How Do I Survive My First Year as a Restaurant Manager?

The Intro to Surviving Your First Year as a Restaurant Manger.

Being a restaurant manager isn’t easy.  It is a lot of responsibility for not a lot of money!  It is a thankless job, a punching bag position or the ultimate cog in the wheel of a restaurant.  That and everything in between, it is a job that wears multiple hats at one time all the time.  Can it be fun?  YES, but it can also be torture.

Many have the view of managers that spend all their time hiding in an office or eating; yes that goes on, but it also depends on the restaurant.  With the rise of celebrity chef’s and chef-driven restaurants, as has managers getting out of the office and into the restaurant.  Pair this with the Maitre’D position disappearing, it means managers cannot hide in the office for too long or shit will hit the fan.

Restaurant Management in a Nutshell

There is no magic formula long-term for managing a restaurant, only short-term solutions to everyday problems that arise in the restaurant business.  One day it is too much staff, another it is not enough.  Then on the third day, it is a walk-in party of 20 that has allergies and doesn’t eat seafood in a seafood restaurant.


The fun continues with having count and balance banks, write up employees, handle guest issues and push the kitchen while finding a way to fit that extra last minute party of 8 at a table and not the bathroom or walk in!

Managing the floor and maximizing revenue is an art, much more challenging than dealing with unruly guests.

Unruly Guests?? Isn’t THAT What Restaurant Management is Here For?

Partly, but not really!  It is one element of the job that most managers do not enjoy.  In the era of online reviews, Yelp!, commercials, websites and other social media everyone is a restaurant critic and food expert.  IT IS TOTAL BULLSHIT AND REALLY ANNOYING.

Rant Start

Oh you do not like the perfectly cooked al dente pasta with the special dish we made you?  Too bad…it does not make you an expert nor is the dish prepared wrong!  It is not prepared poorly, you actually have no taste and do not know the correct way to prepare pasta!

Rant End

The Worst Part of Being a Restaurant Manager

The reality is that food is in the eye of the beholder and as managers and chefs, we are always QA/QC of the food that leaves the kitchen.  When a guests thinks something is prepared wrong or that medium rare steak is actually rare when it isn’t…our blood boils.  If someone orders a steak and it is cooked properly, however the guest is not happy with the temperature of the steak, it is the staffs’ fault for not ordering a steak by color and instead using temperature!

Then when the guest gets mad; it is the job of the restaurant manager to swoop in and make everything better!

…And you have it! THE WORST part of a manager’s job: dealing with the unhappy/cheap/looking for a handout guest.  It is never fun when a guest is mad and more often than not they feel the only way to fix things is with a free meal.  Guests shouldn’t expect the entire check free due to one dish not meeting their expectations.  It would take a lot to buy the entire tab; an epic mistake or extremely poor service.  However, the concept of completely taking care of a check is also a concept in more casual type restaurants, not necessarily true in the high price point world.

In fine/high end dining, freebies are hard to come by.  The guest isn’t always right, especially at this level of dining!  We have written about it in the past, how it is a very different realm compared to other segments of the restaurant world.  Managers hold more power in this segment, especially with many restaurants being independent.

The Reality of Restaurant Manager Hours

Restaurant manager hours are both worse and better than hourly employee hours.  It is possible to work at a 3 meal restaurant, where a manager shift can start at 7am and end 3pm.  Managers also go in at 10am and leave at 1am.  It all depends on the restaurant and situation.

Yes, managers generally work more hours but they also get perks like a salary, paid time off, 100% employer paid insurance (very common) and of course a little more regularity in scheduling.  Managers need the extra hours to do all the tasks a manager has to deal with.

Managers feel like this after a busy week!

As mentioned above, dealing with guests is a critical part of a manager’s job, however it is not the sole role they fill.  In a dinner-only restaurant a manager might be in the building 3-5 hours before service starts.  This is to handle the hiring/firing, counting money, planning for the future, looking at numbers or doing a P&L.

This means a manager can be in at 1pm and out by 8pm.  Not too bad in an industry known for its crazy/crappy hours.  It is not the ideal 9-5 job, but at least every night is not spent working until midnight.  Surviving the hours is the least of a manager’s worry, it is the exhaustion that is real problem.

Exhaustion as a Restaurant Manager

It is one thing to spend the night hiding in the manager’s office, however that doesn’t always happen.  The number #1 piece of advice we have to new managers is, GET REST. Getting the proper rest is the difference between enjoying management and burning out too fast.  In a hands-on restaurant the manager will work hard during service to ensure success, even if that means clearing tables, taking orders, opening wine or running drinks/food.  It happens and managers will do everything and above during the this time.

It can be very tiring.

The good thing is a manager can go back to doing managerial tasks as service allows, instead of getting stuck on the floor all night doing hourly employee tasks.

How to truly survive restaurant management

The best way to survive the first year is to as with any new skill or job; LEARN FROM SOMEONE WHO HAS DONE IT BEFORE.  We cannot stress the need for mentors in this business or any business/job/education for that matter.  A mentor can help make the transition easier and provide much needed advice, since it is impossible to learn everything about running a restaurant during “training” which is mostly functional and not practical.

Be open to new experiences and practicing empathy can help, in fact empathy might be one of the words we would add to any short list of words to describe being a manager.  Spider Man always said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”

So, next time there is a new manager, be nice to them, especially if it is their first time being in charge.  New managers, get to know your team, both hourly and managers alike, these relationships will either create success or doom the operation.

Spread the word with the whole staff!

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