Why Does a Restaurant Need SOPs?

Standard Operating Procedures — SOPs — are already used at your restaurant, even if you don’t know it. Learn to harness the power of intentional SOPs.

When dreaming about plans for your restaurant, you probably spent time cooking up outstanding menu items, coming up with an unforgettable vibe for your space, and thinking about how you want your front-of-house staff to make your customers feel. You probably also learned a thing or two about P&Ls, scheduling, inventory, and how to maintain a happy grease trap. 

But it’s possible that in the whirlwind of getting a restaurant off the ground and running it, too, you didn’t take the time to write down exactly how you like things to be done. 

If that’s the case, take an afternoon to build out your SOPs, or standard operating procedures. You’ll enjoy greater consistency in every area of your restaurant, from reducing food waste to promoting a better customer experience. Best of all, it’ll be easier than ever to thoroughly train new employees.

What are restaurant standard operating procedures?

Often referred to by the acronym SOP, a standard operating procedure is exactly what it sounds like: a standardized procedure for how you do a particular task in a restaurant.

Restaurants have hundreds of them. You and your staff are executing SOPs daily, every minute. For example, every time your staff greets a table, they follow a script that ensures every guest feels welcome, and that shows off your specific brand of hospitality. Every time you build a burger in the kitchen with a bun, a patty, cheese, lettuce, tomato, three pickles, and aioli on the top bun, that’s an SOP at work, too. It’s your restaurant’s specific way of building a burger so it looks and tastes just like you want it to. SOPs help your restaurant run like a well-oiled machine.

However, SOPs are useless without great communication, training, documentation, and implementation. In many restaurants, SOPs aren’t well-documented. Instead, staff members are trained to do things a certain way, and it's assumed that everybody knows “this is how we do things here.”

Miscommunications can happen in a fast-paced restaurant, especially if you’ve been dealing with the incredibly high turnover in the restaurant industry right now. Well-documented SOPs built into your employee manual, and available for reference as a separate SOPs bible, give a solid backbone to your training program.

Why restaurant standard operating procedures matter

Like Alton Brown says, “Organization will set you free.” If you’ve got documented, measurable, iron-clad systems in place, you’ll be free to do the work you wanted to do when you first opened your restaurant — chat with guests, cook the occasional special, and create an unforgettable experience for your customers.

Standard operating procedures matter because they allow you to clearly outline your expectations and standards for all the different elements of your restaurant operation and make sure every shift runs as smoothly as possible. Your staff will appreciate the open communication, because there’s nothing worse than trying to figure out the right way to do something in the middle of a dinner rush. 

Get staff input when creating SOPs

Creating SOPs is not about making your staff into robots, or about being closed off to different ways of doing things. You’re setting the standards, not making laws. Make it clear to your staff when you’re implementing new SOPs that there’s opportunity for feedback and creativity on their part. 

Ask for your staff’s input when building your SOPs. See if they have a better, cheaper, or more efficient way of doing something. After all, your servers are the ones facing hundreds of customers each night, and your cooks are the ones actually standing in front of the flattop for hours. 

Get as much input as you can from as many staff members as you can when building your SOPs, and they won’t feel like rules coming from the boss, but like guidelines for restaurant success that the staff themselves helped build. 

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What can SOPs do for your restaurant?

Create consistency 

How often do you hear a restaurant owner say, “I like [x task] done this way, but most of my staff do it that way.” It’s a common issue that comes from improper training and underused SOPs. If your standards and expectations haven’t been clearly outlined, it’s easy for things to get murky.

SOPs are even helpful for tasks that seem insignificant. For example, when your server refills a guest’s water glass, do they: 

  • bring a whole new glass?

  • pour from a pitcher?

  • grab their glass and refill it in the back?

  • ask them to remove the straw first?

  • bring a new straw?

Whatever works best for your restaurant is up to you, but make sure every staff member knows which method you prefer — and make sure you write it down. When your expectations are documented, there’s no confusion, no miscommunication, and you’ll start to see more consistency throughout your restaurant. 

To keep things in order, create several one-page SOPs and collect them in a binder organized by staff position.

Reduce food waste, improve food taste

If you were to peek into 10 different restaurant kitchens across your city, chances are you’d find 10 different ways of preparing rice, cutting carrots, and griddling a sandwich. That’s why SOPs are so helpful in the back of house; they show your staff how you want things done in your specific restaurant. They can also be hugely impactful in terms of reducing costly food waste.

When you have SOPs in place, you can be sure that when a prep cook is slicing an onion into half-moons, they’re only discarding the tough outer layer and then slicing down to the root. You can be sure that your line cooks are using only one half-cup ladleful of seafood stock per order of mussels. You can be sure that your chef only orders a new box of frozen shrimp when the last one in stock has been opened. 

This also means that your food will be more consistently delicious across the board. Your regulars will appreciate it. 

Fix a problem in one go

With SOPs and the consistency they provide across your team, you can fix recurring issues with one meeting and one SOP adjustment. Say that you know all your staff are greeting guests with “hi, welcome to [restaurant name], can I get you started with a drink?” But, you’ve realized that guests respond better to a simpler greeting without a drink offer right away. Just change the standard, tell your staff about the change, and see how it impacts your guest experience. 

SOPs also make inconsistencies stick out like a sore thumb, which means they’re easier to fix. Did a new server give out straws with every drink, when your SOPs say that you should only provide a straw when requested? You’ll notice it quickly, and be able to remind your server of why you’ve chosen to set that straw policy.

Free up managers to effectively manage staff

SOPs can markedly reduce how much time your managers must dedicate to looking out for mistakes and inefficiencies. This frees them up to implement incentive programs, conduct regular check-ins with staff members, prepare staff meals, and test out new management models  — which, in turn, can all contribute to greater employee retention.

Reduce labor cost through easy cross-training

With SOPs in place, you can more easily train your best staff on how to do everything in the restaurant — or, at least, where to look if they’re unsure. If you have to put a pasta cook on the grill station because someone called in sick, you’ll be able to give them a quick run-through of the grill station SOPs before the rush. 

To be even more proactive, you can use your SOPs as the basis for establishing a cross-training program. The more you teach your staff, the greater their opportunities for growth, and the longer they’ll be an asset to your team.

When you have SOPs in place, you can be sure that when a prep cook is slicing an onion into half-moons, they’re only discarding the tough outer layer and then slicing down to the root. You can be sure that your line cooks are using only one half-cup ladleful of seafood stock per order of mussels. You can be sure that your chef only orders a new box of frozen shrimp when the last one in stock has been opened.


Sitting down and writing out all your expectations for every task in the restaurant might sound daunting. But by spending one (or two) afternoons now, you’ll help your restaurant run like a well-oiled machine indefinitely — without you having to hover over your staff during every shift. Well-documented and easy-to-reference SOPs can get you back to the part of your job you love: making sure both your staff and customers leave your restaurant happy every night. 

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