One of the best decisions I made in 2013 was becoming a restaurant manager.
One of the best decisions I made in 2014 was to step down from being a restaurant manager.
Ironic? No. It’s all true. I’ll explain.
I’ve spent nearly four years in some form of management with California Pizza Kitchen, either as a shift leader or a manager. I began as a shift leader back in 2012, simply with the intention of having something that looked good on my resume. I specifically had no intention of becoming a manager. One of my good friends that I used to work as a host with used to tease me all the time “You love CPK so much, you’re totally gonna be a manager one day!”
“No way, that’s not happening,” 18-year-old me retorted, fully unaware that her prediction would come true a few short years later.
As I made the transition from shift leader to manager, I liked it. It was cool getting that promotion, and to go from managing the restaurant here and there, to doing so full time. It felt weird to be only 23 and have people look at me as their “boss”, but I was excited to handle that responsibility as best as I could.
I definitely learned a lot form spending time in management. For one, it was great experience in how to run a business. My boss told me when I was interviewing with him that I should look at it as Eric’s Pizza Kitchen every time I walked in the door. I should always imagine it as belonging to me, and making decisions to that effect. I had to analyze sales numbers to determine how to write the schedule for the staff. I needed figure out how to best market our restaurant and increase business. I had to learn how to manage labor and food cost to make sure they stayed in line. Having majored in Business Economics, it was really interesting to see the concepts I’d learned in a real world setting.
Second, and probably more significantly, I learned how to deal with people. Now, I’m definitely a people person. For the most part, I love being around people, interacting with them, helping to make them happy. And there was no shortage in any of these roles at the restaurant, especially as a manager. People sure can get grumpy when they’re hungry, and I was able to serve as a verbal punching bag on more than one occasion for people waiting FOREVER for their table or those disgusted by their ICE COLD pizzas. It’s amazing what a thick skin I developed to those who wanted to take out such TERRIBLE issues as these, among others 😉
What I learned was to be kind to such people. Sure they may have been overreacting. Maybe they just needed a hearing ear. Maybe their parent had been stuck in the hospital and they were just having a bad day. Maybe we weren’t even in the wrong in the first place. But that didn’t matter. I knew that getting back in a guest’s face wasn’t going to make the situation go away. Killing people with kindness and displaying genuine empathy was the route I got really good at taking. I could sense many occasions when going over the top to be kind, understanding and apologetic seemed to almost make someone feel embarrassed as to how they were overreacting. As long as they left with a positive taste in their mouth (literally and figuratively) and wanted to return, I felt like I’d done my job with unhappy guests.
But on another level, I also had to learn how to best deal with staff. In general, I like everybody. It’s SUPER rare for me to say “I don’t like so-and-so”. I may not go out of my way to spend a bunch of time with everyone, but in general, I’m fine with most people. However, some of my staff sure knew how to push my buttons at times. I had to find a reasonable way to assert myself, being a young manager, but also remain friendly, approachable and relatable.
There were occasions where certain employees would cop an attitude. Having grown up in a household where respect was a big deal, I managed with a similar mindset. I found myself in situations where staff members would sometimes mouth off or ignore what they were told. But I developed a method on how best to deal with this. Often, it required a bit of waiting.
Sometimes, correcting on the spot wasn’t the way to go. Maybe others were around, and the correction needed to be given in private. Maybe I was still upset, and having a sit-down about someone’s behavior I felt was never most effective in that state. So I would wait.
If I have an issue with someone or something, I feel like sitting down and talking it out is best. And I feel like it’s crucial to keep the tone positive. I had learned a technique before called sandwich criticism, which I did my best to implement while in management. I would begin with praise. “You did a really good job of giving attention to your guests today” or “Those pizzas that you made came out looking awesome” or “You’ve spent a long time working here and we really appreciate how hard you work at getting here on time every day”.
But then, came the correction. I worked to avoid words and phrases that could hold a negative connotation like “you always/never”, “why don’t you ever…”, “that was terrible how you…”, etc. I found a positive spin to such criticism left everyone feeling dignified, making sure to help correct behavior and not people themselves. “Let’s make sure we are getting our food out to guests as quickly as possible so it’s nice and hot” or “Being on time really has a big impact on making sure the shift runs smoothly, so we’d really appreciate you working on that… Do you need your in-time to be later to help out with that?” or “We all have to have an environment of respect here, so the way we all talk to each other needs to be done in a kind way.”
While warm, I was very clear on my expectations. I never yelled (I strongly believe that yelling at employees accomplishes nothing positive), I listened, I accepted and even invited constructive criticism when I knew I needed to hear it. Even if disciplinary action merited writing someone up, it was always my goal to make sure the staff member felt dignified, treated with respect, and clear on what he or she did wrong and needed to change.
The “sandwich” of criticism was sure to end on a positive note. “So let’s see how we can keep working on that moving forward” or “Thanks for being so understanding”, often coupled with a handshake and a smile helped to end a potentially negative experience on a positive note and opportunity to learn.
I also liked to speak in the first person plural, instead of second person singular. Instead of “you”, I liked to say “we” or “let’s”. Even when my general manager had to correct me, she would word it in this way, and I really liked it. Instead of saying “You didn’t check to make sure that area was wiped down when you closed last night”, she would say “Let’s make sure that area gets wiped down at the end of each night”. It removes a potentially accusatory sounding tone, and makes people feel like we’re in this together.
But eventually, I hit a bit of a wall. I learned so much from being a manager, and I did like a lot about it. However, I felt like I needed a change of pace. I remember the DAY it hit me. May 24, 2014 (I have a thing with dates). I realized I wanted to do something different. I wanted to pack up and move across the world and volunteer. (You can read more about this in the first entry, the prologue, to my The Bud Moves to Spain blog; the link is up top!) I was working so much and I found myself losing my joy. The nights were very late and the mornings were very early.
So for the sake of my quality of life and happiness, I stepped down. I went back to being a shift leader, still getting opportunities to work as a manager, but without the level of work that left me feeling drained.
And THAT was my best decision of 2014. And the day after my last shift, which ended in a celebratory pie-to-the-face from my awesome team, I went and saw (my future wife) Beyoncé in concert. 🙂
Cause why not? I was free! I learned so much. I loved getting better at managing people, being a motivator, being a coach, making people happy, running a business, being kind to those around me. But I knew I could take (and continue developing) those skills elsewhere.