When I stopped waiting tables and took a management position, I worried I’d made a terrible mistake, yet it was the best job I’d ever had.
Becoming a restaurant General Manager is a hard transition to make. Instead of rolling in at 3pm to set up for dinner, I was there by 10 in the morning. Instead of leaving after my section was empty, I was the last one out every night. Instead of a pocket full of cash money from tips, I had to wait for my (not so fat) paycheck. Yet, I didn’t try to go back. I soon realized that being a GM was one of the better jobs in the restaurant industry – even if it’s one of the hardest.
If you’re interested in management, think carefully about the realities of the job. But for all the obvious downsides, it has some notable benefits. Here are just a few:
It’s a street-level business degree
Once you know how to run a restaurant, you’ll have the tools to run most other businesses. If your real interest is to become your own boss someday, or better yet, to start your own restaurant, the experiences you’ll get as a general manager are invaluable. You’ll learn everything from accounting to HR to strategic planning to marketing to how to fix a leaking dishwasher. While you could go to school for any one of those skills, the GM job will teach you just about everything you’d need to know to succeed in business.
You get more opportunities to be creative
Serving and cooking generally involve carrying out other peoples’ visions. A GM, on the other hand, has a little bit more creative control. A GM has the opportunity to work with the ownership on things like style of service, the layout of the menu and even marketing. GMs also work closely with Chefs on everything from special events to individual dishes. The same goes for the wine and bar programs. Perhaps one of the most exciting parts of managing is the chance to develop and execute a vision.
Once I even got to meet Kyle Maclachlan during a wine junket. (My brain froze and I could only remember him in one role so I told him how much I liked Showgirls.)
You’ll get bribed by vendors
Hey, I’m no angel – I’ll admit it. I really enjoyed the process of being courted by various purveyors and vendors. Since your decisions can influence everything from the brand of toilet paper to what wines are poured by the glass, you’ll get all sorts of samples and invitations to events. Honestly, I hardly ever brought in a product just because I received a benefit, but it was a great perk. Once I even got to meet Kyle Maclachlan during a wine junket. (My brain froze and I could only remember him in one role so I told him how much I liked Showgirls.)
You’ll grow a professional network
As a General Manager, you’re the face of your restaurant to your community. You’ll meet all your vendors (see above) but also people in a wide variety of industries. If you do special events with partners you’ll probably become familiar with people in PR, marketing, real estate development, finance and on and on. Walking back through those examples, these connections will be very valuable when you need to raise money to start a business, find a location, develop a brand and then get press for your project.
You’ll grow as a leader
Some people are born leaders, but most hone leadership as a skill. Leading people is not easy – in fact, it may be the hardest part of being a Restaurant General Manager. But once you develop the skills to inspire others to grow, it’s probably the most rewarding part of the job. The secret to surviving all the work it takes to be successful in the restaurant industry is to surround yourself with talented people you can trust to do a great job. Once you learn how to lead talented people, all the other challenges of running a restaurant have a way of solving themselves.