When you hear somebody throw around a fancy term like "restaurant standard operating procedures," that’s great and all, but I bet you just want to get more customers in your restaurant.
If you are the creative type of restaurateur who just loves to manage a restaurant as events arise, you are probably going to hate this topic. But trust me - you need to keep reading.
A Prelude: Why Restaurant Standard Operating Procedures Matter
Like my favorite food network television personality Alton Brown famously says, “Organization will set you free.” It’s not until your restaurant is so well organized with documented, measurable systems, as well as reliable standard operating procedures, that you can truly be free to do the work you want to be doing - the work you were put on this earth to do.
If you are that kind of "go with the flow" person, then - as I already mentioned - you will probably hate this article and its conclusion.
However, you will also hate the time that is expected of you doing paperwork or dealing with all the “boring” stuff it takes to run a successful restaurant.
So just for the next few minutes, imagine a world when all the expectations in your restaurant are organized, systematized, and automatically happening with accuracy on a regular basis. This can be your restaurant. You just need the right operating procedures!
What Are Restaurant Standard Operating Procedures?
Often referred to as an SOP, a restaurant standard operating procedure is exactly what it sounds like…a standardized procedure for operating (or a way of doing) something.
In restaurants, we have hundreds of them. You and your staff are executing SOPs daily, every minute. Every time your staff greets a table, they are following a script.
That is an SOP.
Every time you build a burger in the kitchen with bun, burger, cheese, lettuce, tomato, three pickles, and aioli on the top bun, that is an SOP. They help your restaurant run like a well-oiled machine.
In many restaurants, these SOPs are not documented. Instead, they are just “trained,” and it's assumed that everybody knows “that is how we do things here.”
I, however, will challenge you on that. I will say that if it’s not documented, then that so-called sop is as good as nothing.
Practice What You Preach
Recently, I was working with a restaurant as a client. Every time I asked a question about a process I saw, their response was, “I like it done that way, but some servers/cooks do it differently.” We literally spent the entire week documenting exactly what the new standards were for everything.
We called it Jake’s Way (because the owners name was Jake - get it?). By the time I left, all the staff and managers knew exactly what was expected of them.
For example, I asked Jake how he wanted staff to refill a guest’s drinks?
- Do you bring a whole new glass?
- Do you pour from a pitcher?
- Do you grab their glass and take it in the back?
- Do you ask them to remove the straw?
- Do you bring them a new straw?
I am not here to tell you which method is right for your restaurant, but I will tell you there needs to be a documented SOP for that.
This way, everbody knows that at Jake’s we do it exactly this way.
For your restaurant, I suggest you create a bunch of these one-page SOPs and then you can organize them into a binder by positions.
(Yes, I have an SOP for how to create SOPs and you can learn a lot more about it and even download my template for free here.)
I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For SOPs!
I get it - you don’t want to be too structured and have all kinds of paperwork - you just want to be more flexible.
The reality is that the freedom you seek is a fantasy. It exists, but it exists only after structure is in place. Let's look at another example.
My clients in New Jersey run an amazing ice cream scoop shop and diner. They serve a super-premium, high quality ice cream with creative flavors.
In fact, so creative that they can’t stop themselves. They offer over 40 flavors! However, they only can display 32.
With so many options, it takes people longer than it should to decide. Heck, even the staff doesn’t even know what they have sometimes. Without a system, they just make flavors on a whim and offer them.
So after months and months of begging them to systemize this, they finally conceded. We agreed on the following:
- They will have 24 standard flavors with 6 on rotation.
- Of the 6 on rotation 3 will be seasonally changed on the first of each month.
- The other 3 will rotate based on a list.
After just a couple weeks of their new system, they noticed that customers are more satisfied, move through the line faster, and are spending more per visit.
Why is this? Because of this SOP...
- Staff can make better suggestions.
- They know what they have, what will be next, and when it will be available.
- They can spend time enhancing the guest experience instead of looking for more and more flavors.
- Their production labor cost has fallen, their inventory has shrunk, and their website is now accurate.
All of this because they introduced a restaurant SOP for how they maintain flavor selections.
The best part is their owner is happy with this new system. He is coming up with all kinds of new ideas because he has freed himself form the daily chaos of reminding staff what to make, holding their hand, dealing with over-production of new flavors, adding them to the rotation, and letting the staff handle the rest.
Do You Operate a Business or a Restaurant?
What’s the difference? A restaurant needs an operator to run smoothly. A business runs smoothly on systems.
AKA Standard Operating Procedures.
Ready to up your restaurant management skills to a new level?