DISCLAIMER: This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal, accounting, tax, HR, or other professional advice. You are responsible for your own compliance with laws and regulations. You should contact your attorney or other relevant advisor for advice specific to your circumstances.
As they say, “There’s more than one way to cook an egg.”
As a restaurant owner, you know there's definitely a best way to cook that egg. You know that you’ll be doing it dozens, if not hundreds of times per day. You’ve spent your career ensuring that your customers have the same best-cooked egg every day.
Your restaurant has a way of doing things. When things go right, you need to replicate that. When they go awry, you need to identify how to avoid those mistakes.
An operations manual can help you do just that. While not as interesting to write as a menu, a restaurant operations manual is no less important to how you run your business.
What are restaurant operations?
The operations of a restaurant are everything you do. From how you set the table, the font you use for signage, and even the preferred background for Instagram posts. All of those decisions set the tone of your restaurant.
The steps you make to achieve that tone are your standard operating procedures. Those are referred to by their acronym – SOP. These SOPs make returning to a favorite restaurant so comforting.
Why? Because they’re consistent! In some cases, these pillars of consistency depend on one person or a tiny, long-term team. Of course, chaining yourself to your operation isn’t a healthy decision for you or your restaurant's future.
In a perfect world, your restaurant is reliable because your SOPs are well thought out and communicated to your teams. They make training new staff easier. They become habits that allow team members to focus on what matters most–serving your guests.
What is a restaurant operations manual?
A restaurant operations manual lays out the vision of your restaurant. How do you want to treat your guests? How do you want to treat your people? What are your policies on food sourcing? Food handling and safety? Maintenance?
It sounds like a lot. And, it is. But, those SOPs are already happening. Your restaurant operations manual is just where you write them down.
SOPs live in a restaurant operations manual. You can’t rely on the procedures and guidelines for running the restaurant to be passed along via word of mouth. Putting these steps onto a shared document ensures this crucial information is available and, more importantly, used.
The importance of a restaurant operations manual
Restaurants can quickly turn into an exercise for putting out fires. A restaurant operations manual is fire prevention. You’ve established SOPs that work for you, your team, and your guests. Write them down and use them. They’ll keep everyone on the same page and in the same direction. Guests will count on that consistency.
How to write a restaurant operations manual
1. Decide what to include
Your restaurant is unique. Even a multi-unit restaurant group should have a basic operations manual that caters to every location.
What you include in your operation manual is up to you. Below are some great places to start. Add and subtract as your team sees fit. Remember - the way you prioritize these points says a lot about the culture of your restaurant.
Staffing and service model logistics
This aspect of your manual lays out how you want to staff the restaurant. Think about various staff positions and how many you’d like to have. Envision the best-case scenario. But, as we well know, that’s never the case. So, spell out how your operation can absorb those day-to-day realities.
Service logistics also illustrate how your guests interact with your restaurant. These logistics incorporate everything from where guests enter, how they’re greeted, to how they pay their bills. As with staffing, things are rarely perfect. Provide options for flexibility that won’t negatively impact your guests.
Inventory and sourcing
A restaurant going through the trouble of writing an operations manual is probably already doing inventory. Yet, an accurate inventory is crucial. How and when you do that count is important. Your inventory SOPs should ensure accuracy but not depend on the same person doing that every time.
The same goes for sourcing. Those ordering details cannot live in your head. Provide a list of vendors and suppliers. Be sure to include contact details (salesperson, website, phone number,) how to place an order (via phone, website, app,) and updated pars.
An operations manual isn’t a recipe book. This manual should be about how you handle food as it enters your restaurant. Have a process for checking in orders. Train team members to put food and supplies away immediately and correctly.
There are also general SOPs for plating and packaging food as it leaves the kitchen. In addition, consider adding SOPs for disposing of food - e.a. how to deal with leftovers and where to document spoilage or breakage.
Maintenance and cleaning procedures
Great restaurants are clean restaurants. Maintaining that standard is a huge undertaking. It takes a team to pull that off. Divide this labor and define what to clean, when to clean it, and who will do the cleaning. Consider your entire “property” — parking spaces, sidewalks, windows, ceiling fans, hoods, bathrooms, stock rooms, staff areas. All of these spaces matter when assessing your restaurant’s cleanliness.
One common operation manual pitfalls are checklists. In this case, a checklist is a great solution. Keep them specific and updated.
Accounting and bookkeeping
Controlling your numbers is knowing your business. Keeping that consistency is so important. Juggling multiple software systems makes these steps convoluted. Using the right software solves those headaches. Be sure to include cash handling and tip-out protocols as well
This is the rare instance where many restaurants are following the same SOPs. Resources for this are plentiful.
This is a great chance to engage with your local food safety oversight. They can provide you with a ton of this information as a head start. It’s a smart move to introduce yourself to the sanitarian before they show up for an inspection too. They’re a resource – use them.
Your food safety materials are also a great place to place chemical safety data sheets. Those inspectors will love your restaurant for having those in such a prominent document.
You can’t operate your restaurant without it. Using the proper hardware and software might be your most important SOP. Use this section of the operations manual to remind team members how to access what they need – how to update changes to the menu, process sales when the internet is down, clock out, and clock in protocols.
Restaurant technologies have come a long way and provide valuable information to make the best decisions. Ensure your team is using your technology to its full extent.
2. Draft the guide
No one-size-fits-all operations manual exists. It’s so specific for every restaurant. Creating it all at once is too overwhelming - your days are too full to take on such a massive task.
So, take one of the sections from above and work on one SOP at a time. Don’t forget to get help from your team. This document is worth every second you spend drafting it!
3. Work with your team
You’re in charge, but you can’t do it alone. You can’t see all of the SOPs that exist throughout your restaurant. Enlist other managers, trainers, and trusted team members to help draft your manual. The dialogue will lead to SOPs with a broader point of view.
Also, any time you can engage team members to have a stake in the operation, it’ll be appreciated. Most importantly, this is a chance for you to acknowledge and thank the folks who’ve created successful SOPs by doing their job so well.
4. Publish and promote
Now that you have an operations manual, don’t let it linger on a clipboard in the office. Put it into action! It’s an integral part of your training manual and employee handbook. Make this a part of the onboarding of new hires. And, make sure to set an example by using it for yourself.
5. Update often
An operations manual is a living document. It needs to grow and change right along with the restaurant. Using your operations manual allows you to see where updates are necessary. Make those edits as you see them. It’s so much easier to adjust this in minor corrections than a massive redo.
Setting the Tone
The foundation of your restaurant isn’t your menu - It’s your operations manual.
You do things well. Your team does things well. Those successful habits are what make your restaurant unique. Call those habits SOPs. Collect them in an operations manual. Share that with your team and let them help run your restaurant how you need it to run.