Three qualities every multi-unit restaurant manager must have

6/21/16 7:00 AM Richelle Starke


There are certain things you expect to see on every job description you encounter.

Must-have traits or qualities, characteristics the successful applicant needs to possess.

You know the kind I'm talking about: "good communication skills," "team player," "organized and able to prioritize." These pithy phrases have become so commonplace that they now seem mostly meaningless.  And postings for regional restaurant manager positions are no exception.

But before you write these qualities off as nothing more than filler from HR, maybe it's time for a second look.

Here are three surprisingly insightful, must-have traits for successful multi-unit managers.

1. Excellent communication skills

Ah yes, the tried and true staple of job postings everywhere. Being able to string together coherent sentences is table stakes for almost any job position. But when it comes to overseeing five or seven or even as many as 14 restaurant locations, effective communication takes on a whole new level of importance.  According to Charles MacInnis, Regional Operations Manager with Prime Pubs, your communication should be specific and concise: “I learned my lesson early on in being too vague.”

“Communication is number one,” says Andrew Salatino of MTY Group. He agrees that regional managers must be clear in their communication, coaching others to follow suit and avoid drama. “If you communicate well, you’ll be successful. If you go behind someone’s back or start gossiping, you won’t be. Face the challenges head on. If everyone is communicating well and regularly telling you what’s going on, you can deal with those things right there and then.”

Similarly, Casey Greabeiel from Hudsons Canada’s Pub says that, in the role of regional manager, “You’re kind of the middle man, serving both sides. Your job is to communicate the message of your head office down to the store level. And in the same vein, your job is to take the feedback from the stores and communicate it to head office.” He notes that not only do you need to remain consistent in terms of your message, but also that you must be able to teach others how to become more effective communicators themselves.

And don’t forget to listen! Communication is always a two-way street. As Micheal Bungay Stanier, author of The Coaching Habit, writes, “Many of us have mastered the art of FAL: Fake Active Listening. You do a good job at looking interested – you’re nodding away like a bobblehead doll, maintaining eye contact and making small grunting noises of encouragement. Meantime, in your head you are… just waiting for them to stop talking so you can say the thing you need to tell them.” His remedy? Learn to ask better questions and listen fully. When you do, you provide a powerful moment that builds trust and engagement.

2. A team player

True teamwork is so much more than being a friendly or collaborative person, especially when juggling the competing demands of managing multiple restaurant sites. Often a large part of the regional manager’s job involves a less touchy-feely kind of teamwork: it means holding others accountable.

Mastering the art of accountability is not always easy, but it’s a crucial skill for all levels of restaurant management. “Something that’s been important in my experience with my company and my team is the whole accountability piece,” says Greabeiel, “Both me holding them accountable, and them holding me accountable.” He stresses the importance of establishing plans and putting tools in place “to make sure proper follow up is happening, proper support is being given and clear expectations are being provided.”

For Hudsons, this accountability tool comes in the form of quarterly business plans, which they refer back to regularly and use for measuring success. “It has become the lifeblood of our business. My GMs and I built the plan together. That’s how we do our one-on-one meetings. That’s how we gauge productivity and growth of the business, and it’s how I gauge the development of my team… Without regular planning and follow up, you’re not going to achieve the results.”

In his HBR article on how to hold people accountable, author Peter Bregman notes that clear expectations and honest feedback go hand-in-hand. “If you have clear expectations, capability and measurement, the feedback can be fact-based and easy to deliver. Is the person delivering on her commitments? … Give feedback weekly, and remember it’s more important to be helpful than nice.”

It’s also essential to keep in mind that the first step in fostering team accountability involves a personal commitment. Put your money where your mouth is – follow up and follow through. Do what you say and hold yourself to the same standards you expect from the team.

3. Organized and able to prioritize

At first glance, this statement might seem easy. After all, every employee must balance prioritize in order to stay on top of tasks at work. But in reality, a successful regional restaurant manager needs to know how to “triage” like an ER nurse. Every patient has a concern and needs to be seen, but in what order? What are the emergencies? Who needs immediate attention?

“You deal with a wide range of issues,” says MacInnis – from media to HR to guest complaints to crisis management. “The world doesn’t stop because you’re dealing with a major incident in one restaurant.”

Salatino agrees, saying,

“You just prioritize yourself, that’s all you do. Keep yourself organized. Those other issues are always going to be there; they’re not going anywhere. Deal with the priorities first. You’re going to fail if you can’t understand what takes priority.”

A strategy that has worked well for MacInnis in this respect is to use a red-yellow-green system to identify the most urgent need and where he should devote more time and energy. “I set aside Monday as an administrative day, and that’s when I prioritize. I label my stores as green, yellow or red. If I’ve got 10 hours in my day, I’ll spend two hours at a green store and eight hours at a red store.” To determine what constitutes a red, he reviews existing reports or tools such as operational audits, health inspections or guest complaints. “There are red flags that come very quickly to you…You weigh them all against each other and you determine where that store is at.”

Along the same lines, Greabeiel has found that planning ahead can help prevent issues from escalating. “I’m a firefighter. Often times at the end of the day I’ll be like, ‘OK this is what’s most important,’ and I’ll neglect something else in my schedule, which I’ll end up facing later. But if that plan had been figured out weeks or months in advance, I could have prevented some of those fires.”

So there you have it! Three seemingly simple qualities that can mean the difference between success and failure for a multi-unit restaurant manager.  Thank you to Casey Greabeiel, Charles MacInnis and Andrew Salatino for sharing your insight and experience on this topic!

In addition to the 3 qualities listed, what other qualities do you believe are essential to be an effective multi-unit manager? We’d love to hear your thoughts so please share with us in the comments below.

Topics: Leadership, Restaurant Culture