Who is in Charge Here?

Tim Doolittle

Hierarchy in restaurant environments sometimes becomes a battle of wills.  Whomever thinks they won, the staff and guests are the losers.

Many of the restaurants I have worked in have been military-like in their discipline and structure of their management.  Some were a literal “free-for-all”. I will let you guess which places were more successful in their efforts and their bottom line. Typically, the less managed staff who were fighting for control were the product of either an absentee owner, or worked for someone who simply was not interested in doing their job. Whether chef, manager or owner we all have an obligation to lead our staff.  Beyond that, we have an obligation to lead with strength, passion, understanding and compassion. Finding these qualities within ourselves is often more difficult than actually putting them into practice.  Finding the balance between these traits can become second nature, or it can be a constant tug-of-war between logic and emotion.  Better this battle be internal to one person, rather than outward for all to see. Below are some of the guidelines I have used to structure staff, both management and hourly.


-Set clear boundaries for all involved

-Give each person defined responsibilities

-Show appreciation often

-Keep tasks/responsibilities within the skill level of each person

-Disagreements need mediation, not regulation

-Encourage staff development

-Offer incentives (financial or other)

-Participate in operations

-Lead by example


If we can find the discipline and wisdom to operate our businesses as a sergeant runs his platoon, we will find some of our soldiers are assets, some are liabilities. The most rewarding professional experiences I have had were environments where I was held to a high standard, by people with high standards for themselves. A little fear of failure, a lot of pride, and a strong leader are a good mix to bring staff together and create an enviable work ethic that will benefit your guests and your business.

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