“I remember coming here and never planning on moving into management. I was cool with being back of the house and then working my way to being a chef,” says Roslyn Nevel, general manager at Strip T’s in Watertown. “I knew it was going to be a long journey but I was okay with that, I knew what I was getting myself into.”
After making the shift to front of the house, she quickly found herself looking at a completely different role: manager. Along with the new title, came the challenge of running a team decades older than her.
For young managers, doing a good job requires walking a tightrope between constantly learning and leading with authority as the head of a team. There are key things that young managers and existing management can do to make sure that their newest and youngest team member is successful.
Tip 1: Don’t Freak Out
Restaurant management roles open and need to be filled at many different times in a restaurant’s life. As existing leadership looks to fill the role, they often promote existing team members that they believe will do a good job. That’s how Roslyn found herself making the switch from server to assistant manager. One night, the general manager got sick and Roslyn, assistant manager at the time, suddenly found herself running her first solo night shift with a team of servers at least 10 years her senior. “I didn’t do half bad,” she remembers. “I think because I was able to jump into that situation and I didn’t freak out, I kept a cool head and did the basics that I knew, at the end of the day, they had more respect for me.” The result was that she was trusted to work more night shifts and she earned more respect from her colleagues as well. “I think that everybody kind of thought that that was going to be my ‘make it or break it’ moment,” she says. “I just looked at it as my ‘make it’ moment. I can either let this get the best of me or I can rock this out.”
Tip 2: Tackle the Transition & Be Honest
One of the biggest obstacles to being expected to lead a team when you’re young is being able to communicate effectively with people that are older than you. At Strip T’s in particular, some of the core staff members have been a part of that restaurant and the Watertown community for decades or have been working in restaurants since before Roslyn was born. She knew that in order to get the respect that she needed as the new general manager, she needed to let the existing team know that she valued their opinion and recognized that they probably knew a great deal more than her about working in that restaurant. “I took it as a learning experience,” she says. “I came in and I said, ‘I’m still learning how to manage people. Most of you have either done my job or at least know this industry well enough to have a valid opinion, so I want you to give me feedback.’” Listening to your staff and letting them know that they will be heard is one of the best ways to manage.
Tip 3: Lean on Existing FOH & BOH Management
Existing management and ownership play a critical role in helping a young manager find their footing while running a restaurant. Paul and Tim Maslow have been key in making Roslyn feel like she can find her own management style; she knows that they believe in her and trust her to do a good job. “The fact that Paul really lets me run the restaurant how I want to run it and supports me and trusts that I’m going to hire the right people, that’s huge. That trust factor, that rapport- that’s what makes me comfortable with my job and the decisions that I make.” But just as he gives her freedom to manage her way, he also creates a learning environment by giving her his opinions and fostering a discussion.
Support from the existing leadership needs to come from both front of the house and back of the house. New sous chefs need to be able to talk to the existing FOH management and vice versa. At Strip T’s, Tim Maslow doesn’t discount or ignore what Roslyn says because she works in the dining room, even when that opinion differs from his own. “Even if I don’t agree with something that he says, he doesn’t get offended by that. He says ‘ok, why do you think that won’t work?’.” It creates another layer of support that lets Roslyn do her job effectively and it creates a conversation about what is best for the restaurant.
Tip 4: Seek Advice From People You Trust
Having a hard time with one employee in particular? Ask a friend, parent or family member who has been a manager before. Roslyn says that one of the best resources for her has been talking to other people, even people who haven’t worked in a restaurant but have managed in other industries. “Anyone who has managed different people and different personalities has useful information,” she says. “If you aren’t working someplace where you have a mentor or you feel like you can’t speak with the owners or another manager for advice, then start with your basic relationships.” Family, friends, anyone that you trust can offer some helpful advice. “Managing people in a restaurant isn’t the same as a bank, but managing people is the same.”
Tip 5: Respect is a Two-Way Street
Just because you have a new title doesn’t mean that you automatically get more respect. Respect is earned and your staff is willing to give it if they know they get it back. For Roslyn, managing her staff means putting herself into her staff’s shoes and thinking about what she would want from a manager. “How would I want to be treated and how would I want to be managed? If I don’t like being talked to in a disrespectful manner then why would I do that to someone else,” she says.
For young managers the road to finding and perfecting your management style is a long one but it’s also rewarding especially if you plan on owning your own business someday. Remember that this is a role that someone believed in you enough to give you the opportunity to do. As Roslyn puts it: “Want it, own it and don’t let it run you over.”