Ordered Chaos: A Manager's Mantra


As I donned my crisp, black polo, emblazoned with the company logo, I knew I was ready. I set out the doors of my house that morning with my shoulders back and my head high, glowing with the pride that I had “made it.” I was a part of the club, the elite – a manager; And not just any floor manager, I was the Front of House Manager (with a nice salary and bonus to prove it) at a struggling restaurant location where standards were lax and tensions were high. I dove in, with all the emotion and intensity I had in me; I gave it everything. “Frankly, we're all excited to see what you can do. We've got Kyra fever,” I was told by the company's CEO a few weeks into my tenure.

But as the weeks turned into months, I became more and more fatigued, no longer able to push through my days on sheer determination and desire alone.  I fueled my mornings with iced triple espressos, and I put myself to bed with two to three cocktails nightly. There were days when it took everything in me not to turn the car around when I saw my exit. I could write a book on the highs and the lows, the joys and the frustrations that made up my years with that company; that's not what this blog post is about. This post is about one simple quote my boss passed on to me that has informed just about everything I do in the restaurant business.  

“Manage the systems, and the systems will manage the restaurant.”

This is what my regional manager told me as he walked me around the restaurant. He was young, and charismatic, and funny – People gravitated towards him; he had an uncanny way of speaking to different people in different ways, but he was always genuine. And on one of those early days of management, when I was lucky enough to get some one-on-one training with him, he guided me to different parts of the restaurant (first the lounge, then the host station, then table #1), which was just beginning to hum with the Friday evening dinner crowd. He asked me what I saw when I looked at the décor and the layout of the room from different vantage points, what I heard when a piece of silverware dropped and the line guys cracked jokes and laughed in the open kitchen, what I felt when the lights, the sounds, the colors, and the smells all came together in cacophonous harmony... He spoke these words to me, not just once but many times. And here's what they mean. 

It's a manager's job to know everything. We know when the private party is supposed to arrive and the name of the contact person (plus where her kids went to college), why table 25’s food is going long, last month’s beverage costs, which servers are on time, where the back up coffee cups are... but managers run into trouble when they feel that they must DO everything as well. It's impossible. We've all been tempted to just clean out the damn service station because we can't stand it dirty, and it's “easier” than asking someone else to do it. It's easier because inevitably you'll hear some grumbling, have to help them get the supplies, supervise them as they do it, and inspect it when they're done. And that's a drag.

But here's the thing... every time you decide to DO things rather than to MANAGE things, you put another Jenga block on top of the stack; another straw on the camel's back. If you clean out the service station once, I guarantee you'll do it again and again. Whereas if you take the time to manage the assigning the task to a department, ensuring they have the supplies they need by establishing ordering timetables and pars, routinely checking the cleanliness of the area, eventually, the station will appear to have cleaned itself. “Manage the systems, and the systems will manage the restaurant.”

A system is, by definition, “a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.” This simple definition has profound implications. Your systems are the standardized rituals you teach your staff to get things done right. They are the expectations by which you keep your team accountable, and the governing structure that provides the appropriate pathways for the electric energy that is our business. Without systems, or when systems break down, that energy tips into chaos. Although, that organized chaos is what keeps us crazy fools coming back again and again to a business that asks everything from us ... and then asks for just a little more.

At Restaurant Reason, we’ve worked hard to develop the exact tools, systems, community, and support you need to empower managers to get your staff trained, your trainers inspired, and make your guests happy. We know training isn’t the “fun part” of what we do in restaurants, but we all have to do it and we built a system just for that - all you have to do is manage the system.

For more information about this topic or if you have a specific question that you'd like to have answered, send me an email or leave a comment.


Kyra Denlinger

At the age of 15 I got my first serving job, and while my career has taken me in and out of the service industry over the years, I've always found myself in leadership, training, or teaching. My travels ended up dropping me on the doorstep of Restaurant Reason. I was at the tail end of an intense stint as a Corporate Manager and Training Coordinator for a 50+ store restaurant group, traveling to struggling locations throughout the Northeast U.S. to provide support and custom re-training programs. I met Dana Koteen on a project in New York, and I never looked back. Having studied both Communications and Education, I have a unique blend of theoretical and practical experience in assessment, curriculum, and content/program development. Restaurant Reason tackles the complex task of providing individualized, intuitive, and sound training resources that foster true knowledge comprehension and application – the science behind the art of hospitality.