From Restaurant Manager to Restaurant Leader: 10 Vital Steps

See how menu, purchasing, and inventory excellence drives profitability

This blog originally appeared on our favorite Restaurant Coach University,

Congratulations, you got the promotion! Whether that’s because of your hard work, discipline and tenacity, or because in a heated battle the previous restaurant manager walked out, you are now in charge.

However, chances are, no one really trained you on how to be an effective restaurant manager. Many people in this predicament fall back on modeling the behavior of past managers they have worked with… good and bad.

Act like those terrible managers from your past and you become like them. There is a better way. There should be a higher standard for restaurant managers to contribute to the culture of your restaurant and to lead the staff to higher goals of service, output, and positivity.

Here are 10 steps to making the shift not only into management, but into leadership.

1. Take personal accountability.

From this day forward, you are responsible for the results you get. That’s right: it’s time to drop the “blame game.” Leaders step up and take responsibility for how their team performs.

If someone drops the ball, a manager might ask, “Whose fault is it?” However, leaders will ask better questions about accountability, such as, “How can I train this person better so this does not happen again?” When you ask better questions, you’ll find that you get better results.

2. Your core values are your compass.

Core values are the building blocks of any business culture. Knowing your core values is a big step towards becoming a leader. Here is the other side of that equation, though: you also need to live your values.

Managers can be very hypocritical when it comes to “walking the talk.” Leaders, on the other hand, say what they mean and do what they say. This key component alone will rocket you towards leadership because it builds trust with your team when you do exactly what you say. Integrity is not something that can be bought; it’s a core value you live.

3. Tear down the walls.

The restaurant industry is notorious for the divide between the Front of the House (FOH) and the Back of the House (BOH). Leaders understand that all work is teamwork and restaurants need every team member focused on the bigger picture. Allowing the petty attitudes to grow is a recipe for failure. You just need to stop it and reinforce the culture of what the word “team” really stands for: Together Everyone Achieves More.

4. Invest in your personal growth.

It’s true: school is never out for the professional. All top achievers and leaders make a commitment to continue learning. The average American reads around 17 books per year. The average corporate executive (CEO) reads 4-5 books per month!

You can argue that there is no relationship between learning and earning, but the facts would say otherwise. Check out these must-read restaurant management books. And if you don’t have time to read, there are other ways to feed your brain the good stuff, like listening to audiobooks, taking online classes or attending seminars. A leader is focused on making themselves better, so they can make their team better.

5. Take care of your body.

We all know that the hours in the restaurant industry can be brutal. If you want to lead people, you need the energy to do so. Energy comes from applying “self care” to your routine. That means eating smarter, drinking plenty of water, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercising.

If you want to throw out the excuse that you “don’t have time,” I just want to point out that you have all the time you need. You just do not make it a priority. If something is a “should,” it will happen if all the elements involved line up. If you make it a “must”, then you will make it happen. Managers “should” all over themselves all day long. Leaders take action and make it happen.

6. Always be training.

Leaders understand that repetition is the mother of skill. Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his bestseller, Outliers, that there is a 10,000 hour baseline of practice that separates the amateur from the true professional. How many basketball free-throws do you think someone like Michael Jordan has done? One of the primary jobs a leader takes on is consistently training the team. How you train is how you’ll perform.

Exclusive Bonus: Click here to download 15 creative restaurant staff training ideas to try with your restaurant team. Some of them may surprise you!

7. The devil is in the details.

What is the difference between a manager and a leader? A manager is thinking and working two steps ahead of the team. A leader is thinking and working 20 steps ahead of everyone else. Stepping up to leadership means also taking steps to make sure you are organized, on track, and on schedule. You need to adopt a system that allows you to track information, notes, and keep on top of all the little details that come with being a leader. You can go old school with a paper planner or get everything you need on your smartphone. Here are some great apps to get you rolling:

  • Evernote- a cloud based note taking app that really does it all!
  • Things – a productivity app that allows you to organize projects and create the action steps to make it happen.
  • Dropbox – a cloud based file storage site that gives you one place to put all the recipes, documents, picture, MP3 and PDF files that you need to run your business. You can share these files with a simple click.

8. Go from one-dimensional to four-dimensional.

Becoming a leader means understanding what makes people tick. Most people assume that everyone else functions and is motivated the same way they are. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Understanding behavioral dynamics is what separates the leaders from the managers. You need to understand people… all different kinds of people. The first step is to take a behavioral survey for yourself first. You need to understand what makes you tick before you can start to understand others. Then, you can move on the members of your team.

There are quite a few different behavioral surveys on the market that can teach you about yourself and others. The DiSC® Assessment is a very popular one for businesses and there is a lot of information on the internet to explain the different behavioral traits. The ProScan® Survey is another one that not only measures a person’s natural strength, but also tells you the kinetic energy a person has. Think of kinetic energy as your natural battery; it gives insight into a person’s ability to handle multiple tasks and challenges.

9. Be grateful.

True leaders are thankful and grateful. They know that with synergistic teamwork the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Leaders are always telling the team and their customers that they appreciate them and are grateful for what they bring to the business. When was the last time you told someone sincerely that you were grateful for them? Leaders know that when they put out positive energy, they get even more returned to them. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude and watch how your world changes.

10. Step over the line.

When you become a manager, you step across an imaginary line of going from one of the “hourly” to that of salary. When you crossed that line, you unknowingly took an oath to protect the owner’s interest. Many restaurant managers have a problem with this and do not want to be seen as “the bad guy/girl,” trying instead to maintain the same relationships they had with other team members. It never works. When you take the position, you’ll need to step up your game if you want to stay on that side of the line. The best way to step up is to commit to becoming a leader. Leaders never go back, only forward.

If you find yourself in the position to become a restaurant manager, only take it if you are willing to make the changes needed to become a leader. The restaurant industry needs more leaders who live life by a set of core values, have integrity, are grateful, and are committed to becoming more than just average.

The best example is this: a manager stands behind his team, points and says, “Go there.” A leader stands in front of their team and says, “Follow me.”

About Donald Burns

Donald Burns is known for unique programs and methods that create dramatic results for his clients. When restaurant owners or top chefs need change and success they call The Restaurant Coach™. You can find Donald’s training, coaching and other insightful musings on this industry at and

Blog Newsletter

Thank you!

Your subscription has been confirmed and you've been added to our newsletter list.

Featured Posts

Back (Office) to the Future: The 4 Trends IT Leaders Need to Know
What Hotel Menu Trends Will Define 2022?
Rethinking Pay Norms: How Retailers Can Attract Exceptional Talent

Recent Posts

It’s Time Your Employees Have On-Demand Pay

It’s Time Your Employees Have On-Demand Pay

A recent Gallup poll found only 22 percent of employees feel engaged in their work, a concerning sign especially within the hospitality and service industries already experiencing high turnover rates. Businesses looking to reverse this trend can offer employees valuable benefits aimed at filling open positions and incentivizing longevity.
It’s Time Your Employees Have On-Demand Pay

It’s Time Your Employees Have On-Demand Pay

A recent Gallup poll found only 22 percent of employees feel engaged in their work, a concerning sign especially within the hospitality and service industries already experiencing high turnover rates. Businesses looking to reverse this trend can offer employees valuable benefits aimed at filling open positions and incentivizing longevity.