If you want to be a successful restaurant owner, you may need to wear many hats to get many jobs done – including, sometimes, the management of your staff and operations.
The reality is that many restaurant owners don’t have the resources to hire a manager to take care of their day-to-day operations. If this is you, you’ll need to know how to run a business and run a restaurant – which can mean very different things.
As a response to this reality for many restaurant owners, we’ve put together a list of skills and resources you should know to better manage your restaurant. First we’ve developed a list of soft skills managers should have, in addition to a list of hard skills you’ll want to develop if you’re in the position of managing your own restaurant.
We’ve also put together a list of books for you to read that can help you better manage people, operations, and the ideal customer experience. And finally, we’ve also included a cheat-sheet of culinary and restaurant industry terms you’ll need to know to get by in the industry.
Successful Restaurant Owner: Soft Skills
While restaurant owners need to know a lot – and know how to do a lot – to run a successful business, they also need to have what are called “soft skills” to lead a team of people.
Soft skills are personal attributes that make up who you are and enable you to cultivate and maintain interpersonal relationships. They are also crucial to defining leadership style and relationship management for successful business owners.
To start, these are some of the top soft skills possessed by successful restaurant owners:
- Emotional Intelligence
Here’s how each soft skills may manifest when managing a restaurant.
Even the best of us get annoyed when hungry/tired/hungover staff aren’t at their best. Successful restaurant owners, however, know how to navigate human behavior and quirks like a pro, and they truly enjoy engaging with people. Great managers listen more than they speak, are masters at conflict resolution, and know how to be firm yet constructive when providing feedback to their staff. Emotional intelligence is the key to gaining the respect of your staff members.
Collaboration and multi-tasking
Collaboration and multi-tasking go hand in hand when you’re managing a restaurant – because you need to get a lot done and you can’t do it all by yourself. You have many priorities as a restaurant owner, and they involve staying on trend, hiring the right people, renewing the lease, and supporting the front- and back-of-house. You know how to prioritize and trust your staff to help you get the work done.
Great restaurant managers are organized people. They know where everything is at all times, so they can quickly problem solve and retrieve anything their staff need in a hurry. There’s no time to think during a busy service, so processes and inventory must properly organized and managed ahead of time.
Great managers thrive during crunch time. From bills to sales to workplace personality conflicts, your plate will always be full. A good restaurant manager doesn’t falter or hide – they deal and then move on to the next stressor.
Soft skills grow and evolve over time as you practice them. You can develop your soft skills the same way you can develop hard skills: with practice, practice, and more practice.
Successful Restaurant Owner: Hard Skills
Hard skills are those skills you’ve probably listed during past interviews. They are skills that are taught through both formal and informal training and have allowed you to develop expertise in a certain area. Here are the crucial hard skills you’ll need to properly manage a restaurant.
A good manager has the ability to effectively and efficiently manage projects. As a startup new restaurant owner you’ll manage a budget, time, and people to reach desired goals. Project management is a delicate balancing act that often takes time, practice, and sometimes education to acquire.
Bookkeeping or accounting
While we recommend you work with a professional accountant or bookkeeper on the finer points of your restaurant financial documents, you should still have a solid grasp on your numbers as an entrepreneur. Successful restaurant owners can balance budgets, make accurate financial forecasts, and can even create a framework for development. A successful restaurant owner understands their financial responsibilities before the business has even opened.
Inventory management is a critical skill that will lead to controlling food costs and increasing profitability. A successful restaurant owner will create firm processes for the management of their inventory.
Successful restaurant owners knows the basic principles of how to manage the operations of the kitchen. These skills include menu design and pricing, kitchen assembly line practices, and health, safety, and hygiene requirements for kitchens.
Marketing and promotions
Restaurant competition is fierce, and you’ll need to leverage several marketing and promotions practices and channels to increase sales. A successful restaurant owner will use social media, review sites, geo-targeted ads, local food apps, and loyalty programs to acquire and sustain customers for their business.
Customer service best practices
Customer service skills are the key to turning first-time customers into regulars. When you open your restaurant, you’ll create the benchmark for the type of service you want your staff to uphold. This skill requires knowledge of relevant best practices, and being able to customize them for your concept, your ideal customer base, and the strengths of your staff.
RestoHub.org: Sections for Managers
If you’re managing your own restaurant or just want your manager to brush up on some knowledge, here are the sections of RestoHub.org that are most useful for restaurant managers.
