This is a true story about an assistant manager who worked hard, followed directions well and aspired to be a restaurant manager. She worked in my district under a general manager who had years of experience but lacked the typical “get up and go”.
Unfortunately, I was the new district manager and was not up to speed with the restaurant management teams. I heard, “I want to get promoted” and “I believe I can do the job” from an assistant. We will call her Elaine. Elaine worked for what some might call a “less energetic” general manager. Taking frequent moments to relax and delegate most of the tasks to his assistants was his style. We will call the general manager Randy to protect the innocent. Taking the easy path was not because of his interest in developing new managers, it was because after so many years in the business, he chose to do less.
Elaine was Randy’s assistant and felt the burden of “doing everything”. The restaurant was one of about 700 in the country and consistently ranked in the upper 10% for sales volume. Given the volume and the many staff members who would come to Elaine instead of the general manager, she felt like she was doing all the work and getting little for it.
“Why bother?” “Is it worth it?” “No other assistants do what I do.” These are the comments someone in her shoes might make under their breath.
“When can I get promoted Mike?” could have meant: “I have to escape this.” Frustration was in her voice and she did not know where to turn. A district leader must be approachable or be ready to lose people as they give up.
If you are familiar with chain restaurants, you know that there is a “process” to follow and typically a “checklist” for training that is required to advance. While Elaine was well on her way to completing the prerequisites, she was missing one element: The Mindset.
One thing which becomes apparent during the process of moving up the ladder and eventually owning a restaurant: Resistance. As one goes farther up the food chain, there is a chance someone will experience greater resistance to achieving success.
The leader in a restaurant is required to be innovative, make tough decisions which are not always popular, challenge people to be better than yesterday and have the ability to see a future which is not yet achieved. When a restaurant manager’s boss says, “Get it done”, there is an expectation of results within a given time frame. This is not about tasks, lists, supervision nor is it about “I did my job.” The restaurant manager will feel, at times, like there is quicksand at every turn and he must still plod on, all the while creating a path of enthusiasm. Recognizing what is important, prioritizing what battles to fight and developing other managers all along the way are difficult for an assistant manager who as of yet has not taken the reigns of responsibility.
I know that Elaine had this gumption (which is a very old fashioned term) and my response was: “If you believe you are ready to be a restaurant general manager, then don’t wait. Think and act accordingly as of tomorrow. Act and think as you believe a restaurant general manager would. Can you do this?”
Whenever I have asked this question over the years the answer is always “no”. There has been a stigma attached to those whose title begins with the word “assistant”. “I am only the assistant manager. I can’t do stuff. That is why I want to be the GM, so I can do what they do.” Which, in their mind, will give them the opportunity to have their own assistant manager to pawn off the work.
Elaine said “no” for the usual reasons: “I don’t want to step on toes” or “I can’t do that, I am not the general manager.” There is a difficulty with promoting someone who has never felt the need to do anything more than complete tasks, supervise and stand at attention ready for the next order. Even though the assistant shows enthusiasm and cooperation, there needs to be proof that being proactive is part of their nature and creating paths where none existed before is more than just an idea.
Elaine and I walked through examples of where she might be able to prove she was, in essence, already a GM, assist her GM, and push the restaurant to a new level. Topics she seemed to believe were not hers to touch were in the areas of:
- Project planning
- Guest Check Averages
- Dining Room Service
- Training Certifications
- Training her replacement
It took a few moments to convince her that being “more than an assistant” was in everyone’s best interest, even the GM’s.
Randy had been a GM for a long time. He had established a pattern of training rookies as assistants. He had no desire to support skill development because there was mostly negative consequences. He did not fully understand his style of “delegate everything” was “accidental people development” of assistants who went on to become multi-unit managers. Randy did not support the idea of promoting Elaine though he said she did a great job. (Randy loved the idea of Elaine thinking like a GM. He was no longer going to be “punished” for hiring good people by having them “stolen” via a promotion.)
Within about 60 days, that restaurant began to show signs of life it had not shown before. Elaine had decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns and solve problems before she was asked. She anticipated the training issues and used her special talents of team leadership to improve execution.
Needless to say I promoted Elaine when a GM position opened. Her reputation grew and it wasn’t too long until she was offered one of the top volume locations in the area. I was sad to see her move out of my district but proud to have been a part of her journey. From her experience, she learned more about being proactive and the importance of developing future restaurant managers.
Restaurant reputations are shaped by people. Those people have leaders who may be working hard but believe there are limitations. A hard working assistant manager may be in your restaurant now and only need a nudge.
The chances of a restaurant owner having the ability to maximize this scenario is just about zip. There will be trial and error, quits, firings, demotions and morale issues over the course of 24 months that could cost a restaurant TENS of thousands of dollars. This is why having a restaurant consultant available every month helps restaurant owners save money and build business.
There are those I have worked with who say, “Manpower planning is the single most important ingredient to success in the restaurant business.” After thousands of staff, hundreds of managers… it is tough for me to argue that point. The struggles with manpower planning are not so complex to an experienced restaurant consultant.
Maybe you have an Elaine and Randy working for you? How will you ensure success for all concerned, keep business moving forward and stop the revolving door of managers? You can contact a restaurant consultant and get a free one hour consultation and tell them your story. Do it for someone on your team who is just like Elaine. She had the desire to do more but did not quite know the path to take.