Server or Manager?

It takes a certain kind of person to be a good restaurant manager, so is it for you?

Over the last few months, We have had a bunch of messages sent to us asking about restaurant management, so I thought I’d write this post to give my input on it. I asked a question a while back asking servers who had become managers what their thoughts were on this topic, and there was a similar response among most of the comments. They usually talked about the change in hours worked, scheduling, dealing with difficult employees and sometimes guests, and in a lot of management positions, they make less than servers.

I have been a manager in a few different restaurants (both corporate and privately owned restaurants) and in this post, I’ll share my experience of being a restaurant manager, and what I got out of it.

Over the years of working in this industry I always got along well with my managers, and if there was anything I needed (within reason) generally it would be honored. They handled most guest complaints professionally, they helped me with my scheduling requests and some would even get their hands dirty by jumping on the floor to buss tables and reset them. On the other hand, I have also worked for a few managers who wouldn’t give me the time of day, would deny each and every request I asked for and wouldn’t do much in the way of supporting the staff.

My thoughts when it comes to how good or bad a restaurant manager is that a big part of it comes down to how much they care, not just about the business and their salary, but for the business and every single person inside the building.

If you’ve worked a job which you didn’t love (or at the very least enjoyed) you probably wouldn’t be working at your very best, and why would you if there’s no motivation and drive to do so? What I believe makes a good restaurant manager is someone who gets along well with the staff, can segregate personal problems and business problems (also a big one), will do what they can to support the staff with whatever they need, and keep the owners or general manager happy all at the same time. These aren’t always the easiest of things to balance, but a well-seasoned server/manager can make a big difference in the productivity and morale of the staff in a restaurant.

So in a nutshell, a list of the new responsibilities I had to take on as a manager was:

  • Scheduling
  • Counting inventory and ordering stock
  • Banking, end of day balancing and inputting reports
  • Handling event bookings and inquiries
  • Opening and closing of the restaurant
  • Dealing with beer/wine/liquor sales reps
  • Guest relations and retention
  • Marketing strategies and promotions
  • Labor/food/beverage tracking and budgeting
  • Ongoing training of staff

There was more to it than this, but the list above covers the most common day-to-day tasks I had to do when managing. The only downfall I had with the privately-owned restaurant I worked in was that training wasn’t very structured. Compared to the corporate-owned restaurant which had an intensive 3-month manager training program. Yes, I did learn things from both styles, but I got way more out of the structured corporate training.

Here’s a quick breakdown of some details of the privately owned vs the corporate-owned restaurants I managed in.

Privately owned:

  • Responsible for up to 35 staff at a time (both BOH and FOH)
  • Scheduling for 22 servers and bartenders
  • The restaurant seated up to 460 guests including the upstairs and downstairs patios
  • “Learn as you go” style training (I asked many, many questions)
  • Open for lunch and dinner
  • Approximate hours worked per week was around 50
  • Management team size: 6
  • Salary only, with a few perks like free meals, limited promo bar tab (to give to guests/staff/yourself)


  • Responsible for up to 60 staff at a time (both BOH and FOH)
  • Scheduling for 40 servers
  • The restaurant seated up to 775 guests including the patio
  • 3-month management training, many well written and extensive training programs (and a lot of reading at that), training took place in 3 different restaurants and some were at head office.
  • Open for lunch and dinner
  • Approximate hours worked per week was between 55 and 65
  • Management team size: 8
  • Salary + bonuses, benefits, manager outings, free meals, promo tab (food and drinks), discounts at other locations, perks with surrounding businesses and businesses affiliated with the restaurant

When I went back to serving I saw the restaurant I was working at in a whole new light. While I was serving I would know the cost of each dish or drink that a guest would order, I would be more aware of the number of staff working and what the potential labor costs would be, and I could answer guest questions about the business that not necessarily other servers could. This was purely because I was exposed to the information as a manager. Now not all this knowledge is really relevant to serving, but for me, I found everything I learned fascinating.

So for me, these were the pros and cons of managing:

My pros:

  • Endless things to learn to better yourself, the staff  and the business
  • Got an in-depth look at the “behind the scenes” operations of a restaurant
  • Had a better understanding of the hospitality industry and had access to an abundance of resources and information
  • I built many solid personal and business relationships with people who I’m still in contact with today
  • It was easier to do personal budgeting because I knew what I was making and if a bonus came along Hooray!
  • The freedom to implement new standards and procedures to make the lives of staff easier, and in return make them and the restaurant more money
  • I really enjoyed the responsibility and being held accountable for the things that went right or wrong
  • The salary was decent, so were the bonuses and benefits (this will vary between restaurants)

My cons:

  • My social life became non-existent outside of work, there were times I wouldn’t see my girlfriend (who I lived with) for 2 weeks at a time
  • Despite the decent salary, when servers did their reads and handed me their cash-out I wished I could go back, work for 5 hours and make $200 ?
  • It can be information overload (schedules, banking, sales, and labor reports, marketing, food, and beverage ordering and budgeting, resumes, menu’s, meetings, policies, standards and procedures, emails, post-it notes everywhere!, sales pitches, product information… you get the idea) which can drain you mentally in a job where you need to be sharp and on top of things at all times. As a manager, I believe you should know everything about the restaurant you’re working for, and be able to work every station confidently.
  • The smallest failure in communication could result in big problems. This is another key element to being a good restaurant manager, you need to be able to clearly communicate with fellow management, owners/investors, suppliers, staff, and guests.
  • For me, going from serving to a management position in the same restaurant I found it difficult to transition the relationships I had with my fellow workers. Although I was still friends with these people, it was hard for them to see me as someone with authority within the restaurant (It was for me too). I was dubbed a “Grinch” for a while because I wouldn’t let servers and bartenders slack off, or close the restaurant early for them so they could go party….. wait, am I the Grinch?
  • Not all restaurants train managers properly, as I mentioned above in the privately-owned restaurant I managed in it was a “learn as you go” style which meant I learned some things incorrectly the first time.
  • Terminating/disciplining employees was never fun, but it’s part of the job (I actually fired my girlfriend from one restaurant… No I’m not a meanie, there’s a story behind it 🙂) and dealing with unpleasant/unhappy guests wasn’t a glamorous part of the job either
  • As much as you would like to please everyone, if you try you will please no one. Staff will want days off or want to choose the section they work in, guests want the thermostat/music/TV’s changed, owners/management want labor costs down and as a result server and service, in general, can suffer, etc. The hard part is trying to find a harmonious balance which pleases as many people as possible and upsets the least number of people.

Now the cons list looks bigger than the pros list, but I wrote 8 points for each. I had a love/hate relationship with management for a while, I enjoyed everything I was learning but there was the sacrifice that came along with it. As someone who has plans to open their own restaurant in the future, this was great for me, and if I stuck around long enough I could have progressed and climbed the ladder in either restaurant. I chose to move on to broaden my experience so when I open my own restaurant I have a better and more diverse understanding of what makes a restaurant successful.

You can make a great career out of being a restaurant manager, sure it may be hard to find a place that you gel with 100% and pays you your worth, but that goes with any job out there. If you’re a good leader/motivator, personable, creative and have a desire to push and better business then maybe taking a manager position is for you.

If not, serving is always a good fall-back!

Have an awesome day.