Essential Leadership Skills for New Restaurant Managers

All managers — including restaurant managers — need good leadership skills to succeed. Defining leadership can seem ephemeral at times. There is no one trait that anyone has identified that makes a person a great leader.

Each industry or job requires specific traits and skills, considered in the aggregate, that exemplify a good leader for that sector. Leadership may be inherit, but the right candidate can learn to be a good leader by honing those specific abilities relevant to his or her business.

This list of essential leadership skills for new restaurant managers can help you succeed in the foodservice industry.


Learn to communicate effectively and efficiently with your staff. Communicate your expectations, and ensure that each member of your team understands his or her role.

Learn to listen. Ask for feedback and digest it. While you don’t always need to explain the reasons behind a decision, you should do so whenever possible and appropriate.

Regular meetings with your staff can facilitate communication. The meetings don’t have to be long, and they don’t have to be every day. Plan your agenda ahead of time. Try to make the meetings more of a learning opportunity when possible. This can help bring your employees closer together and encourage them to take ownership of their roles.


Hold your employees accountable. Ensure each staff member knows exactly what they need to do and how they need to do it, and then hold them accountable for it.


Part of your responsibility as a leader is to develop and improve your employees’ professional skills. Your training programs should reflect this. Cross-train your employees. Not only will that help you when you are short-staffed, but the employee will also appreciate adding a new skill to his or her resume.


Successful restaurant managers must know when to make changes. This does not mean you need to institute every change your staff or a customer suggests, but don’t be afraid to change if it makes sense.

If you are inflexible, you can cost your business money. Continually review your policies and procedures. If someone makes a suggestion, analyze it and see if it saves you money, provides better customer service or helps increase employee satisfaction.

You need to understand your demographics and competition and adjust your operations according to what your clientele wants.


Maintaining a positive attitude is probably one of the most critical leadership traits to cultivate if you are in the restaurant business. The tone you set affects, for good or bad, your customers and your staff.

If you are personally having a bad day, think of yourself at the workplace as if you were on stage. At work, it’s show time. You want to provide your customers with the best experience possible. If you are dour and gloomy, your attitude cannot help but affect your customers’ dining experience.

Remember, your attitude will also affect your employees and how they treat your clientele.


The expression “patience is a virtue” goes back to Roman times. For a restaurateur, patience is critical to success. You must cultivate patience in your attitude and actions. Sometimes this may be hard given the high-stress, fast-paced environment of a restaurant during the busy hours or seasons.

However, without patience, your communication skills with staff and diners will suffer. If you are not patient with employees, you won’t be able to communicate well, and your operations and employee turn-over rates will suffer. If you are not patient with customers, they won’t come back.


Many restaurant managers work 12 hours or more a day. You need to take time out to rejuvenate your body and spirit. Make time for exercise and relaxation. Take a break during the day, and set aside an hour during slow periods to go to the gym.

If you want to remain effective as a leader, you need to project energy and enthusiasm. You can’t do this if you are always run-down and overtired.


A good leader in the restaurant business keeps an immaculate dining room and kitchen. You must set the example for your staff if you expect them to keep things tidy and neat.

Clean up spills immediately, even during busy times. Get the tables bussed immediately. Not only can cleanliness affect your business reputation, it can also lead to possible safety and liability concerns.


A safe work environment is not only required by law, but it can also affect your bottom line. Ensure your staff know their safety is important to you. Insist on nonslip work shoes, for example, and other appropriate clothing, then enforce these rules. Make safety training and refreshers part of your staff meetings.

Interpersonal Skills

Work on your interpersonal skills. Some people are naturally friendly and interactive. If you are the shy type or less gregarious than most, learn to improve your interactions.

You want to build relationships with your customers. This means greeting diners, thanking them for coming, and engaging in small talk occasionally. Don’t be too aloof with your employees either. While you are the boss and not their friend, you don’t need to remain cold and distant.

Remembering staff birthdays and acknowledging someone’s new baby or engagement will be much appreciated. If employees know you genuinely care about them, you will help infuse them with more enthusiasm and loyalty, creating a warm and friendly atmosphere your customers will notice.

Pay Attention to Your Kitchen

Too often new restaurant managers spend the majority of their time outside of the kitchen. Don’t forget about the food! Taste the dishes and talk with your chefs. You can have the cleanest dining room in the world, the most efficient wait staff and excellent interpersonal skills with clients, but if your food doesn’t taste good, your diners won’t return. Make sure all your wait staff have sampled the menu so they can speak knowledgeably to patrons about the food.

Talk to your cooks about what you can do to make their work easier. It may be something as simple as an accessory for a kitchen gadget or rearranging the layout slightly to improve efficiency.

Don’t Forget You Are Running a Business

While you may have obtained your dream job, don’t forget you are running a business. You need to do so efficiently, with the goal of keeping costs down and profits up.

Pay attention to pricing. Think about ways to cut costs. Spend time going over the books each month. Always look for ways to market yourself better, improve menu items, streamline operations, and help staff do their job better. The job of a good manager is to always keep things running smoothly, nurturing their staff as well as the bottom line every day.