Four Keys to Multi-unit Leadership

In my previous role, I had the honor of supporting a great number of amazing multi-unit restaurant leaders over the course of twelve years. I learned as much from them as I hope they did from me. I think the roles of Area Director, Regional Manager, and other multi-unit roles are the most important posts in larger organizations; where strategy becomes reality.

Over the years, many General Managers and Chefs have approached me about promotion to multi-unit leadership. They always wanted to know why some people succeeded and some didn’t. Here are four key characteristics of a multi-unit leader:

Emotional Intelligence and Listening Skills

Multi-unit managers travel from restaurant to restaurant, and manager to manager, very quickly. It’s easy to think your messaging is clear, direct, and understood by everyone on your team. Check yourself. If you are doing most of the speaking, you’re probably not being heard. You have to ask questions that will uncover whether your teams hear and understand, and always verify their body language and nonverbal cues match their words.

Multi-unit managers develop the ability to read their teams. They know they are getting through, and that they are on board with direction given. Eventually Multi-unit managers develop a sixth sense, anticipating problems in advance.

Ability to Delegate Real Responsibility

This is often easier said than done for the type of leaders who make great GMs and Chefs. If your leadership is about what you can know and control and you are moving from state to state, how will you ever know what’s happening when you are aren’t around?

Making the transition from a “command and control” style of leadership to one of effective collaboration is critical to a Multi-unit Manager’s success. If there is real collaboration, you will attract Managers and Chefs who can accomplish more because you expect and inspire them to do so. Achievements will be multiplied. They will take additional responsibility, grow, and become better-connected to you and your company.

Business and Cultural Savvy

Successful Multi-unit Managers know every aspect of the finances for their area of responsibility, and also know what matters most to their people and key business partners. Often the language of Profit & Loss, Balance Sheet, Budget, and Forecast is the common tongue used to effectively speak to the varied priorities you will encounter. Fluency will empower you to represent your team’s needs when necessary, and stay on track with the strategies presented by upper management.

You have to speak to varied priorities whenever you are presenting ideas, especially challenging ones, or you will never be heard.

Raw Tenacity

Regardless of a Multi-unit Manager’s experience or level of achievement, things are going to happen that take you off course. They always do when so many levels of employees are involved. Sometimes you will just have to take the heavy fire, stay focused, stay principled and push through the challenges.

It’s not about optimism, pessimism, or realism. You will need all three of those to survive, coupled with the inner strength and tenacity to just keep moving ahead.

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Richard Ladd

About Richard Ladd

As executive recruiter, Richard thoughtfully places senior-level professionals in a variety of successful companies throughout the United States while ensuring that both clients and candidates achieve greater success and more fulfilled lives. Early in his career, Richard became Executive Chef of an award-winning post-modern restaurant concept, Rust Belt Café, and that spirit of innovation and excellence became the standard for his career. After serving as Corporate Chef at Convito Italiano and Culinary Instructor at Le Cordon Bleu, he was recruited to Nordstrom, where he progressed from Regional Chef to Regional manager and Division Manager. Ultimately, Richard was responsible for 27 restaurants in 11 states, grossing over $40 Million annually. First Job - Coffee & Pastry Cart Operator, Glenview Metra Station, age 12.