What skills, behaviour and knowledge do we need in a modern manager, so that they can handle cost control, staff management, organising service and improving productivity?

The smart manager is now more careful with recruitment: double-checking references, skills and speed so there are no bad hires. She can separate staff who need training from staff who need replacing. Everyone needs to be more productive, and if they can’t handle the demands, move elsewhere. She can handle the tough task of staff dismissal, doing it quickly, fairly and humanely. Cutbacks aren’t pleasant, and how they’re handled will have a big effect on those who stay. She makes sure free-loaders are the first to go – everyone knows that’s fair.

Traditionally, we looked for managers, head chefs and supervisors with technical ability and good people skills. They could complete tasks, work with equipment, keep staff productive and customers happy and spending. Now we also need someone with analytical ability – working out a new look for the menu when price increases are out of the question. Able to motivate and develop mature-age workers who may be ‘all you can get’ in a difficult job market, or designing a new rostering format that gives more flexibility when it’s quiet.

They can gather facts and figures about cost-cutting and business decisions, explaining them to staff in a way that won’t cause confusion. On the positive side, they are training and encouraging the best sales ever – ‘have an extra drink, delicious dessert or a second coffee’. No more customers leaving under-serviced – better per-head sales are part of the solution.

Now’s a great time for ‘special projects’ undertaken by all departments: working on business problems and finding ways to operate more efficiently. Kitchen staff testing delicious new menu items with a food cost below 20%, the bar manager sourcing great bottles that cost $5 landed, so they can maintain profits in the value segment of the wine list. Function staff designing new packages with lots more free ‘extras’ to compete with discount-crazy competitors. By giving everyone access to the bottom line and an understanding of how a profit & loss statement works, you create great training activities and a positive business outcome. Every operator wants the staff to be cost-conscious ‘business partners’ – now it’s even more important.

The managers and chefs we want can do costings in a flash. No guesswork – using scales, calculators and spreadsheets – with the recent price rises, everything needs checking. They’re confident with a PC, googling for better deals, emailing vendors and crunching the numbers. They know how to increase prices when it’s unavoidable, and use clever menu design to create a winning ‘sales document’.

They search for ways to do the same work with fewer people – cutting fat but not muscle. Looking hard at work processes for inefficiency. Finding equipment that can replace manual processes, and outsourcing time-wasting tasks like payroll and stocktake. They do a Return on Investment calculation to justify essential spending. This is not the time to stop spending on equipment, just be more rigorous. Purchasing a faster espresso machine will make sense, but replacing the chairs may not.

While we’re working on the profile for new-look managers, let’s add some more qualities:

They keep a smile on their face, even when sales are down and others are gloomy – customers don’t want to know about your problems, they have their own! They can explain bad news without panicking staff – team work also focuses on problem-solving. They keep up with industry news – from the papers, TV or the internet. Commodity price rises are occurring world-wide, and the changes are long-term – is your chef aware of them? They communicate confidently with senior management: the boss, the board or regional HQ. When asked for a report or figures that show a problem and solution, they can state the case clearly.

They have a head for marketing and promotion, building the customer database and focused on local relationships: high impact at a lower cost. They keep up regular contact with customers through modern methods – email news, text messages and letterbox drops, as well as within the four walls of the business.

Miracle worker? Not really – there are lots of great staff with technical and people skills, and a good head for business. Many of them are looking for a place to work where their talents are appreciated – is that you?