Great restaurant managers — floor managers, GMs, assistant GMs, chefs, bar managers, HR managers, everything managers — are the heart of a happy restaurant team.
The best managers know they have an ever-changing job description and are happy to take it on. In one day, they might spend time making the staff schedule, planning a team outing, stepping in for a busser who called in sick, checking on sales numbers, backing up an employee’s decision to cut off a customer who’s had too much, and coordinating the repair of the fryer. It’s not a job for just anyone, but an empathetic and efficient restaurant manager doing their job well is a beautiful thing to behold.
Unfortunately, retaining restaurant managers has become a huge problem for the industry. It’s a tough job, and restaurant managers often feel under-compensated and overworked.
Brandon Blietz has worked in the restaurant industry since 1996, and he spent six years as a general manager. “I quit my first management job because I wasn't getting the respect I thought I deserved,” he explained. “In retrospect, there were a couple of things; I realized my values did not align with my employer, and I was an immature young chef that had a lot to learn about how to leverage people. Both dynamics made my employer not want to invest further in me, and it made me feel disrespected.”
The stats tell us Blietz’s experience is part of a larger trend of restaurant managers quitting in favor of other roles.
Statistics on Restaurant Management Turnover
Managers leave when they’re burnt out, underpaid, and not engaged in their jobs. What exactly does engagement mean, though? “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals,” explains Forbes.
According to TDn2K’s 2019 research, 35% of restaurant managers quit in their first year on the job. These survey results also revealed that general managers are suffering from poor work-life balance. Only 11% of GMs strongly agree that their job allows them to spend enough quality time with family and friends.
Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace report showed that a lack of engagement among front-line managers directly influences their employees' engagement, creating what Gallup calls the “cascade effect.”
You’ve probably experienced this in a restaurant before: If a beloved manager or chef quits, things can quickly get chaotic, and other departures follow suit.
Not only is losing a manager destabilizing for the whole team, it’s expensive. Research from the Cornell School of Hospitality showed that replacing an employee can cost around $5,700, but for an employee with a high-complexity job like a general manager, it can cost $10,000 in lost productivity and time spent interviewing candidates, among other costs.
Back in 2012, Taco Bell conducted a study when their corporate office realized the business’s turnover rate began to rise while engagement scores began to fall. After examining why staff members were leaving, they discovered that increased levels of stress and inadequate training were driving factors.
Their research also found a strong correlation between poor store performance and regional general manager turnover. “You can’t stabilize team-member turnover unless you stabilize the turnover above the restaurant [level: area coaches and RGMs],” said Bjorn Erland, Taco Bell’s vice president of people and experience.
So how do you keep your managers from quitting? Here are six strategies to try in your restaurant.
How to Prevent Restaurant Managers From Quitting
If you create a supportive work environment and emphasize the importance of work-life balance, you’ll have a better shot at keeping your managers on the team for years. Here’s how to do it.
Hire multiple managers, and hire the right ones.
When hiring managers, think long-term. Don’t just hire someone because they’re available and you desperately need to fill a spot on the team. Also, consider splitting the role in two; hire two general managers instead of one. You’ll have to pay two salaries, but having a second manager to share the workload and shifts can make for much happier managers, meaning you won’t be looking for another one in less than a year.
When you’re hiring a restaurant manager, look for someone with experience, but, more importantly, actually call their references and have a conversation about what they’re like on a team and as a leader.
Another great approach is to hire managers who come recommended from your best staff members through a referral program.
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Last thing: Look within. You’ve probably got a few team members who are highly engaged and dedicated to your business. If they’re ready for the next step and you can invest in providing management training, you’ll end up with a more committed manager while showing your team there’s potential for them to build long-term careers with you.
Compensate competitively and provide financial bonuses.
TDn2K says one of the main reasons restaurant managers quit is because they feel underpaid for the work they do. Many managers work extensive hours and are paid a salary without overtime, and this can quickly lead to feeling undervalued, especially since many front-of-house managers previously work as servers, making hundreds in tips every night.
In many restaurants, servers make more cash than managers do. Gabrielle Grant, who spent more than 10 years working every job she could in the restaurant industry, says, “When I was a manager, my servers were making more than me. But [I took the job] for professional development. It was a decision I made, to sacrifice that so I can learn more transferable skills.”
“When I was a manager, my servers were making more than me. But [I took the job] for professional development. It was a decision I made, to sacrifice that so I can learn more transferable skills.”
