment term. Any outstanding balance due at the end of the maximum term will be collected automatically via ACH.

**Funds are typically disbursed within 1-2 business days after signing your credit agreement.

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