restaurant management

The 7 Laws of Restaurant Management Leadership

I don’t know about you, but just hearing—or even thinking—about the word “leadership” is exhausting.

Why is that?

I’ll tell you why: because it’s hard enough to try and hire the perfect employee, but when you think about all the energy it takes just for you to crawl out of bed and have a productive day, how in the hell are you supposed to summon enough energy to inspire other people to have a productive day?

This is like trying to keep a fire going by blowing on the coals eight hours per day just to keep the fire going, which can be an extremely light-headed experience.

 Why is it your job to keep fueling the fire of other people’s lives? Why can’t they fuel their own lives?

I know. That’s a lot of questions to start out an article with. But here’s the answer:

90% of the population simply isn’t great at self-motivating, or self-fueling their own tank, so if you want your business to succeed at a high level, it becomes your job to devise a plan that feeds their fire.

And those who do it best—those who can keep their employees’ coals glowing with enthusiasm—end up with the best results, because they have the best employees who provide the best customer experience.

We’re going to get into the 7 laws of restaurant leadership in just a moment. If reading makes you sleepy, you can watch the video here instead:

7 Laws of Restaurant Management Leadership


Besides the Herculean task of summoning energy for an entire team of people, one of the main reasons it’s difficult to lead is that most people care too much about what others think of them.

When I used to bartend, I had a bar manager who was so petrified of what the staff thought of him, the owner might as well put a jellyfish in charge for all he was worth. Despite the bar losing money, he shirked his duties to count the bar inventory or run a variance report to see how accurately we were pouring. And that was just the start of the long list of things he wouldn’t do.

But he’s not the only one who is petrified to lead. People in charge are often afraid that if they make demands that the staff will think:

1) You’re a slave-driving asshole.

2) You’re just pretending to be a leader.

3) You aren’t capable to lead and therefore they have no respect for you.

When I talk with some restaurant managers about this, they tell me, “As the old saying goes, you have to be born to be a leader. You can’t just lead.”

Hmmm…is that true? Or is that just an old wives tale?


You don’t need to answer that. I’m not trying to start or mediate a debate on learned vs. born leadership. And that’s because there is no debate.

The answer is “yes”. Leadership can be learned. It has been proven over and over again. Simply follow a well-executed plan and you will see massive results.

That’s not to say some people aren’t better leaders than other. It’s true that some people were BORN to lead. They simply have a natural ability to lead, like some people have natural athletic ability.

Yet there are many people who less athletic who practice the fundamentals and become highly skilled at things like shooting a basketball or hitting a baseball. They have less of an advantage than the athlete, but with practice and a good plan, they can be just as effective.


I know this just might break your heart, but I’m going to tell you a secret right now: your title of Owner or GM or Bar Manager, as important as it makes you feel, does not make you a leader.

Just like the guy I play basketball with on Saturday mornings who comes fully dressed (every single time) in his Lebron James Cleveland Cavaliers uniform and struts around like he’s the best player in the gym.

Same bad news, buddy: wearing that uniform does not make you Lebron James, or even a good basketball player. In fact, you’re actually awful. Just like some of the other people we know who are managers or owners or CEO’s are awful.

To become a great restaurant management leader, all you need is some direction, some practice and some execution. So with that said, let’s jump into the “direction” part of this and make a plan by laying out my 7 laws of restaurant management leadership. Then it’s up to you to practice and execute.



Strange name for a law, I know. But it’s my blog so I get to call it what I want.

I call this the monkey law because it’s all about monkey see, monkey do. In other words, lead by example. We’ve all heard that before, but what does that mean exactly. Lead by doing what? What should I be doing exactly to show them I’m a leader?

Well, first off, nothing will gain you more respect from your staff than when you jump in and become one of them. I’m talking about running food, clearing tables, bringing ice to the bar, refilling drinks, taking orders if necessary. I’m not saying you have to do it the entire shift, but when it’s busy, put your camo’s on and go to battle with them. That doesn’t require any sophisticated tactics or genius. Just help out.

Secondly, it’s up to you to act the exact same way you wish them to act. If you want them to be hard-working, be hard-working yourself. If you don’t want them texting on their phones, then don’t you walk around texting on your phone. Go to the office to do it or wherever, but not out on the floor. Be one of them (in a hard-working, leadership way) and your example will rub off.


The law of alignment simply takes some vigilance and backbone on your part.

Let me start by asking you this: Do your employees feel like you actually care about the things that matter in your restaurant? In other words, do you enforce the policies that you preach and that are in the employee handbook?

Do you follow through with your own rules? Or do you say one thing and do another? Be honest with yourself. There’s probably nobody sitting next to you right now. It’s just me and you. Be honest.

The point is, let’s say that you tell the team, “If you show up late, or you don’t get your shift covered, you’re getting a write-up.” Then let’s say that two days later Sally walks in late and you do nothing. What do you think that message tells the staff?

Don’t strain yourself, I’ll tell you. The message says:

1) I don’t really believe in my own policies.

2) I don’t follow through with what I say I’m going to.

