The top three challenges every multi-unit restaurant manager must face

7/26/16 7:00 AM Richelle Starke


Whether you oversee 2 locations or 15, there are a few common problems that every multi-unit or regional restaurant manager faces.

We asked a few Ameego clients to share what they think are the worst challenges and to pass along their tips and tricks for dealing with them.

Here’s some of what they had to say.

1. You're not wanted around

It’s a tough scenario: What do you do when you’re not wanted?

An unfortunately common theme we heard from multi-unit managers is that often the GMs or franchisees don’t want them around. Sometimes it’s as basic as not listening to your feedback or instruction in a particular situation – but it can escalate to being sworn at or something as extreme as being thrown out of the restaurant.

In one case that got heated, a franchisee called the RCMP to get the regional manager out!

So what’s a well-intentioned regional manager to do?

In addition to developing a thick skin, a bit of empathy is required.

“You need to learn to let it go. When people tell you ‘where to go’, it’s not necessarily because they hate you. They just aren’t interested in what you’re saying. I’ve been thrown out of restaurants; I’ve been told off. You have to realize that you’re dealing with someone’s business, with someone’s investment.” - Charles MacInnis  - Prime Pubs

As Seth Godin points out in his blog, “No one is unreasonable. No one says, ‘I'm going to be unfair to this person today, brutal in fact, even though they don't deserve it or it's not helpful.’”

When interacting with a particularly hostile store manager, try to take the extra effort to understand where they’re coming from. Even when they’re being (what seems to you to be) completely irrational, give them the benefit of the doubt and ask yourself, “Why would a reasonable, rational person act this way?”

However, as Casey Greabeiel from Hudsons Canada’s Pub says, this doesn’t mean letting them off the hook.

“You have to hold people accountable… not micromanaging, but allowing them to be empowered to run their own business. But at the same time being there to support them when they need it and to keep them focused on the task at hand.”

Don’t forget to do your homework first.

MacInnis also cautions that going in blind is never a good idea, especially for those who are new to the regional manager role.

“Before I go to a store, I spend a half an hour preparing,” he says. “If you go in and you don’t know what their sales are — if you haven’t reviewed where they’re at with their guest feedback system, their audit, etc. — if you don’t have enough knowledge going in, you won’t have any credibility.”

He adds, “You have to be confident when you’re speaking to them, or they’ll rip you apart. That confidence comes from your experience.” Greabeiel agrees: “You have to be able to manage the manager. They need to have confidence in you and you need to have confidence in them.”

But even if you’re armed with data and information, you might find yourself without an answer to something. “Don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you,’” says MacInnis. “Don’t make things up.”

Lean on the resources you have. “Seek the advice of fellow District Managers and counterparts,” suggests Andrew Salatino of MTY Group. “Sometimes they can look outside the box and paint you a different picture, give you another way of doing whatever needs to be worked out. Leverage their experiences; maybe they’ve been through it before.”

2. Playing the role of middleman


A lot of the time, the multi-unit manager role feels like a middleman — an intermediary between the stores on the front lines and the higher-ups at corporate.

Compliance is a big part of the gig, and you’ve got to communicate and enforce the brand standards.  At the same time, you’re dealing with perhaps some resentment from GMs or franchisees, and fielding their complaints and concerns.

It’s a difficult position to be in.

Sure, to some degree this challenge comes with the territory, but there’s got to be some way to address it, right?

Start by clearly articulating roles and identifying needs.

Communication is the number one skill for a regional or multi-unit manager. Be clear in your interaction right from the outset, and seek to learn the best way of communicating with different management styles and personalities.

“Be up front from the start what your role is,” MacInnis recommends. “I’m there to be a brand ambassador and to go in and make sure they’re following the standards. If they want more than that, I’m more than happy to help them with cost of goods, labor… If not, I’ll just be a compliance person.”

Don’t underestimate the value of building relationships. “You’ve got to take the time to get to know people and learn their way, so you can make an impact over time,” says MacInnis. “If we develop a relationship, they’ll be more profitable.”

Greabeiel says, “The people are such a huge component of the job. You have to do those things that create and build strong business relationships with people — trustworthy, reliable relationships.”

Add unexpected value.

To get beyond just being a go-between or a brand enforcer, find ways to support the store managers that are meaningful for them and their business. “The biggest thing I found was just being there to help out,” says Salatino.

“Being on site, showing them that you care when you’re there — being hands on. That seems to go a long way, whether you’re in the kitchen, or out front working the line, or walking around pouring coffees. A lot of the managers that I worked with liked that.”

He also recommends “making yourself available whenever they need you. Listen to their ideas and be a sounding board, someone the GM can lean on.”

3. Balancing time with demands

Last but certainly not least is the challenge of managing a whole slew of competing demands.

One regional manager shared his experience of a first month on the job which included more back-to-back travel than he bargained for — a week in Toronto, then a week out west and then off to Arizona.

In addition to the amount of travel that’s sometimes involved, the job can quickly become a 24/7 operation, taking a toll on your personal wellness and other aspects of your life.

“Time balancing is definitely a challenge.  Even though you’re scheduled to do 10 hours in a store, there are certain things that you can’t do while you’re there. I’d go home and do another two or three hours of work… plus any other projects that are put on your plate to deal with. Time is of the essence.” - Andrew Salatino - MTY Group

How do you manage your work week and balance competing demands across your locations, and then still get time for your family or other commitments?  

Keep store managers in the loop.


One practical tip for balancing the needs of multiple restaurant locations comes from simply letting your store managers know where you’ll be, and when.

“I have a calendar with my guys so they know which dates I’m going to be in their location,” says Greabeiel. “It gives them perspective on what I’m doing on a day-to-day bases, and provides some comfort knowing that if they don’t see me for a week (or in the case of some of my satellite stores, three or four weeks), they can think, ‘it’s not because he doesn’t want to be here, it’s literally because he was in a different store for five weeks and works 32 shifts in 35 days.’” Greabeiel notes the benefits he’s seen from a “focus on being consistent with that plan and sticking to it.”

Even the best plans and communication efforts don’t always work out. Ultimately, “You do it a day at a time,” says Salatino.

Be realistic about your expectations and set goals.

As research from HBR’s Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams will tell you, “Work/life balance is at best an elusive ideal and at worst a complete myth.”

But those business leaders who are able to achieve it are those who intentionally decide what to pursue and what to decline, instead of just responding to crises that pop up.

“Those who do this most effectively involve their families in work decisions and activities. They also vigilantly manage their own human capital, endeavoring to give both work and home their due—over a period of years.”

For the multi-unit manager who must be constantly available, MacInnis notes, “it takes a certain kind of person who can, for example, make time at a wedding to take a call. And it’s helpful to have a spouse who gets what you do.”

MacInnis also advises new regional managers to anticipate “the impact on your lifestyle. There are sacrifices you have to make for the job.” You might not necessarily have the kind of social life you had earlier in your career, but everything has a season.

“Understand there is a shelf life on the job,” he says. “You need clear goals and a vision of where you want to go. And steer yourself in that direction. Or you’ll find yourself lost.”

In the words of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “I think that the good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice.”


For other great tools that help you stay in touch with your stores download your free copy of our restaurant operator's kit. It includes a number of customizable templates such as manager log notes, sales and labour reporting and restaurant managers duties checklist to name a few.  Download your copy here:


Topics: Leadership, Restaurant Culture