17 Things to Look for in a New General Manager

Many factors separate profitable foodservice concepts from failures, but one trait that all winners share is this: the ability to successfully identify, nurture and develop unit-level assistant managers into General Managers. Coaches call it bench strength. Read on for tips on selecting your next General Manager…..

You’ve got to have the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.author Jim Collins

Many factors separate profitable foodservice concepts from failures, but one trait that all winners share is this: the ability to successfully identify, nurture and develop unit-level assistant managers into General Managers. Coaches call it bench strength. Consultants call it “tier two leadership”. You’d best call it critical.

Choosing your next GM based on tenure alone is not always the smartest move. Consider Bob Dole, the patriarchal Kansan senator whose party chose him in 1996 not on his potential to win, but because he was a loyal careerist politician who “deserved” the nomination. The Republicans may have rewarded his service with the nomination but he failed to inspire the electorate with his leadership. We all know how that ended up. He quickly moved from courting voters to pitching Viagra.

If you choose to promote your new GM from within your organization, what experience factors and personality traits should you look for beyond tenure in a prospective new leader? The insight of successful chain and independent operators who face this decision daily offers keen perspective. Our company just completed an on-line survey of 294 Area Directors, VPs of Operations and executives of both chain and independent restaurants. We asked them to define the characteristics of a great General Manager. The overall results and specific feedback are being shared exclusively here in NRN for the first time.

Over and over again, our respondents identified the following seventeen key behaviors of the best General Managers:

  1. Earns the organization money
  2. Integrity: Tells the truth/Is discreet/Keeps their promises
  3. Excels at conflict prevention & resolution
  4. Habitual consistency
  5. Teaches everyone something new daily
  6. Makes pre-shift huddles mandatory, not optional
  7. Evaluates first and then acts
  8. Exhibits grace under pressure: executes with quality, speed and value
  9. Makes people want to work for them
  10. Creates a high-performance not a high-anxiety culture
  11. Runs it like they own it
  12. Talent Scout
  13. Skill builder
  14. Brand builder
  15. Brings energy to the shift daily
  16. Executes flawlessly
  17. Builds their successor

We look for commitment, maturity in dealing with employees and the ability to successfully manage unexpected situations.” says Mike Carcaise, Director of Operations for LTP Management in Ft Lauderdale, FL., owners of Dan Marino’s, Hooters, Lulu’s, Fresh Mouth, Martini Bar, and Adobe Gilas. “Character is built during crises, so when we’re looking for next-level leadership, we assess how well that manager handles the guest when the kitchen is backed up, the ice machine is down, and the hostess is buried.

Passion for the job and creative thinking during the shift solves problems before they happen for both the guest and the team member,“ says David DiBartolo, VP of Operations for Doherty Enterprises, an Allendale NJ, franchiser of Applebee’s and Chevy’s. “So we value those qualities when considering promotions. We also look for the assistant manager who earns respect from their team members, needs minimal supervision, and challenges the process by trying new ways and inspiring the team to think differently too.

Jill Bagley, V.P. Human Resources for Denver-based VICORP Restaurants says that in addition to “customer focus, and passion for the business, a key—but sometimes overlooked—quality to look for in a GM candidate is an innate desire to achieve more than they already have.

John Knorr, Director of Operations for Phillips Seafood Restaurants in Baltimore, MD has something most restaurant operators will envy: an 88-year old legacy as a brand and an average reported tenure of 14 years for each of the AGMs and GMs in his company. Why? “Respect and integrity are key when we’re looking for a new GM, but someone who understands the business as a whole and can clearly communicate and execute what it takes to make the experience profitable for the guests, staff and owners are just as critical. We look at each of our GMs as ‘presidents’ of their operations and empower them to guide their restaurants in the way they feel will best make them successful in their given marketplace. The position of General Manager in our company is an extremely cherished position, and since we’re planning on opening a full service restaurant every two years, these positions are extremely desirable and demand valuable placements.

And finally, this insight from Paul Cunningham, owner of Schreiner’s restaurant, a high-volume Fond du Lac, Wis. landmark: “The ideal GM candidate shows patience, good people skills AND they must be very well-versed in all the positions they will supervise. They don’t have to be the ‘best’ at the jobs but they must understand them and the standards for proper execution. Coaching and leading is more important than giving orders. In short, the wisdom of Solomon, and patience of Job.”

You can spend a fortune with companies who will forecast future management performance based on personality profiles and testing, and you can put faith in the belief that prior experience foreshadows future behavior, but don’t forget the role that “follower-ship” plays in the success or failure of your new GM. Because in the long run, the fact is that you’re hired by the people your report to, but fired by the people who report to you.