Restaurant Manager Interview
See if your view of a restaurant manager's job aligns with a career professional's.
Maureen "Mo" Shaw
Restaurant Manager/General Manager
Ray's Boathouse Café and Catering, Seattle
Thirty-one years in the field
How did you become a restaurant manager?
I took a class in high school called "Food Education and Service Training (FEAST)" that required us to work in a restaurant to get practical experience. So I fell into waiting tables. Later I became a bookkeeper, a hostess, and I started placing orders for the kitchen.
In college, I started taking courses in nutrition. The restaurant business was in my heart and blood. When I was 25, I became a dining room manager. I was a general manager by the time I was 30. I moved up the ladder quickly. I always wanted to learn more. I wanted more responsibility, so I convinced my manager that I should do it.
What do you most enjoy about the job?
I love partnering with the crew to create an incredible experience for our guests. I love building relationships with the guests. Seeing the business growing from year to year in sales is incredibly rewarding. And it's exciting to see my management team develop, taking on larger responsibilities, getting them in position for promotion, whether internally or externally. And when we meet or exceed our profit goals, that's very rewarding as well.
How do you help your managers develop their skills?
We're very committed to ensuring that they're always growing and learning. We have a budget that allows our managers to take courses if they want. Most of the courses are not food related. They're usually management and leadership courses that focus on management information, learning the technology, public relations and marketing. We've even had managers train in Europe to round out their culinary expertise. If they're driven and want to grow, I'll do anything to support them.
What's most challenging about being a restaurant manager?
Building sales is challenging. I have three restaurants that I oversee. The fine dining restaurant has been a challenge in the last five years or so. People continue to dine out, but they're more value driven, so keeping that business going has been a challenge. We've been successful, but it's been grueling.
It's hard to find quality people who are experienced and really committed. We've managed to get by because we have an incredible staff. Also, the cost of doing business has grown, with the increase in state minimum wage and the cost of health care going to the moon. Protecting the bottom line has been the biggest challenge.
How do you encourage people to spend money on dinner?
We track visits from guests and correspond with them via e-mail and newsletters. We have local promotions, cooking classes and beautiful northwest seasonal dinners. We want to enhance the perceived value, rather than discounting it. Going to Ray's downstairs is a celebration, a special occasion.
What skills are most important for a restaurant manager job?
You've got to have personality. That's not a skill, but it's important because we're in the people business. We're selling a product that our guests come to enjoy, and hopefully, they'll leave with a memorable experience. It takes somebody that is completely passionate and excited, who has a love for food and people. You need financial understanding to write budgets, strategic ability to see the big picture, food and wine knowledge, organization, and flexibility. And lots of stamina!
What kind of experience do you need to enter the field?
You must come from a restaurant background. There's no way that somebody who's never worked in a restaurant could do this. Having hands-on technical experience is critical.
While you're working in restaurant operations, it's helpful to manage a beverage program or food costs or labor costs. Find a supervisor to mentor you, so that you can learn those skills. A business, marketing or culinary degree is helpful.
Any other advice to people interested in the job?
I encourage people to call restaurants and set up an appointment with the general manager or the dining room manager. Interview them—ask how they got started, what was the hard part of the growth curve. Hearing those stories is helpful. It gives people a good understanding of what the job is about. Spend a couple of hours on the floor while the operation is up and running. I'm all about the people. The financial part was the steepest learning curve for me. I didn't care about the numbers until I became a general manager.
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