What exactly is a Restaurant Manager?

The job title ‘Restaurant Manager’ has been causing us a bit of grief lately. It appears that the chronic confusion over job titles that we have traditionally had in the hospitality industry is still very much alive.

What would you think the difference is between the following job titles: Restaurant Supervisor, Maitre’d, Head Waiter, Front-of-house Manager and Restaurant Manager? If I had my way there would be a clear distinction, but the reality is that people who are leading front-of-house teams and essentially doing the same job can be called any of these titles. It sure makes recruitment difficult.

Case study

Her title is Restaurant manager, but has she ever run a restaurant?

Take a recent experience as an example. We were engaged by a very high profile restaurateur to find a Restaurant Manager for one of his flagship restaurants. This position was a true Restaurant Manager’s position in that they would have to lead the whole restaurant, including the the Head Chef and the Admin staff reporting to them. The owner would not normally be present in the business.

Because of the profile of the restaurant concerned we received an abnormal number of applicants, many of whom had held the title of Restaurant Manager in other businesses, mostly hotels and smaller independent restaurants. We set about assessing the applicants

After culling out all those hairdressers wanting a change of career, and the optimists from the wilds of Afghanistan or India who were looking for an entry to Australia, we were left with about 40 applicants to give serious attention to. Our next task was to ditch all the unstable people; another 18 or so were sent a ‘Sorry, but no’ letter.

To cut what could be a long story down, of the remainder, most of whom had held the title of Restaurant Manager, none had actually ‘run’ a restaurant. What I mean by that is that none of them had carried the full responsibility for managing the financial performance, HR, kitchen, marketing, etc. The commonality was that most of them had been responsible for running the front-of-house team on a day to day basis. It seems that the title of Restaurant Manager has superseded the title of Maitre’d or Head Waiter, which were the traditional titles for those who lead service teams.

Corporate managers don’t usually succeed in independent business that are without support departments

Managers don’t easily transfer from corporate hotels to independent businesses

There was also a great difference between the skills and knowledge of ‘Restaurant Managers’ from a hotel background and those from independent restaurant backgrounds. In the hotel industry they commonly have support departments around them to manage HR, marketing, maintenance, etc. In my opinion, in a hotel environment they really function as supervisors, not managers, and don’t learn the skills necessary to run a complete business unit.

Of those from independent restaurants, very few had any experience actually being responsible for the entire business. Most had the title of ‘Manager’, but actually reported to an owner who was there most of the time and who provided the majority of direction. In other words they had really occupied the role of Assistant Manager (front-of-house). It was quite unusual to find a person who had experienced the kitchen reporting to them.

Modern usage causes problems

There are no standards for job titles. Grandiose titles prevail.

So, the title of Restaurant Manager seems to no longer refer to someone who can run a restaurant, but is now commonly used to describe someone who would have previously had the title of Head Waiter, Maitre’d or Restaurant Supervisor. Ok, I’ll reluctantly bow down to common usage, but now we have a problem — what do we now call a person who is an employee entrusted with the running of a restaurant in its entirety?

You might opt for a title like Operations Manager or General Manager instead of Restaurant Manager, but these titles can also be problematic. Try advertising using these titles and you will soon find that you will be inundated with hopefuls desperate to escape hands-on work and unfriendly working hours, and often asking for outrageous amounts of money that are not justified by their level of knowledge and experience. I don’t think there is a hands-off job in an independent restaurant until you go above Manager level to a Group Manager’s job or an Area Manager’s job, in charge of several restaurants.

Larger groups require highly skilled managers — what do we call them?

Running a group of hospitality businesses requires a large amount of experience and skill. This is traditionally an Operations Manager

Given the trend for smaller restaurants and other hospitality businesses to become less and less profitable as economy of scale is necessary for viability, and more and more groups of larger restaurants are formed in the pursuit of viable business models, it is inevitable that we are going to need more and more people who can run an entire restaurant with minimum input from the owners. Ideally, this would be the logical stepping stone into a business of their own or into eventual partnership with the owner in a new business unit.

So, the problem becomes: What should we call these positions to differentiate them from the more junior job roles that now carry more grandiose titles than they deserve? I don’t see an easy answer.

The net result of this confusion of job roles is that recruitment for key roles becomes quite difficult as more and more skill is required to sort the real managers from the pretenders. I’m seeing a number of restaurants in my local area and elsewhere struggling to maintain standards and profitability at present. What they most need is good management — in the true sense of the word

It would be nice to advertise and only have to deal with people who were reasonably close to requirements . . .