Dishin' That: Restaurant managers have 7 years of good luck

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A smart restaurateur once told me the average shelf life of a front-of-the-house manager is seven years. After that, he explained, tunnel vision sets in. Complacency and compromised standards (did he also say entitlement?) offset one another, and at that point it becomes best to part ways.

Rarely will you see a manager demoted in the restaurant industry where the person sticks around, and in many ways, that’s a shame. But, I’ve observed the changing of the guard more than once, and when a new manager takes over (especially someone from the outside), it’s wise to let that person assume the position without the shadow of the former manager still present.

Even if the management change is a completely positive event brought about for happy reasons, it’s still best for all involved to make a clean break.

Should the next manager be promoted from within, and everything is warm and fuzzy between the new and old, it makes for a seamless passing of the torch. On-the-job training will have already occurred. The most difficult part will be the transition from being one of the gang to being a leader, and all the drama it will bring. Personal dynamics shift and growing pains will cramp the operation for a while.

But back to the outsider new guy. He may have years of experience. He may be a pro at handling customer mishaps, have a keen eye for inconsistencies on a new applicant’s resume, and be a hands-on team player when it comes to tedious side work. He may be all of those things, and more. But when it comes to the special sauce that makes each individual restaurant tick, only time will earn him the respect and full cooperation he needs to be successful.

The systems will be different and change may be resisted, sometimes for good reason. I heard a story about a new manager who came in and rearranged everything in the dry storage area to match the way it was set up where he came from. The system wasn’t broken, but he fixed it anyway, much to the scorn of the staff.

With shoulder season on the way and summer right behind, most places are putting key puzzle pieces in place. Year-rounders will have people up and running. Seasonal places may be hoping for returning management from last year. Others will be making changes from within, and jobs postings will go out for dining room and bar managers. These hiring decisions are never easy. After all, “just” serving and waiting tables is typically better money than running the show, so there has to be a special calling.

Tourist season is just around the corner. I wish everyone luck in finding those leaders who will bring out the best of the staff in a mutually profitable – and let’s not forget, enjoyable – way.

Peas & Q’s

Is there anybody in southern Maine who doesn’t have a tale of woe about being thrown under the bus by a trusted coworker or favorite customer? Last week’s column (“It hurts being thrown under the bus”) touched a nerve and many of you shared the pain.

“I lost my first and only waitressing job over 10 years ago,” wrote Samantha B. from Portland. “I was getting more hours than my best friend and she was jealous. She told our shift supervisor I wasn’t reusing the coffee cream like they wanted us to, and was throwing it out instead. The next week I had one shift and my friend had four. Then I got a lecture about costs and what being on a team means. I had to get a different job because I needed more hours. Even now, I get a little upset thinking about It.”

Interestingly enough, not one person owned up to being the thrower, rather than the thrown. While I’m all about a safe environment, and an open door to express workplace concerns and issues with management, the motive is just as important as the message, especially when it comes to someone else’s livelihood. So, think carefully before you take the wheel.

Speaking of hiring, this just in: I recently stumbled upon a great new operation looking to hire experienced and mature hospitality professionals. In a town where ageism runs rampant in favor of urban chic, tatted and pierced millennials, this comes as a refreshing opportunity. Of course, people of all ages with substantial experience are encouraged to apply. Reach out if you want me to spill the beans.

Natalie Ladd lives in Portland. When not pecking away, she can be found serving the masses at a busy eatery, or tirelessly conducting happy-hour field research. Hospitality questions or comments should be sent to, and may be featured in a future column. Follow Natalie on Twitter: @Nhladd.