January 30

Unveiling the Dichotomy Between Leadership and Management in Restaurant Operations


Evolving from Management to Leadership Takes Practice. Christin Marvin Delves Into How Restaurant Operators and Managers Achieve a Healthy Balance Between the Two Roles.

In the dynamic realm of the restaurant world, the terms “management” and “leadership” are not mutually exclusive yet manifest in distinct ways. 

As is all too common, someone can excel at managing operations while lacking the critical component of leading a team, and vice versa.  

The key to a successful restaurant and the seamless functioning of its operations is ensuring anyone in a supervisory role finds a respectful balance between the two terms. 

In this article, we’ll delve into the nuanced differences between restaurant leadership and management, shedding light on the characteristics that define each and what’s necessary to take the transformative journey from manager to leader in this dynamic environment.  

Defining Leadership and Management in Restaurants

Restaurant operations demand a delicate balance between efficiency and a personalized guest experience. 

Management involves effectively organizing resources, tasks, and staff to ensure the smooth flow of service and the overall functioning of the restaurant. 

A manager oversees daily operations, handles logistics, and ensures the guest experience aligns with the restaurant’s vision.

Within the restaurant context, leadership goes above and beyond organizational aspects and focuses on inspiring and guiding the team to create a welcoming and memorable experience for guests. 

A leader not only manages operations but also motivates the staff, fostering a positive and cohesive atmosphere that enhances the overall guest experience.

Think of management as the brain—it controls the functional components that ensure a smooth and efficient operation. On the other hand, leadership is the heart and blood pumping life and energy to the operations. 

While each brings individual value, their success is intertwined. 

Why Some Managers Are Reluctant to Embrace Leadership Roles

Though it may be surprising to hear, not all managers are natural leaders. 

Some folks get promoted into management simply because they excel at the functional part of operations, but they still need training and support to transform from simple management to leadership.

In an article published by The Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, Julia Lee Cunningham explores the reluctance of some managers to embrace leadership roles. 

Cunningham identifies three primary reasons for this reluctance:

  1. Fear of Being Seen as Bossy and Domineering:
    Individuals may hesitate to assume leadership roles due to the fear of being perceived as bossy, pushy, or domineering. Overcoming this fear is crucial for fostering a collaborative and supportive work environment.
  2. Fear of Seeming Different:
    A common concern is the reluctance to signal a shift in identity by embracing a leadership role. Managers may fear that recognition as leaders will set them apart from their peers, potentially creating a sense of isolation.
  3. Fear of Seeming Unqualified:
    Impostor syndrome often accompanies the fear of being seen as unqualified. Managers may doubt their abilities, fearing that their knowledge might not be exhaustive, and this fear can hinder their progression into leadership roles.

When management neglects to evolve into leadership, it negatively affects team morale and the work environment, which can cause unwanted consequences, like employee turnover and a drop in customer service. 

Every team needs leaders to encourage success, offer support, and make minor directions in the form of performance reviews and coaching. This is where management becomes leadership.

The Evolutionary Journey: How Managers Become Leaders in Restaurants

The journey from manager to leader in restaurant operations is a continuous learning process shaped by experiences, challenges, and a commitment to personal growth. 

As managers gain exposure to the diverse facets of guest service, they begin to recognize the pivotal role of leadership in achieving long-term success.

This evolution involves a shift in mindset – from focusing solely on day-to-day operations to envisioning the future and inspiring a team toward a shared goal of delivering exceptional service. 

Envisioning the future of leadership starts with self-awareness, creating a vision of the type of leader you’d like to be, and creating a clear path to how you will show up each day.

Here’s a step-by-step exercise to apply this insight:

  1. Begin by reflecting on a leader you admire or who has left a lasting impact on you.
  2. Compile a list of the qualities that make this leader exceptional.
  3. Select five characteristics you wish to embody.
  4. Systematically create action items for each characteristic and commit to fulfilling each one.
  5. Observe the growth in your leadership and expand your list to continue your personal development.

After identifying and setting your own leadership goals, it’s essential to practice some tried and true techniques that allow leaders to listen to their team and motivate them to be the best version of themselves.

First, engaging in one-on-one sessions with the team is a powerful and effective investment in team development and personal leadership growth. 

These sessions provide an opportunity to listen to your team, comfortably receive feedback, hone problem-solving skills, and practice strategic thinking—all essential elements of effective leadership.

Next, creating a welcoming atmosphere is an art mastered by leaders who extend their hospitality to guests and staff as if inviting them into their own homes. 

When leading a team, this type of hospitality involves dedicating as much consideration to the employee experience as the guest experience. Make efforts to prioritize employee well-being beyond just employment tenure by crafting thoughtful onboarding and offboarding experiences.

Lastly, nurturing a collaborative work environment is a pivotal task for any leader, echoing the adage, “People work for people, not companies,” which is especially relevant in contemporary times. 

Cross-training within the organization stands out as an effective strategy to encourage collaboration. 

Cross-training ensures that employees are familiar with various roles within the restaurant, enhancing their skill set and creating a more flexible and adaptable team. When team members understand each other’s responsibilities, they can provide better support during busy periods. 

The evolution from manager to leader requires a multifaceted approach encompassing understanding team dynamics, mastering effective communication through one-on-one interactions, and embodying the art of creating a welcoming and collaborative atmosphere. 

Embracing Both Roles for Unparalleled Restaurant Success

While the distinctions between leadership and management are clear, it’s crucial to recognize that both roles are indispensable for unparalleled success in restaurant operations. A restaurant needs efficient management to ensure seamless service, staff coordination, and logistical precision. 

Simultaneously, leadership injects passion, innovation, and inspiration into the team, creating a guest experience that surpasses mere efficiency and leaves a lasting impression.

A restaurant’s operations thrive on the delicate balance between leadership and management. 

As the hospitality industry continues to evolve, those who seamlessly integrate effective management and inspirational leadership are poised to make a lasting impact on the culinary landscape, one guest at a time.

For more tips, tools, and tactics on effective restaurant leadership, subscribe to the No Hesitations podcast, which is available anywhere you listen to podcasts. 

To schedule a 10-minute discovery call or learn how I partner with restaurant leaders through one-on-one coaching and leadership workshops, visit christinmarvin.com.

About the author

Christin Marvin

Christin Marvin is a hospitality catalyst, coach, speaker, podcaster and dynamic professional with a profound commitment to serving others in the hospitality industry. As the founder and CEO behind Solutions by Christin, she collaborates with organizations to accelerate leadership development internally so they can prevent burnout, increase retention and operate thriving businesses. Christin excels in personalized one-on-one coaching, energizing group coaching sessions, and facilitating impactful leadership workshops


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