3) I’m too afraid to confront Sally, so instead I’ll do nothing and hope nobody notices.

So what do you think happens when you tell the bartenders, “Hey, our pour cost is too high. You guys need to stop giving away drinks. You’re costing us money.”

What happens is that they could care less that they’re costing the bar money because you haven’t shown that you really care about the culture and standards you’re preaching.

You need to have enough character/backbone to have your words and your actions aligned. This sort of crosses over with the Monkey Law – lead by example.


First off, if you don’t have the mission and vision of the restaurant written out somewhere, you need to find a quiet area, grab a notebook and start creating your mission and vision statements.

Inside the Restaurant Management Masterclass, we cover this extensively so you can bring your vision and culture to life. Your team needs to see where they are going in order for you to take them where you want them to go.

That means that you can’t just declare what your mission and culture is. As a leader, you have to actually LIVE IT every single day. Your culture is an alive, breathing, evolving entity, and when the culture runs deep in a restaurant, employees take great pride in where they work, and they feel a desire to do great things to help it thrive and succeed.

But they need to know what that vision and culture consists of first. If they can’t see it, they can’t aspire to live it.

Leading by example and LIVING your culture day in and day out creates a structure that employees can feel good about. They trust that the person in charge knows what the hell they’re doing.


This is so cleverly named the Windex law based on the philosophy that you want to make sure and CLEARLY DEFINE what it is you want your team to do. So it’s crystal clear. This means putting systems in place that define every process in the business.

Not systems up in your head. Written systems. With direction. And checklists. And a follow-up-checks-and-balances-process.

There can be no vagueness when it comes to what every person should be doing, or left to their own devices, your employees will scroll through Tik Tok videos on their phones and wander aimlessly like a gaggle of drunken geese.


I also call this the Colonel Jessup law (bear with me and I’ll explain).

The law of authority says: be humble, be kind, be helpful, but don’t be weak. We’ve already talked about this, but the worst thing you can do is try to please your staff in order to gain respect, or to make them like you. Being a leader comes before friendship. You can’t make everyone like you or be everyone’s friend.

I call this the Colonel Jessup law because of the scene in A Few Good Men when Colonel Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson, is talking with LT. Col. Matthew Markinson and he says to him, “We go back awhile…went to academy together, did a tour in Vietnam, but I’ve been promoted through the chain of command with greater speed and success than you have. Now, if that’s a source of tension or embarrassment for you, well, I don’t give a shit.”

The first time you see this, you sort of expect Jessup to empathize or apologize to Markinson. Now, I’m not saying you have to be a dickhead like Jack, but if you’re always being the good guy and care about what people think, they will start taking advantage of you.

 A better way to put this is it’s your job is to be the parent, the commander. Someone that makes the staff feel secure in knowing they are being taken care of. Someone who does what’s in their best interest and the interest of the business. Not what’s in the best interest of you and your insecure feelings about what they might think of you if you’re mean.

It’s time to grow up and be a big person now. Be an authority and own it.


The law of humility exists as a checks & balances against the law of authority. Just because you have a firm grasp on enforcing the standards and policies of the restaurant doesn’t mean you sit up on your high horse and bark orders as if you’re the god of all things ever created.

Being a good leader means being firm, but also releasing your ego. Admit when you make mistakes, because you will.

When you do this, your people will once again respect you for not trying to cover up your weaknesses. Be in control, but be humble.


Again, don’t get this confused with needing to be everyone’s friend, but at the same time, taking the time to connect with each member of your team is going to have a massive effect on how much they will go out of their way to do a great job for you and the business.

This means asking them questions about their personal life to find out what’s important to them so they feel like their leader cares about more than the amount of output labor they are going to receive from their employees. If you’re the hiring manager, these are questions you can ask during the bartender/server interview so you can learn about them right off the bat.

For example, inside the restaurant management masterclass, we have a lesson on how to reward your employees, and I tell a story in there about how I used to give personal rewards that were special to the person receiving it.

For instance, I’d give concert tickets to their favorite band, or favorite sport team. Or even a t-shirt of their favorite band or sports team.

Something that shows them you’re paying attention when they talk about their lives. Actions like these cement a long-term, deep and positive relationship with your staff.

These are small steps you can take to start becoming a better leader, which will directly reflect on the success of your business.

And you’ll notice I said “to start becoming a leader”. You can’t become a leader in one day, just like you can’t learn to become a great three-point shooter in one day, but if you start acting like a leader day in and day out, the shape and form of the people and thing you are leading, (which in this case is your bar or restaurant), transforms into something great.

To summarize the 7 laws:

1. The Monkey Law – Lead by example

2. The Law of Alignment – Make sure your words and actions match

3. The Law of Vision – Show them where you’re going

4. The Windex Law – Give them crystal clear instructions

5. The Law of Authority – They don’t need a friend, they need a leader

6. The Law of Humility – Be human and be willing to admit your mistakes

7. The Law of Connection – Learn who they are so they feel important

Thanks for being here. Until next time…


Dave Allred

Owner/CEO Bar Patrol

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