The key is to pay your managers well — even if you can’t beat what your servers are making, pay them better than industry standard. If you provide continuous training, not just for operational things like food handling and service standards but for a manager’s own career edification, they’ll feel their job is opening doors for them. More on training in the next section.
Another way to make sure your managers feel valued is to provide financial bonuses based on restaurant performance, through profit-sharing. Different restaurants do this in different ways, but it can be simple. If your managers do a good job lowering the most common controllable costs, and their efforts can be seen in your bottom line, assign a percentage of the profits to be shared among managers or among all your staff.
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Train thoroughly and frequently.
Many restaurant managers aren’t properly trained for the job, especially if they’re promoted or hired to fill the spot of a manager who left abruptly. If a manager isn’t trained thoroughly, they’ll likely get overwhelmed by the demands of the position and upset that they’re working harder by making less than they were as a server. This could easily lead to an exit.
Your managers should feel ownership of the restaurant's margins, profits, and people. If you can teach them — and then encourage them — to make business decisions around labor, inventory, staff, and performance, they'll be more likely to stay.
If you’ve promoted someone from within your restaurant, spend time training them to be leaders. Have them shadow another manager for longer than you think is necessary — the more situations and tasks they experience through shadowing, the better prepared they’ll be.
In this five-chapter interactive course, you’ll learn how to master the hiring cycle so you can get back to doing what you love.
Organize regular one-on-one check ins between managers and owners so the managers can learn strategy and grow with your business. Show your managers a growth path so they know the milestones they should aim for. In these meetings, check in with how your manager is feeling about their job and their personal life so you can be aware if your support is needed in either area.
You can provide career training through research and development trips, formal workshops, online courses, trade shows, or one-on-one mentorship — just ask your managers what they want to learn, and make it happen.
One-on-One Meeting Template
Make weekly, biweekly, or monthly check-ins with employees productive with this customizable Word doc for your one-on-one meeting agendas.
Keep your resources, tools, and tech fresh.
A manager working with antiquated tech and a printed-out spreadsheet schedule will be wasting hours every week trying to get things done, making their already tough job tougher. Integrated, intelligent restaurant technology can help managers get things done ten times faster.
There are tools and systems that make scheduling easier, provide easy access to data reports, take online orders for inventory and equipment, and help with payroll. These tools can give managers back time they should be spending interacting with guests, planning events and promotions, and coaching their teams.
Having access to data reports means managers can make smarter decisions that are backed by numbers, in terms of scheduling, inventory, and dividing up the floor in front of house, to name a few.
Give them time off, and look out for burnout.
In such a fast-paced industry, one where pretty much everyone is expected to work weekends and holidays, telling your staff that you think work-life balance is important can seem like empty words. Instead, show your managers that taking time off is crucial to maintaining mental and physical health and long-term success in the industry.
Make sure your managers are taking off at least three to four weeks every year. If you can make it paid time off, even better. If it means closing the restaurant after the holidays for a week to give your whole team time off, or just taking on management duties yourself while the manager is out, make it work.
This goes hand-in-hand with hiring multiple managers — if there are two managers, it’s much easier to schedule time off for either of them.
If you notice a manager is approaching burnout, take action. Are they showing up late, forgetting tasks, and dropping the ball? Check in with them with empathy, not frustration, and ask how you can help. If it means time off, give it to them. You want them to know you value them as a person, not just an employee.
Help them find an external mentor for support.
People often think about mentorship in terms of a senior employee mentoring a junior employee to help them gain skills, offer support, and guide them through their careers. While this can be a rewarding experience for both the senior and junior employee — and you should encourage your managers to take on a mentor, if they can — it’s also important to make sure your senior employees have someone they can learn from.
Being in such a busy, senior role, it can be easy for a manager to feel isolated. Connect your manager to a longtime manager who works in another restaurant who can provide helpful advice and support.
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Benefits make your team happy and help your bottom line. Learn how to create an employee benefits program for your restaurant.
Provide benefits, however you can.
If you can afford to provide healthcare and benefits, in whatever ways possible, do it. It shows you care about your employees’ lives outside of work, and this makes you stand out as an employer. Word will spread.
If you can’t afford to provide healthcare benefits, provide alternative benefits like a gym membership stipend, a transit pass reimbursement, or paid long-service leave for managers who stay with you for more than five years. Anything that makes you stand out as a great employer will help you keep your employees in the long run.
If you pay your managers as well as you can, support them, give them opportunities for training and for growth, and offer time off to promote work-life balance, you’ll have a happy and engaged manager. And happy, engaged managers stick with their teams for a long time.