How to Improve Restaurant Operations

By: Allie Van Duyne

8 Minute Read

Nov 06, 2018

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Restaurant Operations

When it comes to improving restaurant operations, several things come to mind: cleaning schedules, side work, food safety guidelines, daily sales reporting, and more.

All of this may seem daunting, especially if you’re a new restaurateur or simply someone researching new ways to improve your restaurant. But adopting just one of the techniques outlined below can drastically improve restaurant operations.

We asked six restaurant experts this one question:

Question: When 59% of restaurants fail, it's crucial for restaurants to streamline their restaurant operations, creating processes so it can run smoothly day and night. What is one (1) tip/tactic that operators can implement to improve their restaurant operations?

You can't afford to ignore advice about improving your restaurant. Read on for six tips from restaurant experts about how to streamline your restaurant operations.

managing a restaurant

Chef Chris Hill
New Book:
"Making the Cut"

1. Chef Chris Hill: Make Your Mission Clear

First, if at all possible, have these streamlines and processes in place on day one and know that the success of your restaurant is dependent on them.

Second, while it is so important to have processes and procedures, it's equally important that your staff feels like they have a certain sense of autonomy. The key is finding a balance between buy-in and autonomy from your staff, so they feel like they have some sort of say over the finished product.

I've found success in doing that by enlisting and encouraging help with specials, seeking suggestions for new menu ideas, and including employees in the actual "process" of putting these processes in place. After all, they are the ones that will be carrying them out on a daily basis, whether that be a recipe or a manager's closing checklist. At the end of the day, it's about getting your team to buy into the mission, and the only way to get them to really do that is to include them in the bigger mission and make each person feel like they are a valued member of the organization. 

restaurant managers

Peter Christie
Restaurant Consultant

2. Peter Christie: Work "On" Not "In" Your Restaurant

The restaurateur who doesn’t have controls is the one who needs them most! Cash management, inventory, yields, server productivity, purchasing and pricing, and labor management are just a few controls you need. Other systems you should implement are loyalty programs, customer relationship management, marketing, social media, menu engineering and culture building. All of these components contribute to success in the restaurant business.

However, the one single tip that I can give restaurateurs is to allow themselves time to work “on” their business instead of “in” their business. Yes, it’s important to be on site and to observe your customers’ reactions and your team’s efforts. But far too often, restaurateurs do not give themselves the time to sit back, analyze, and plan.

If you don’t have set restaurant goals, you'll be going in circles. Taking the time to analyze the data that is available, to plan and to set up systems that ensure profitability, is time that is very well spent. You can start today by creating one new directional priority, then assigning ownership and creating a timeline for completion. You will be on your way to success.

restaurant systems

David Scott Peters

3. David Scott Peters: Start Recipe Costing Cards

The critical system for running a profitable restaurant is recipe costing cards. Recipe costing cards tell you the cost of every item on your menu, what your restaurant’s ideal food cost is, what over portioning looks like, how much food to order, and how to re-engineer your menu so you’re selling the most profitable items most often. Recipe costing cards also allow you to reduce the amount of food on your shelves that might otherwise be spoiled, wasted or stolen.

I find that in the restaurant industry, owners and operators often wing it, guessing at how much to price their menu items. No other business does that!

Take a tire store for example. A tire store owner knows how much every tire costs and how much to sell it for to make money. Recipe costing cards provide restaurant owners with this same information so they can accurately price their menus for profitability and keep their doors open for a long time.

restaurants management

Donald Burns

4. Donald Burns: Understand the "Why" Of Your Systems

Use your systems. I mean, really use them! Setting up systems is relatively easy. The issues come when those systems are not used 100%. Make sure your team is properly trained and understand the “why” of each system. You can tell them to (as Nike would say) just do it. Chances are, they will comply out of fear of losing their job, but if they're not invested in the process, then the process will become broken.

The “carrot or stick” motivation is an outdated theory that many are finding does not work well with the restaurant millennials. Here are some quick tips to ensure your systems are running correctly:

  • Train, train, train on the proper way to use the system. Prep lists are often just a written down list on a whiteboard in the kitchen based on what the manager has estimated. Keeping track of pars and usage will help dial in production to a science.
  • Explain the why. Waste sheets can really help understand what’s going on with purchasing, mistakes, and maybe where the team needs more training. Your team has to know the waste sheet is a tool for improvement, not a punishment.
  • Inspect what you expect. Your team will be more likely to follow systems if they know you are checking them. Give them praise and recognize when they help fine tune operations that bring you closer to your goals. There is nothing quite as powerful as saying “thank you” to a team member for taking care of business.

restaurant manager

Ken Burgin

5. Ken Burgin: Keep Your Bookkeeping in Check

Integrating all your financial information-POS sales data, online sales, payroll, supplier payments and a host of other costs - can be a pain. Modern online bookkeeping systems can make a huge difference to how this is done, and in real time. Leading services like Quickbooks, Xero, MYOB and others now allow bank and credit card statements to be ‘fed’ into them. Plus leading POS, payroll, and scheduling systems have integrations. Even invoices can be scanned and read into some services, avoiding extra data entry.

Instead of bookkeeping giving you "rear mirror" reports (what happened last month), modern systems bring together all your financials in a real-time dashboard. This can also eliminate much of the traditional bookkeeper work. They'll still have a role, but not for manual entry; their time can be better spent on auditing, analysis, and reporting. Check your bookkeeping statistics every morning and have a complete view of how your business is doing. Knowledge is power; when you have accurate, timely figures, you are back in control.

what does an operations manager do

Yi Chen
VP Product, Toast
Prior Restaurant Management Experience

6. Yi Chen: Staff Well & Simplify Your Menu

Adopt the philosophy of never having empty hands. The reason for this is to decrease the number of trips back and forth from the kitchen. Keeping this policy can allow you to manage more tables and accrue higher gratuity. This process is especially true for servers who have to bus their own tables. By constantly removing used plates, you can clean tables faster, keep tables organized, and keep customers happy.

The second tip I have is to simplify, simplify, and simplify. Having smaller menus has many advantages. First, it simplifies the inventory you have to buy, maintain, and manage. This cuts down on waste and spoilage, freeing up space in your freezer and coolers. This also reduces inventory carrying costs and the cost to maintain fresh or frozen food. In addition to cost savings, the manager also has more freedom to rotate the best items, have specials and offers to stay interesting and relevant, and create marketing opportunities.

For example, instead of having to maintain and make half a dozen different types of dumplings, a restaurant that I worked with changed the menu to only offer a few options. This simplified the inventory and prep process and didn't cause any decrease in sales. We then took the extra dumplings and hosted a special dumpling event to pack the house. The dumplings were freshly prepared because we knew the demand the next day and customers had a great time enjoying something different that wasn't offered all the time. I think this is a great process to decrease complexity of operations and open the door to customer engagement.

Manage more tables and accrue higher gratuity with the policy of never having empty hands.

Yi Chen

VP of Product

Your Turn: Share Your Restaurant Operations Secrets

Many restaurateurs have spent years fine-tuning the right controls and systems to streamline their restaurant operations. Many more restaurateurs are guarded about these restaurant operations "secrets."

However, rather than viewing other restaurants as the competition, restaurateurs can learn valuable lessons from fellow operators.

In this community of restaurateurs, many of you have opinions about how to run a restaurant successfully and efficiently. Share your experiences in the comments below so other restaurateurs, new and old, can learn how to improve their restaurant operations! And if you haven't already, you can join our community by subscribing at the top of this post.

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