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Restaurant District Managers - Failures, Faults and Conflicts

usamapRestaurant district managers have a perpetual tug-of-war from all directions.  The role can be as rewarding as it can be a curse.  Restaurant managers are not typically in love with the idea of a floating boss who participates from a distance.  Companies can be known to be distrustful of district managers since they have so much freedom of choice.  Too much freedom corrupts.

Multi-unit managers get to believing that they can't spend too much time on any one issue without other little fires becoming blazes.  A district manager must excel at managing their time and battle the perplexities related to keeping multiple restaurant locations moving forward with sales and profit.

Examples of the tug-of-war a district manager feels:

The restaurant district manager will say in the early stages:  “I manage 12 restaurants” when asked about their job.

  • This in essence is already a sign of doom since they do not in fact manage 12 restaurants.  Hopefully they have recruited and selected the best candidates and given each manager the necessary training and support to be great leaders and manage with excellence.

There are companies who say:  “We are never short restaurant managers.  In their mind, a district manager is a form of insurance for any manager turnover who can fill the role anytime.”

  • Many restaurant corporate leaders believe one of the primary roles of a district manager is to be ready and able to fill the manager role if necessary. “There should never be a hesitation to terminate a restaurant manager for performance issues.”    In this situation, an unethical district manager will be highly motivated to makes things appear better than they might be in reality. (Which only works in the short term.)

Restaurant managers may feel they will “out-last” a district manager or they feel a “dog and pony show” works great when the boss is around.  It is after all only a matter of time before they leave and things can go back to “normal”.

  • There are many general managers who have more experience with their business than their district manager.  Companies change policies and procedures in an attempt to minimize risk, reduce waste, grow sales or for reasons unknown.  District managers are expected to ensure the changes will take place in an optimum time frame.  General Managers who have seen dozens of such changes only to be changed again the next year are not so trusting of their boss and the potential for success.

Getting to the truth is half the battle of the multi-unit leader who is never in one place for long.  A district leader without a high capacity to listen, analyze and get to the real issues operates in reaction mode daily.

The restaurant staff is typically more loyal to the management team than the district manager.

  • Even the marginal managers who are not getting good results and resist change at every stage have the ability to sway the team and tell stories which harm the reputation of the company and its leadership.  The cost of turning over marginal performing restaurant manager can have a long lasting ripple effect.

  • A less experienced multi-unit district leader will struggle with how to proceed with such a conflict.  Once a proverbial line is drawn in the sand, termination may be the result.  To terminate a general manager prior to having a replacement may be thought of as self punishment with longer hours while filling in as the general manager.  This is not an appealing thought and district leaders hesitate to make the tough decisions related to discipline or termination. 

At any point in time, a restaurant district manager will change hats to be a coach, auditor, negotiator, inspector, interviewer, trainer, profit analyzer, leader, equipment specialist, planner for budgets and the key person to lead local store marketing initiatives.

  • You know how the onlookers from an office will decide which is most important when all eyes are looking at the numbers first.  A company expects their district manager to be a soldier, keep the risk low and protect the assets.  In the meantime, the restaurant management teams may need assistance and additional training to effectively lead staff.   The contradicting priorities again cause the less experienced district leader to hesitate when making critical decisions.

The district manager is thought of by the company as a control point since they bridge the gap between “the corporation” and “the operation”.  There are no “excuses” accepted as results are not only expected but assumed.   With the advent of computers and instant information, a district manager is held accountable for information before it is in their hands.

  • Regardless of weather conditions, unemployment rates, city ordinances, new competition across the street or restaurant reputation; the district manager is the person hiring and/or training the general managers.  If there is a failure to execute in a restaurant, the corporate eyes do not turn to the restaurant manager; they turn the manager’s boss:  The district manager.

  • The less experienced leader will be unable to look ahead and anticipate the future let alone create a perfect plan which will ensure results.  The ability to have a plan B is not in the operations manual and often times an “audible” is called to limit the loss.

  • Everyone knows without so much as a whisper that at least six others are chomping at the bit to be promoted into the role to show how well they know what it takes.  This unspoken pressure is doubled when one of the potential candidates is working within the current district manager.

Thoughts to ponder:

Train district managers from the assistant manager’s role.  Give them no more authority than any other assistant manager would have.  If they are a true leader who can influence and persuade others to achieve success in the role of an assistant manager, this becomes a sign of a potential success when they take on the district role. 

District leaders will not get the best results as soldiers ready to execute without thought and deliver a long series of reports.  If there is no trust in the district leader and more controls are needed to ensure the growth of sales and profit, that district manager should no longer in the role.   The solution is not more controls, more reporting and more monitoring. 

The solution to avoiding a potential calamity lies in better recruiting, more thorough preparation prior to promotion and a more results-oriented process of management.

The district manager of a restaurant can be the difference between doubling sales or the next lawsuit.  If you have a hope of a promotion to a district manager, I expect you to not only predict the future, but create one.  If you are leading, keep in mind to hire eagles and let them soar. 

Your next book to read:

First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently

First, Break All the Rules

Gallup's Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman summarize in this book the results of their in-depth study of great managers. The managers who ultimately became the focus of the research excelled at developing each employee's specific talents and growing them into top performers. These managers, as the title says, do not hesitate to break any rule that conventional wisdom says must be followed.

The authors have culled their observations from more than 80,000 interviews conducted by Gallup during the past 25 years. Quoting leaders such as basketball coach Phil Jackson, Buckingham and Coffman outline "four keys" to becoming an excellent manager: Finding the right fit for employees, focusing on strengths of employees, defining the right results, and selecting staff for talent--not just knowledge and skills.

Topics: Restaurant Management HR Leadership Training