The Perfect Tandem
Any independent operator can tell the same story about the good old days when they first opened the shop. As owners we were working 18-hour days, seven days a week, 100 hours plus weeks, and no days off. But then as business grew, so did we. Everyone eventually (hopefully) reaches that point where business has grown to a certain level of financial stability that they can slowly begin to back themselves out somewhat. As they say, “We don’t open these businesses to give ourselves 100 hour per week jobs.” The exact extent to which an owner can begin to step back will vary for everyone on a case-by-case basis. This is where the birth of a new job category arrives. The General Manager.
Finding, hiring, and training the proper person for the General Manager position can be one of the most important decisions contributing to our future success or lack thereof. The easiest route is to find an industry veteran who already has the proper experience in that role and just slot them into your operation. Unfortunately, those unicorns are rarely seen in today’s labor market. Nowadays many of these candidates are hired and promoted from within our current staff.
When we first promoted a staff member to a supervisory or managerial position it was easy. We just go by the old mantra for the selection process of “Our ‘employees’ need to be managed. The ‘managers’ are those who do not need to be managed.” It’s usually pretty easy to pick those candidates out, but now we are moving into a whole new level of responsibility. The General Manager is essentially the person who will be stepping into your role when you are not there. The bond between the owner and GM will be key to the continued success of the operation.
Building the bond between owner and GM is very different from that of other employees. We are in effect looking for a partner that will have that same sense of responsibility that you the owner has. Relationship building is key here. This is not the simple managerial promotion that comes with a set of keys and a pay raise. The GM needs to have the same philosophy and mindset as the owner in order to effectively run the operation as it is meant to be run. This is now our most important employee and needs to be treated as such. Passion for our restaurant and concept is wonderful, but at the end of the day that doesn’t pay the bills. Cash is still king. The GM needs to have a compensation package that will do two things. First, it needs to be at a level that is commensurate with the expectations of the position. Second, it needs to be at a level where the GM feels a sense of respect and would never consider looking to work elsewhere. This will undoubtedly be a high number, but we get what we pay for. A useful tool that many operators employ is creating a pay scale for the GM that has a base salary but also has incentive bonuses built in for hitting certain predetermined benchmarks in sales, food cost and labor cost each week or month. By tying a bonus portion of the pay package to the meeting these benchmarks the GM now has an absolute vested interest in operating the restaurant with the same passion as the owner.
Another part of this bond is how we interact with our GM. An owner can no longer treat that person like one of the crew. There needs to be a partnership camaraderie developed. No longer will discussions be held in the kitchen amongst the staff. The owner and GM should meet privately to discuss everything thus showing the GM such respect that they are not one of the average staff. Further, a relationship outside of the restaurant walls can greatly help the bond. Often there can be an age differential between the owner and GM that may cause a slight generational disconnect, but doing simple things like grabbing lunch or dinner together on a day off to discuss business or simply to decompress can go a long way.
As an owner there is certainly a period of adjustment that will come along with turning your baby over to the hands of another person. You know what works. You built this business. You did it your way. When training your GM clear expectations should be set out, but remember, all roads lead to Rome. Just because you handle a task in your restaurant in a certain manner does not mean that it is the only way it can be done. There are various methods to reach the same conclusion and we need to be mindful and respectful of our GM’s personal way of accomplishing things. Many times, too, a GM will have better success in dealing with the staff due to a more familiar feel and relationship with them. An owner needs to give the GM space and let them handle things without micromanaging. It’s easier said than done, but the relationship will flourish if they are allowed to handle their responsibilities in their own way.
As with any partnership there will be rough patches at times. This is a good time to remember that we brought this person in to run our operation so that we don’t need to be doing it 24/7. Remembering that word ‘partnership’ is key. Yes, you may be the owner and the buck stops with you, but this is not the average basic employee you’re dealing with anymore. Sit and discuss issues together. Work together to find the right solution to the problem. You may know the answer to resolving an issue right off the bat, but by communicating calmly with your GM and showing them that you want to work respectfully together to find the solution you will strengthen that bond.
Outside of family this will be one of your most important relationships in life. Your entire business that you worked so hard to build depends on it. Cherish that relationship and you both will flourish.
Michael Androw owns E & D Pizza Company in Avon, Connecticut.