6 Key Management Lessons I've Learned From Running a Restaurant (That You Can Use Too)

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6 Key Management Lessons to Be a Better Leader

Management is a challenge, but for those with a passion for leadership, becoming a better manager is something they thrive on. As a restaurant owner, I am faced with challenges every day. Instead of heightening my anxiety, I have learned to breathe through these challenges and appreciate how each one teaches me a lesson. Here are the six key management lessons I’ve learned from running my first restaurant, zest.


1. Someone is always watching you


In college, I was told by one of my mentors, “someone is always watching you.” This statement could not be more true as a manager. Whether it is a customer in the store or another employee, someone is always watching how you are as a manager. You have to smile on your worst days, stand tall on your tired days, and keep busy at all times. Every day, I’m setting an example for how I would like my employees to act towards one another and customers. With our bright green walls, chalk menus, and vibrant decor, zest is meant to feel welcoming, happy, and homey. I also want to ensure that every customer who walks in feels like they are important and help them have a great day.


Related: Coaches' Tips: Three Ways You Can Deliver WOW Customer Service Now


2. Develop relationships


This may be counterintuitive to traditional management styles, but I like to develop close relationships with my employees, who I call my team. Several were at my wedding, and one was even in my bridal party. There should be a strict line between “work mode” and “social time”, but having a relationship with my team makes it easier to praise them on their best days and assist them on the days they are slacking. It also creates open and honest communication among us. I love to hear how their weekend went, help them focus on having a positive day at work, and understand why they want to be here. 

Gallup manager team engagement study

3. Encourage your team’s growth


For many at zest, this is a growth job or a launching point into their college or professional careers. At the end of this summer, three employees, who were here from the start, moved onto their next chapters. I cried because I was losing amazing employees. Then, happy tears came. I felt so proud to see them grow from teens to young adults, on their way to pursue college and full-time careers. I remember one of those employees applied by sending an email stating that even though she was fifteen and had no work experience, she was passionate about health and hard work. Including her, many of my team members grew so much in this job, and I hope the lessons they learned about customer service, being a part of a team and navigating through multiple tasks at once will last them a lifetime.



4. Have thick skin


When it comes down to it, being the manager means you are in charge of giving and receiving both positive and negative feedback. If a customer complains, you have to be willing to listen and understand where they are coming from, even if you were not the one who caused their dislike. Then you have to have the discretion to know what to do with that feedback - do you make changes to the menu? Relay the information to your team? Be clearer on your website? And if an employee is doing something wrong, you have to be able to tell them in a way that 1) improves their performance and 2) reduces tension and resistance. Having those hard conversations is a learned skill, but it pays off in the way you and your team handles and communicates about challenges. Having a thick skin is especially needed when you develop a close relationship with your team (see #2).

Gallup less likely to feel team employee burnout


5. Trust your team


As a “Type A” individual, “strong delegator” was never a personality trait that was on my radar. I always voted on individual work versus a group project, always wanted to figure out the task without the help of others and would have rather worked extra hours rather than ask for help to shorten the workload. I was in for an eye-opening experience during the first few weeks of even planning to open my restaurant.

zest new jersey luciana gencarelli

Before I opened the physical location, I was preparing meals and baked goods for customers in a commercial kitchen after a “normal” day at a 9-5 job. One evening my phone rang, it was the Health Department, and they told me that my restaurant would need another sink put in to pass inspection. I remember hanging up, looking at all of the ingredients scattered around me, crying, and almost wanting to give up.


Where would I fit another sink? I already had three! How would I open in time?


I had to ask for help, so I called my father. He calmed me down and assured me to trust that the construction team would be able to figure it out. At that moment I realized my new “normal” was going to be long days, resolving unexpected problems every day and asking for help. Without trusting my team, this would never be possible. Find people who you not only want to work with but that you can trust will care enough to get the job done right and as thoroughly as you would. It’s much easier said than done, but they do exist! When you find them, hold on tight!


Related: People Are Leaving Faster Than You Can Hire - Discover the Truth Around It


6. Love what you do


zest new jersey luciana tj gencarelli

You’ve definitely heard the old saying “Love what you do, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Yes, yes and yes!


My husband and I worked the day before our wedding. We only closed the day of the wedding and even stopped by the cafe that day for pictures. The day after our wedding, we went back, excited to see our customers and team. Instead of taking a honeymoon right away, we returned to work, and we were happy to do it!


Being covered in flour and peanut butter after a 12+ hour day is not glamorous, but being able to step back and feel proud is more than enough to confirm that I love what I do. Feeding customers delicious and nutritious food and watching my team grow both personally and professionally confirm this too. I get to see the impact zest makes on not just myself but on my team and the community.  To be a successful manager, you must love what you do and be proud of how you do it. Be passionate about your work; never stop learning and wanting more and never, ever give up!


See how being a better leader and having a positive work culture can affect the happiness of your employees and your business' ROI: 





About the Author

Luciana Gencarelli (Contuzzi)

Luciana Gencarelli (Contuzzi) is the founder of zest and a born entrepreneur. Luciana graduated from Seton Hall University with a Bachelor's Degree in Business in December 2013. After quitting her first full-time job after just six months, she took the leap to pursue her passions and started zest, an eatery that combines her Italian heritage with the holistic powers of food and nutrition. Luciana and her husband TJ now run zest with loads of smiling, positive energy and are happy to share their lessons learned on health and wellness, customer service, and management.


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