Cost ReductionStaff

Building Young Restaurant Leaders

According to the National Restaurant Association, approximately 9 out of 10 salaried employees in the restaurant industry start out as hourly workers. When I first heard that statistic, I thought it must be slightly exaggerated. Nine out of ten? Really? And then I thought about the many people I knew that started off as servers, dishwashers, and cooks who worked their way up the ranks into management positions. And many of those had stayed in the restaurant that had given them their first opportunity for advancement.

I was once hired by a company whose CEO said he hadn’t hired me because of my abilities (gee, thanks). He hired me because of my potential. My thoughts were, What? Am I not good enough in my present form? He came to be a man I truly respected and admired—traits that I can only say about a few of the owners I’ve worked with in my decades-plus career. He gave me the tools I needed to do my job and then he nudged me in directions I never would have charted on my own.

The Leaders of Today

Much of your staff falls into the generation known as The Millennials. Born anywhere from the early 1980s to the early 2000s, they had either just entered the world or were mere teenagers when 9/11 changed the face of the U.S. forever.  Six years later, the Great Recession struck, furthering their need for security in a country that had faced it’s share of sudden and life-altering events. 

How have these events shaped the majority of your staff? Journalists and public speakers have depicted this generation as one that is demanding, spoiled, lazy and narcissistic. You can bet the people that wrote and spoke those words were definitely not Millennials. Those born in this generation would define themselves as faithful to those that believe in them, with a strong need for balance in both their work environments and their personal life.

With today’s tremendous fluctuations in the restaurant industry—one has to wonder: How do you make the best of your staff stay? Give them what they want: growth and balance. A survey conducted by Virtuali and WorkplaceTrends found that 91 percent of millennials aspire to be leaders. 43 percent shared that the motivation behind being a leader was inspiring others to exceed while only 5 percent said it was for the money. This generation is looking to transform themselves and, while they’re at it, change the world.

The Top Three Reasons for Promoting from Within

  1. Present employees resonate with your restaurant’s culture—or at least they should. Like a good dance partner, you know each other’s moods and moves. You know their deep call to service and their ability to communicate. And they know to not speak to you during rush hours. They not only know your company’s mission statement, they probably wrote it.
  2. The recruitment, hiring, and onboarding process is an expensive and time-consuming endeavor. Not only is it costly, but you can feel the difference between a team that has been together through many a Friday night glitch, and those that are still defining their roles.
  3. Millennials may have been misinterpreted. Those journalists that defined them as selfish and self-involved may have been seeing their need to make their life count. The good news is that many feel strongly about making other’s lives count as well. Find a present employee who considers the needs of your staff as well as your customers and start training them to be the leader that dwells within.

The First Steps to Developing Leaders

  1. Define and train them in their new role. The biggest mistake restauranteurs make is promoting without structure. Develop written protocols and standard operating procedures that address your managers duties and responsibilities. When first starting out, give them a timetable as well. Have these in writing so that they have information in concrete form that they can turn to when the ?!* hits the fan…and we know that in the restaurant business—that is inevitable.
  2. This generation is tech-conscious. They are at home on their Smartphones, surfing the web, tweeting, texting and posting. Developing a leader is all about finding their unique gifts and polishing them until they shine. If your restaurant does not yet have a mobile app, mobile POS system, or strong social media presence, this manager is the one that will take you into the 21st Let them use their gifts.
  3. Be sure to include your expectations and procedures for managing your staff. This includes tracking and acknowledging those that excel as well as developing a protocol for documenting warnings. Encourage team meetings and sit in every so often in order to take a temperature of how your new leader is doing and how the team is coagulating…or not.
  4. Help them maintain a calm and competent demeanor when a “crisis” occurs. The kitchen’s mishandled inventory, the server that’s scheduled for the party of 20 fails to show, there’s an irate customer at the front door who’s complaining about the 10-minute wait. It’s a restaurant. Your manager needs to lead by example so that your staff doesn’t crack under pressure.
  5. Teach them this mantra: “Customer satisfaction is my end goal.” When they become pulled in a million directions and face as many decisions, remembering the goal will help them make the right choices.

Hiring, training and retaining staff has become the number one challenge facing restaurateurs. Promoting from within and acknowledging excellence will help you build the team your restaurant needs to reach the level of success your aiming for.


Cost ReductionStaff
  • Subscribe to our latest insights


Are you capital raise ready?