- Restaurant Inventory Management: A Beginner’s Guide
- How Restaurant Data Can Increase Profits
- How to Begin Staffing Your Restaurant
- Job Descriptions & Responsibilities
- When to Start Promoting Your Restaurant
- Restaurant Marketing 101: Digital & Traditional
- Understanding Your Data & Finances
Restaurant Management Books to Read
Knowledge is power – and you never stop learning in the restaurant industry. Always, always read about your craft and take an interest in what thought leaders have to show you about the business.
Restaurant veterans and experts have written some great books to help you become a successful restaurant owner and manager. Here’s our recommended reading list for successful restaurant owners and managers.
- How to Rock Restaurant Management: 5 Ingredients to Leading a Successful Team (2017) by Katelyn Silva
- The Heart of Hospitality: Great Hotel and Restaurant Leaders Share Their Secrets (2016) by Micah Solomon
- Ten Restaurants That Changed America (2016) by Paul Freedman
- Note: this is a social history of the culinary evolution in America, not a management handbook. Relevant for understanding trends.
- Front of the House: Restaurant Manners, Misbehaviors & Secrets (2015) by Jeff Benjamin (author) and Robert Neubecker (illustrator)
- Restaurant Success by the Numbers, Second Edition: A Money-Guy’s Guide to Opening the Next New Hot Spot (2014) by Roger Fields
- Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business (2009) by Danny Meyer
- Restaurant Management: Customers, Operations, and Employees (3rd Edition) (2006) by Robert Christie Mill
- Restaurant Financial Basics (2002) by Raymond S. Schmidgall, David K. Hayes, and Jack D. Ninemeier
Restaurant and Culinary Terms You Need to Know
If you’re opening a restaurant, odds are you have enough experience in the industry to have learned the lingo.
But if you haven’t yet worked in the industry, there’s no need to feel ashamed. You could take your time learning terms the same way everyone else in the restaurant industry does: with some fumbles and bruises. Or you could learn them now and avoid any embarrassing misunderstandings after you’ve opened your restaurant.
The restaurant industry has a language of its own, and it’s worth spending a few minutes to learn a few simple terms so you can correctly communicate with your team.
Back of house: Refers to the kitchen, dishwashing area, and wait station all located in the “back of the house”. It’s the area where customers aren’t allowed.
Barback: Considered an assistant for the bartender, they usually clean glasses, stock the coolers, and replace liquor bottles. They often end up pouring beer, wine, and non-alcoholic drinks for servers and sometimes double as a busser (below).
Bussing: Busy restaurants may have a role designated for “bussing”, which means clearing and resetting tables after guests have left.
Chafing dish: Typically used for buffets, a chafing dish is a metal dish filled with water and kept warm by a candle or fuel cell that sits underneath it. A chafing dish keeps food warm.
86’ed: Used to describe a dish that the kitchen has run out of.
Expediter: A back-of-house kitchen staff member who groups plated food together by table number for the servers to deliver.
Front of house: Refers to the dining room, bar, and areas in the “front of the house”. It’s the area where patrons are allowed.
Host/hostess: The person typically near the entrance, who meets, greets, and seats guests at their table. The host/hostess is also responsible for monitoring reservations and managing waiting lines.
In the weeds: A term to describe when “it’s really, really busy” and staff is having a hard time keeping up with the volume of orders.
Line: Refers to the area that divides the cooks from the servers, and where the food is placed for pickup.
Mise en place: Originally a French terms meaning “everything in its place” and refers to the arrangement of the sauté station, where every ingredient is in the right place for service.
Plating: The action of putting food, sauces, and garnishes on the plate, the last step before a server brings the place to the customer.
POS system: POS stands for “point of sale”, and it’s what restaurants use to input orders and track sales, with the help of integrated payment processors. POS systems are increasingly becoming more sophisticated so as to support features like inventory tracking, staff management, and menu management.
On the fly: A term meaning, “Get it done right now!” Typically used to communicate when something has to be cooked last minute.
Sections: Restaurant dining rooms are often divided into sections, with a server working a particular section each shift.
Sharking: The act of luring an employee from one restaurant to another.
Turnover rate: Refers to how quickly patrons fill and empty tables during a shift. A high turnover rate means more people have eaten and left the tables. A slow turnover means either the same people have been at the same table for a long time or the table is empty.
Whether you play the dual role of restaurant owner and manager or just owner, consider this section a crash course on managing a restaurant while starting up your restaurant. And regardless of how involved you plan to be in your restaurant’s operations, it’s still in your best interest to know as much as you can about managing restaurant operations and staff.