Restaurant general managers have one of the toughest jobs in the industry. The typical GM wears a lot of hats, works long hours—and may even feel like the success of the whole operation rests on their shoulders. That means no matter how passionate they are about hospitality, the risk of burnout in GMs is real, and it happens all the time.
Experienced operators know it’s not easy to find a GM who has the skill set and gumption to do the job well, so when you find one who’s worth their salt, it’s important to do everything possible to set them up for success and keep burnout at bay.
Here’s why GM burnout is so prevalent—plus, four ways to set yours up for success so they’ll be more likely to stick around for the long haul.
Why GMs Burn Out
Whether you’re running a small mom-and-pop or fast-growing franchise, the common theme for GMs is that they’re pulled in a lot of directions, all at once.
Many GMs oversee day-to-day operational tasks like recruiting, retention, and training; purchasing and inventory management; maintaining guest satisfaction; creating and enforcing policies and standard operating procedures—the list goes on (and on). They’re often involved in higher-level management, too: strategy setting, growth planning, financial reporting.
While that’s a lot for one person to carry, it’s not just the volume of work that makes it tough on GMs; it’s the fact that many GMs are operating in a silo.
“Unless you’re in a huge hierarchy, you’re essentially in an unmanaged position,” says Ken McGarrie, the founder of Korgen Hospitality and author of The Surprise Restaurant Manager. “You might not be recognized until it’s in the negative, when problems start popping up.”
It can be tricky for operators to get ahead of burnout because GMs think they can’t, or shouldn’t, let on.
“Everyone just wants to do a good job and impress their employer, so they start to take on everything they possibly can,” adds Derek Langford, a regional GM at Howl at the Moon, a Chicago-based piano bar and live music venue chain. “Some people don’t know how to say, ‘I’m biting off more than I can chew.’”
Four Ways to Prevent GM Burnout
While it’s important to give your GMs the opportunity to speak up when they’re feeling the burn, it’s even better if you can keep them from ever getting to that point. Here are a few tips for preventing burnout before your GM has one foot out the door.
1. Don’t assume things are great
Just because you’re not hearing from your GM doesn’t mean they’re keeping their head above water. It’s all too easy for communication to drop off when things seem to be going well—which makes it much harder to anticipate issues before they turn into real problems.
In addition to the more topical one-off calls or emails you might have throughout the week, make it clear to your GM that you have an open-door policy—or better yet: institute regular one-on-ones. You can structure this time as a kind of “progress report,” which gives you insight into overall operations and performance, while also helping to prevent day-to-day micromanaging. Encourage them to share challenges and frustrations, then come up with a plan to tackle those together.
These check-ins can also be a way for GMs to highlight their own successes.
“Whether it’s daily or weekly, encourage them to talk about what they have accomplished and what they’re looking to achieve,” McGarrie says.
2. Foster their career development
For any employer, setting your employees up for success includes caring about their professional development. Take the time to learn what your GM wants out of their career. Why did they get into hospitality? What do they want out of it? What do they see as the next step? Not only does your interest in their aspirations nurture a healthy working relationship; it also helps reframe their day-to-day challenges, so they have a “North Star” to work toward.
According to McGarrie, operators should be giving GMs the skills and space they need to essentially be an entrepreneur.
“GMs should understand marketing, operations, cost controls, P&Ls—all the things that need to be done to make the business successful,” McGarrie says. “Ownership sometimes makes the mistake of not sharing that, which can keep GMs from learning, growing and moving on to regional GM, director of operations, or whatever that next step may be.”
3. Give them the right tools
Restaurants are increasingly embracing technology to automate what they can. In addition to a robust POS system, investing in tools that digitize manual tasks like tip distribution or inventory management can drastically cut down on inefficiencies and provide real-time insights for better business decisions—all while giving your GMs the ability to focus on tasks that can’t be automated.
“GMs absolutely have to be there for their staff,” Langford says. “The people element requires their constant attention. Without the right technology to streamline operations, it’s hard to lead or support employees in the moment.”
In the spirit of allowing your GM to wear the entrepreneur hat: Consider giving them the freedom to select (or re-evaluate) your tech stack, or at least be involved in the decision-making. Their perspective is invaluable because they’re often closer to the daily pain points that you need your tech to address.
4. Require work-life balance
It’s not uncommon for managers to work six days a week, and then hold meetings on the seventh. Or maybe they feel like they need to come in for every little plumbing leak or kitchen fiasco. In reality, there’s no reason for GMs to be in the restaurant for 60-plus hours a week.
Yes, work-life balance is a tired term—but in hospitality unfortunately, it often falls by the wayside. Operators can keep that from happening by not just encouraging but requiring GMs to have a life outside of the restaurant. That might look like instituting a PTO policy where your GM has to take a certain number of personal days; enforcing regular working hours; or getting specific about what constitutes a “real” emergency that calls for a GM to go in after-hours.
“I often advise any GM to come up with preset extracurricular activities every week, whether it’s church on Sunday, pickleball on Wednesdays, kids’ soccer games,” McGarrie says. “It’s way too easy to lose perspective and start thinking you need to be there all the time.”
This also helps GMs get comfortable with delegating—and in turn, allows other team members to take on more responsibility and develop new skills.
The GM role isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s no surprise that managers often find themselves mentally and physically exhausted. But a job well done and job satisfaction shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. With the right level of communication, resources and support, operators have the power to ensure their GMs are truly successful: that is effective, efficient and happy.
And when your GM succeeds? Everyone wins.
Brian Hassan is the co-founder and co-CEO of Kickfin. Ranked the No. 1 tip distribution software, Kickfin gives restaurant teams the power to send instant, cashless tip payouts directly to their employees’ bank of choice, 24/7/365.