7 Signs You’re a Failed Restaurant Leader

As managers, we frequently post information and directives for our staff that ensure they are aware of a rules change or are prepared for some significant new policy. While it is effective, it is not a best practice that should be emulated regularly. Sometimes it can go horribly awry. This example published by The Bitchy Waiter (see our first item below) is a perfect example of failed leadership.

If you can’t convince your team to avoid congregating and chatting versus attending to their guests or sidework, then you are likely failing in other leadership applications. Threatening your team with consequences rarely actually influences their behavior. Success comes through consensus and not intimidation. 

That leads us to the need to share these other signs you have failed as a leader in your restaurant.

1.    The “Sign” Says It All

This sign is proof of poor restaurant leadership.

2. You regularly have lots of overtime

The surest sign you aren’t doing a very good job of leading is the staffing issues that cause copious overtime hours. You either aren’t staying ahead of your recruiting, interviewing & selecting or you don’t care if you burn your team out. Whichever is the case, you are creating an environment that is screaming for failure. 

Great leaders anticipate staffing issues, have an ongoing plan to improve it and can rely on their staff to refer great people without having to be desperate. If you have lots of overtime, it’s as likely that your staff doesn’t think much of the place they work, so they don’t suggest it to their friends.

3. You suck when it’s slow

We’ve reviewed this one before. Simply stated, if a guest gets horrible service when you aren’t busy, it’s because you are setting the example. It’s up to you to stay vigilant between revenue periods. Otherwise your staff will feel super comfortable not focusing when there is less to do. D

Don’t disappear into the office for hours on end. Hold someone on your staff accountable to guest service when you do have to be out of observation range. Most of all, demonstrate the best behavior yourself when it’s slow. You lead and your team with follow, but your behavior here matters

4. Your staff is tardy… a lot

Saying that your team isn’t afraid of you may sound a little counterproductive, but it has a whisper of truth. Bad leaders want their staff to fear them, great leaders want their staff to be afraid of disappointing them. That subtle difference shows through when it comes to a timely arrival. An engaged employee who supports their leadership knows how the time between their schedule arrival-time and when they actually show up can be hell. They just wouldn’t want to put their manager they like through that.

5. Sidework never gets completed

Issues with sidework are a universal problem in our industry. What thoughtful server would want to do extra work just because? That’s where great leadership steps in and simultaneously articulates the value delivered by sidework and supports their team in accomplishing. If you are regularly so busy that your servers are buried in sidework, then you can likely include a backserver or support person to take up the slack. This demonstrates that you take sidework seriously and you care that your team has a great quality of life.

6. Your walk-in cooler is disorganized

You can learn a lot about what the kitchen thinks of their boss by checking the organization and cleanliness of the walk-in and other coolers. Great operations are about discipline. Repeating good behavior is the challenge for any leader in the back of the house. 

Think of it like a football team. Nick Saban, a multiple national champion head coach at Alabama, has to convince a hundred 18-22 year olds to follow his rules and meet his expectations. He does this first by never wavering on his focuses and always acknowledging the best behavior

Not following up and through with staff leads to sloppiness. Great leadership never lets it get there. They either support their kitchen staff by participating in the follow through or stay close to the task with their follow-up.

7. Your staff’s uniforms are shabby (FOH & BOH)

Are you familiar with the Hillstone Restaurant Group? They operate 15 varied restaurant concepts in 49 locations with one overarching consistency -- their staffs, front and back, are impeccable dressed with starched and pressed uniforms. This reflects an organization that has delivered great quality for almost 40 years. The staff knows the expectation and the management has NEVER wavered from their commitment to it. 

Only dedicated and disciplined leadership can execute with that level of consistency. So, when you see a server or line cook who is splattered with food or wearing a wrinkled and soiled uniform, you know that manager just doesn’t care. Staff only do what we demonstrate we care about as leaders.

It’s lonely at the top and sometimes being a leader means confrontation and discomfort. However, you can reduce and even eliminate that by being consistent, modeling the best behavior, supporting your team when they need you and demonstrating what you care about. 

Great leaders are made in our restaurants, but it doesn’t come without effort, common sense and a lot of experience. So, avoid these common mistakes and watch as your team joins you for a successful and well lead operation.