Whether you’re opening your first restaurant or you’re an old hand, your success largely depends on a great manager. Here’s how to hire one. 

Lots of factors contribute to a restaurant’s success, from concept and location to service and, of course, the food. The factor that pulls all these together is a good management team. Restaurant managers not only oversee the day-to-day operation of the business but also set the tone and serve as an example for the rest of the staff. They’re often both the public face of your restaurant and the back-office brains of the operation, making sure everything functions smoothly.

Finding the right manager isn’t just about checking off a list of qualifications on a resume. Before you launch your search, make sure your vision for your restaurant is clear. “Whether you’re a single unit or an international brand, you have to know who you are,” says foodservice consultant William H. Bender, FCSI, Wm. H. Bender & Assoc., San Jose, Calif. “You have to figure out your story, develop it, and put it down on paper, so everyone in your organization is speaking with one voice.”

A clear mission statement, as well as your vision and values, tells everyone on your staff, from restaurant managers to busboys and dishwashers, what’s expected of them and the experience you want them to provide your customers.

“You don’t play to tie, you play to win,” Bender says. “So, you want to hire people who do that. You want people who know and understand the standards of the operation and can motivate both the staff—and ownership—to meet those standards.”

What Kind of Manager Do You Need?

Define your role first. If you’re outgoing and intend to be hands-on with guests, you may need a restaurant manager more skilled at running the operation, from scheduling to ordering. If you’re a back-office kind of person, you may want a great personality who can take care of guests and motivate the staff.

You also need to figure out how large your restaurant management team needs to be. This is driven not only by the size and type of operation but also what you can afford. A small coffee shop likely needs only one manager. A large full-service restaurant open for lunch and dinner may require a team that includes a general manager, assistant manager, bar manager, and executive chef. If cost is a concern, you might invest in a talented manager and have a plan for training promising junior staff to grow with you as the operation grows. Each manager will have specific responsibilities or areas of responsibility, but they all need to work together and share the operation’s values.

What Are a Restaurant Manager’s Responsibilities?

A typical restaurant manager’s responsibilities might include the following 

  • Opening and closing the restaurant. The manager should have keys to the building, the alarm code, and access to the safe. He should turn on lights and systems (HVAC, music, etc.) that aren’t on timers, count the cash drawer, and make sure the restaurant is ready for business.
  • Supervising the staff. This includes scheduling employee shifts, training new hires, monitoring and coaching staff during shifts, and tracking and monitoring labor costs to ensure profitability.
  • Managing the guest experience. Your manager is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the restaurant is clean, that lighting and music levels are correct, and so on to provide the proper ambiance. A good manager will be skilled and natural at interacting with customers to make them feel welcome, as well as professional and prepared to handle guest complaints.
  • Overseeing suppliers. Restaurant managers may monitor food, beverage, supplies, and smallwares inventory, negotiate with suppliers, and place orders.
  • Monitoring financial transactions. In addition to training restaurant staff on the point-of-sale (POS) and other systems, restaurant managers often monitor customer transactions, tally cash drawers and POS stations daily and handle bank deposits. If they possess the knowledge, you may also want them to monitor operating costs and generate weekly or monthly profit and loss statements to help you stay on top of the business.
  • Developing and implementing marketing strategies. Good managers will have an interest in getting to know your customers well. So it may make sense that they would manage social media strategy or create promotions and ad campaigns. Spotting this expertise in their background ahead of time is a plus.
  • Understanding and enforcing food safety best practices. Having both managers and employees trained in food safety management and motivated to practice it properly is critical for reducing the risk of foodborne illness. One wrong move could derail your business. Make it a top priority that your manager is knowledgeable about food safety, proactive about food safety training, and a champion of your food safety management program. 

Finding Talented People

The job market is increasingly competitive, and hiring the best, most qualified people isn’t always easy. “You need to find people who benefit your business, but also who have the energy and desire to learn and advance,” Bender says.

The standard method of placing ads looking for restaurant managers on job sites like Monster.com and Indeed.com or local newspaper sites still applies. But networking and word of mouth, as well as tapping the resources of your best employees and using strategies that get you face-to-face with candidates early on, can yield better results.

Bender suggests recruiting those people in the following ways:

  • Let your people know that you’re hiring via internal communication on a bulletin board, employee-only areas of your website, or company-specific social media groups.
  • Ask restaurant employees to constantly be on the lookout for good people and reward them for referrals.
  • Visit your competitors and scout their talent.
  • Poll career counselors at local schools for candidates and offer to speak about your business.
  • Participate in and sponsor community events.
  • Have a booth at a local farmers market

Look Deeper When Screening Candidates

Even when you find someone by word of mouth, ask them to submit a resume. Not only will the resume give you the information you need to know about their background and qualifications, but it also will give you a clue about their professionalism and communication skills.

In addition to looking for strong restaurant experience, education, and other qualifications, read between the lines to spot these skills:

  • Organizational skills. Managers need to be able to prioritize and multitask at the same time.
  • Financial competence. Managers should be able to do more than balance their checkbooks. Since they’re responsible for all the financial transactions, they need to understand basic accounting principles.
  • Food and beverage knowledge. Candidates with both knowledge and appreciation for food and drink and enthusiasm for the industry will impart that to staff and guests.
  • Technologically proficient. Today’s systems and continuous advances in technology require that candidates be proficient in both technology and social media.

Interviewing for Insights That Will Help Your Business

Use interviews to evaluate candidates’ personalities and other attributes that are hard to put on a resume. “Look for caring, concern, and someone who can understand the strengths and weaknesses of team members and coach them, not berate them, during a shift,” says Bender. “You want people with a roll-up-their-sleeves attitude who can be leaders, personable team-builders.”

Some sample interview questions:

  • If you’ve been a guest here, what was your impression? What would you change or improve?
  • How would you describe our operation and our customers compared to our competitors?
  • Give me some examples of how you’ve saved costs or increased revenue in past positions. How would you rate your financial skills?
  • How do you stay current on revenue reports, inventory reports, and payroll reports?
  • How would you identify items on a menu that aren’t selling well? What steps would you take to remedy poor sales? How would you discuss this with your chef?
  • What’s the worst situation you’ve found yourself in with a guest, employee, or supervisor at work? How did you handle it? How was it resolved?
  • Have you ever had to fire someone? What was the reason? How did you handle it?
  • Describe a situation in which you feel you truly exceeded guest expectations. Why did you do what you did?
  • How do you anticipate a guest’s needs? Give me some examples.

Final Steps

Once you’ve narrowed the field down to your best matches, check references (try not to skip this step, even when you’re in a hurry to fill a position), and give finalists a tour of your restaurant, introduce them to staff and give other managers or key team members a chance to interview them, too.

When it comes time to make an offer, make sure you know what competitors are paying for similar positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for food service managers is $54,240 per year or $26.08 per hour. That may be different in your part of the country, so do your homework. (It’s also important, especially now, that you research the rules around overtime pay for salaried workers—a new federal salary threshold of $35,568 goes into effect January 1, 2020, and will dictate who must receive overtime pay. For more information, visit the National Restaurant Association or the Department of Labor.) And remember, salary isn’t everything—so outline other benefits, perks, and possibilities for advancement, which may matter to ambitious managers looking to grow.