How to Become a Manager (When You're Really a Chef)

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We all know that the chef is one of the most important pieces of any restaurant. So it’s only natural that a chef might work his or her way up through the ranks, eventually taking the top spot in the restaurant: manager.

The only problem? Being a chef and being a manager take completely different skill sets.

While a chef’s work heavily involves technical skills in the kitchen, being a good manager means learning a host of “soft” skills — things like clear communication, listening, delegation and leadership.

And a restaurant is only as strong as its staff, and the staff is only as strong as its manager. Without strong, quality leadership, it will be much harder for staff to deliver the kind of experience customers want. The manager is like the captain of the ship. If a chef assumes that role without the proper skills, the whole ship can go down.

There’s good news, though: These skills are learnable. With the right resources (and some time and dedication), any chef can become a successful manager. Here’s what you need to know.

Know the restaurant inside and out

A chef already assumes a strong leadership role in a restaurant. But while a chef generally only  oversees the kitchen, the manager’s role is even bigger: He or she needs to keep the back and front of the house running smoothly at all times.

That’s why a good restaurant manager is truly a jack-of-all-trades. When stepping out of a chef’s role and into a manager’s role, you have to consider the entire restaurant’s needs, and not just the kitchen’s.

Know the restaurant inside and out

If the majority of your career has been spent in the kitchen, or even in a variety of other back-of-house roles, it’s necessary to learn as much as possible about the other aspects of a restaurant’s operation. That’s why the Consolidated Foodservice blog recommends that managers spend time in the shoes of all their employees by working a day or two in every role in the restaurant each month.

“Doing this will let you recognize any shortcomings in their daily tasks,” the blog reads. “You can see if they have sufficient time to finish their tasks, or if they may need a little extra help or time. You should be able to perform every single task, within reason, that you may assign someone.”

Performing each staff member’s role is not only educational, but allows managers to set an example for their staff.

Learn the “soft” skills that make a manager great

Learn the “soft” skills that make a manager great

Many of a chef’s skills are technical — different kinds of knife cuts, sauce bases, the difference between a saute and a flambe — but great managers also have what are often referred to as “soft” skills. These are the skills that make managers great at interacting with their staff and customers, and they’re often more easily learned through practice and experience than books or classes.

When a chef steps into a manager role, he or she should work right away to be an effective communicator — communication is one of the most important skills for a manager to have. A manager needs to be able to communicate clearly with his or her staff so expectations are known and met. A manager also needs to be able to communicate with guests, establishing a rapport and addressing concerns in ways that get them to come back for repeat visits.

Another important “soft” skill for both chefs and managers is problem solving. Murphy’s Law is prevalent in restaurants — everything that can go wrong, at some point will. Managers should be able to think on their feet and be creative when it comes to solving problems on the fly, not matter what the emergency is or when and where it occurs.

In addition to problem solving, a good manager should be great at multi-tasking. Between scheduling your staff, balancing the restaurant’s finances, receiving deliveries, chatting with customers — you get the idea; running a restaurant means having a lot of balls in the air all at once. Multi-tasking is an essential skill for a successful manager because of the variety of tasks that will demand attention all the time.

And after mastering all these skills, the best manager will be able to put them into practice while striking a lot of balances. You want to get along well with your staff, but still be their boss. You want to hold people accountable for their mistakes, but also celebrate their successes. You want to take care of your customers, but also make sure your staff members are happy and productive. You don’t want to be militant, but you can’t be too lax either. Being a restaurant manager may feel like a constant balancing act, so you need to be ready for that.

Now, put it all into practice

Once you have the skills down, it’s time to put them into practice.

One of the first steps a new restaurant manager should take is to put together a rockstar team. Start by hiring good people and treating them well so they stick around. Once you have a good staff in place, put time and effort into keeping them from becoming complacent by continuing to train them and develop their skills every day. As KitchenCut puts it, “Think about how you are training tomorrow’s managers,” and teach your staff something new and industry related every day.

Once you have a strong staff, you also need clear systems and procedures. Think about when you were running the kitchen — you liked a well-organized, smoothly running system, right? Apply that to the entire restaurant. Set expectations and create procedures, and then make sure your staff enforce and follow them every day. Organization will keep the restaurant under your control without any excess stress.

At the same time, keep in mind that sometimes it’s necessary to delegate. Once you have such a great staff and solid procedures in place, make use of them! You’ll burn out if you try to do everything on your own all the time, so let your staff handle things, and rest easy knowing they’re up for the challenge.

And once you’ve worked in every role in the restaurant, use your newfound knowledge to be an innovative leader. Too often, restaurants seem stuck in the past, when in reality, they’re a great place to try out innovative ideas. Got a plan that could streamline the expediting system in your kitchen? Try it out. Think a new POS will make your servers and bartenders more efficient? You’re the boss, so install it.

restaurant software features

As you’re stepping into your new role, remember that you will get things wrong. You’re only human, after all. But with these skills and practices, you’ll be able to face your mistakes head-on, learn from them, and then put new systems in place to keep them from happening again. And if that ability to grow and change isn’t the mark of a great manager, we’re not sure what is. Good luck in your new role!

Sean Hurley
Sean Hurley
VP Growth
ChefHero