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A happy GM: Strategies for energizing managers

There are few people more critical to the success of your restaurant than the general manager. GMs are the direct link between you and your line associates, and if your line associates aren’t happy, your customers won’t be either. An upbeat, motivated GM can inspire the rest of your staff and improve your bottom line. So how do you keep those GMs whistling while they work?

Cori Maedel—CEO, Jouta Performance Group, Vancouver, British Columbia:
Don’t worry about sexy or flashy rewards. Instead, make sure that you communicate, clearly and consistently, the direction of your company, the managers’ responsibilities and your trust in them to make good decisions. When you do give rewards or bonuses, make sure they’re linked to tangible results. Everyone likes an extra $2,000, but you need to make it feel like a reward for hard work rather than a random prize.

Paul Draper—Leadership and Management Consultant, Las Vegas, NV:
GMs want a sense of membership, ownership and meaning in their position. A happy GM is one who has been entrusted with the authority to make his or her own decisions.

Misty Young—Owner/CEO, Squeeze In, Inc., Truckee, CA:
We’ve recently developed a number of new, manager-led initiatives. One gives GMs $100 cash each month to reward their staff any way they choose. Say you sell the most Mimosas or Bloody Marys on Sunday morning—then you get $20. Or you go out of your way to help a struggling colleague. That might be worth $15. Employees love the cash, and managers really appreciate the authority and freedom to reward the staff.

Paul Damico—President, Moe’s Southwestern Grill, Atlanta, GA:
Four years ago, only franchise managers were invited to our annual company conference. That was fine, but it meant we never got a chance to interact as a group with our GMs. Now we hold three or four regional meetings a year and fly in all the GMs. The meetings keep managers in tune with our plans and also give us the opportunity to hear from them.

And the GMs love it. They appreciate the free trip, the sense of engagement in the company’s direction and the opportunity to contribute. The results have been great: we’ve reported positive comparable-store sales growth... and GM turnover is down.

Maria Ahn-Wilson—Franchisee, Papa Murphy’s Pizza, Greer, SC:
Community outreach is a great way to help GMs feel like they’re part of something larger than just their restaurant. And that’s really what you want: managers who have a greater sense of purpose. A happy GM isn’t one who’s simply clocking in and out of work every day. We bring in groups of underprivileged youth, and the GMs lead them through pizza-making workshops. We also have a “Star Student” program that gets managers working with top students from local schools and rewarding them with free food. The managers really enjoy the relationship, which they feel is almost like a mentorship.

Michael Chernow—Co-owner, The Meatball Shop, New York, NY:
We’ve been holding inter- and intra-restaurant competitions, which get everyone fired up. We recognize the restaurant with the best sales, best check average and highest wine sales. We also recognize the top performing staff within each unit. Everyone appreciates the bonus, but the managers especially enjoy the competition itself. The competition also yields incredibly useful information. We ask the top performers to share their strategies and techniques with us, and then we use that information to train staff at each location.

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