The Holy Grail of Retention: Five Steps to Building New Young Leaders in Your Restaurant

Restaurant managers are noticing a problem that has been growing over the past few years, in not just their own, but every industry: there is a big leadership gap. Many are asking themselves, “How are we supposed to find those people who have sufficient technical skill to be in charge of a restaurant, but are also suited for leadership?”

There are a lot of people who are committed to their work, but are reluctant to take on supervisory roles.

This is the Holy Grail of retention: identifying and building new leaders. It’s not just retaining the best technically skilled talent. Rather, it is retaining those with the best technical ability who are also willing and able to take on leadership responsibilities and helping them step into those roles successfully. How many people have both the specialized skills and the desire and ability to lead?

The problem is, especially among the best young talent, that there are a lot of people who are committed to their work and careers, but are reluctant to take on supervisory roles.


The main reason, according to our research, is that they can see with their own eyes the experience of their own managers and their slightly more advanced peers. What they see is that managers, especially new managers, are often given loads of additional responsibility with very little additional support.

What do new managers need? They need support and guidance in learning and practicing the basics of management.

When you ask a young start to step up and make the transition to a leadership role – at any level – you owe it to that new leader and their team to make sure that they are fully prepared to take on additional responsibilities and authority. Teach new leaders how to do the people work, and then support and guide them in this new role every step of the way:

  1. Explain that this new role carries with it real authority, that it does not award them license, of course, to act like a jerk. It is a huge responsibility that should not be accepted lightly.
  2. Spell out for the new leader exactly what their leadership responsibilities look like. Explain that management entails more than completing some extra paperwork. You have to explain the “people work” in detail. Create standard operating procedures for managing and teach them to all new leaders. Focus on the basics, like spelling out expectations for every employee who works for them, following up regularly, tracking performance closely in writing when possible, and holding people accountable for their concrete actions performed on the job.
  3. Make sure you formally deputize any new leader, no matter how small the team or how temporary the duration of the leadership role may be. You need to announce the new leadership to the whole team, articulate the nature of this person’s new authority, and explain the standard operating procedures for management that you have asked the new leader to follow.
  4. Check in daily (or every other day, or as often as makes sense) with this new leader. Regularly walk through the standard operating procedures for managing people. Ask about the management challenges they are likely facing. At first, you might want to sit in on the new leaders’ team meetings and one-on-ones with team members in order to build up this new leader. Do everything you can to reinforce their authority with the team and every individual on the team. But make sure to take every opportunity you can to help the new leader refine and improve their management techniques.
  5. Pay close attention every step of the way and evaluate the new leader in their new role. Some new leaders will practice the basics with great discipline; some won’t. Some will be consistent in their application of the basics; some won’t. Some will grow comfortable in their new leadership role. And some will simply fail in the leadership role. But it turns out that with the right amount of guidance and support most people who are very good at their jobs and committed to their work and careers have the ability to grow into strong, competent leaders.

With this kind of sustained low-tech, hands-on leadership development effort and constant evaluation, you can develop your future leaders. Who will move along that path and grow into a high-level leader? Look for those young employees who love the responsibility and the service. They will likely be your future leaders.