Pointers on a manager’s journey
24th June 2014
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Gianni, our erstwhile Depot manager, broke the news nervously, alert to my likely reaction: he was leaving to join his partner in Italy. She’d been offered the job you can’t refuse and his loyalties lay with her. It was a shock, especially coming just before our re-launch following the re-furb; but such departures go with the territory, (aka the ‘burden of employment’) so no point dwelling on my disappointment, though I was tempted to remind him that he’d recently asked me to witness his application for British citizenship.

Gianni was a hard act to follow, but suffice to say, after a lengthy process, we recruited his replacement and are very happy (relieved too) to have Peter Lewis on board, who is settling in well; in part, thanks to the support and knowledge that our two assistant managers have generously bestowed.

Inevitably, I was keen to impart my own sense of what makes a capable manager, in the course of owning and managing restaurants since 1984. So, as Peter and I embarked on our first meeting, I sought to outline my thoughts…

At the risk of starting with a cliché, I kicked off with ‘managing by example’, touching on the need for an upbeat, energetic approach with a big effort to look presentable and polished; first impressions can make or break after all, and whether we like it or not we are often judged by appearance. Put simply, don’t ask anyone to do something you’re not willing to do yourself and that includes ironing your shirt! Practising what you preach sums it up.

Then I described the danger of over-promising and under-delivering (a trait of previous incumbents and, from my point of view, infuriating); much rather prioritise and complete realistic tasks in a methodical manner, than an over-ambitious, scatter gun approach, which flatters to deceive and ultimately dilutes credibility quicker than just about any other management misdemeanour. Above all, convince those that need convincing that you’ll do what you say you will, within the agreed time limit.
Delegation is all very well and a crucial tool, but beware of the accusation that you’re passing the buck or palming off the grunt stuff. Communicate the whys and wherefores effectively and always agree the objective, whilst allowing challenge, even resistance: you may have got it wrong and need to find another tack. And in the early days you’ll probably be relying on junior members of the team, so don’t throw your weight around too soon (if ever).

Effective communication is a biggie, so I concentrated on an old chestnut, namely clarifying expectations: it’s so easy to assume* that people working for you know what you want from them. Assertively telling people how it is, what you expect and explaining the consequences of not delivering, may sound fierce, but nine times out of ten, we prefer to know where we stand. At least we’ve got the chance to impress or improve or, if necessary, move on.

And we agreed that effective team-building is critical to successful leadership; developing a strong working unit, which you can rely on to perform, but never taking that performance for granted. Another cliché perhaps, but we all crave appreciation and acknowledgment, so never pass up the opportunity to praise and encourage. Criticism is hard to bear, but a little less arduous if it comes from a respected, credible source, which has been lavish with praise, where praise was due. 
Of course it helps if you exude self confidence and authority, never aggression, but that comes with time and experience (don’t I know) and in the meantime, the light touch, a little humour and a modest dose of humility may stir the developmental juices and help build functional relationships, on which we all depend, and which, ultimately provide huge satisfaction and pleasure.

Attention to detail looms large in the restaurant business, where so much hinges on atmosphere, appearance and nuance. A blown light bulb, a wilting flower or smudged glass can undermine and unsettle. Perfection may be the enemy of achievement in some circumstances, but in this instance, it builds a sense of security and aspiration, an illusion albeit, that all is under control and smooth running.

Truth is it’s much more like a swan gliding serenely over the surface, whilst paddling furiously to propel such elegant motion: not a bad analogy for restaurant management. Maintaining the illusion is the trump and attention to detail the ace in the pack. Having scratched the surface, it was time to stop the theorising and get the show on the road, open the doors to our guests, secure in the knowledge that, whatever happens, we try our best , enjoy what we do, aspiring, expecting and inspiring, if not in equal measure; nevertheless all integral parts of the heady management mix.

*when you assume you risk making an ass of you (u) and me!

About the Author

Isobel C

Member since: 29th January 2013

Marketing consultant and freelance copy writer for The Depot, among others.

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