12 Steps to Operational Excellence [Resources Included]

John Paré | December 28, 2016

Follow These 12 Steps to Improve Operations in Your Restaurant

Few people understand the unique complexities that restaurateurs are faced with on a daily basis. It’s a carousel of highs and lows. No two days are alike, and the challenges never end. Restaurant operators are stretched. I am often asked, “How do I do more with less?” To this, I answer, “Processes and systems.” This sounds overly simplistic, but it’s an important requirement for restaurant success.

Think about how restaurant chains rely heavily on this principle. A chain’s business model uses consistency and predictability to duplicate the guest experience from location to location. To accomplish this, there’s a system, process, control, and check-and-balance for every last detail.

As an independent operator, you want to leverage all the unique characteristics of your local restaurant to differentiate you from chains. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t adopt some of the systems that enable them to operate efficiently and at a high level of guest satisfaction every day. To do this, several steps and operating tools are necessary.

1. Make a commitment.

The very first order of business is to make a commitment that you, your management team and key employees will incorporate periodic routines into the day-to-day management of your restaurant. Positive outcomes can only be achieved by a thorough explanation of this new behavior to your team and a non-negotiable, top-down management implementation of the practice. Your team will follow your leadership.

2. Practice regular communication.

With the constant whirlwind of daily activity, one of the greatest challenges to restaurant management success is the ability to clearly communicate standards and expectations. If possible, meet with your management team weekly to compare notes, review previous week’s progress, and plan for the future. Yes, it’s challenging to make the time, but the benefits of regular structured communication will pay off tenfold. This is the time to discuss your mission, complete with the strategy and tasks needed to improve and move the restaurant forward.

Keep your focus on assessing and measuring weekly periods (i.e. Monday thru Sunday). Managing the business week-by-week brings order and predictability to what might otherwise be reactive behavior.

Use your meeting times wisely and keep agendas simple. Have a pre-set meeting outline ready. Choose a time and place where there’ll be minimum distractions. Make the meeting short and productive, time is valuable.

3. Delegate accountability.

Restaurant owners cannot operate their restaurant alone, nor from a distance. Identify who your managers, key employees and potential up-and-coming leaders are. Define your organizational structure, complete with job titles, descriptions, and responsibilities.

Distribute accountability by department (kitchen, dining room, bar, etc.). While everyone is responsible for making the restaurant successful, in order to improve your systems, give accountability to each department head. Give clear direction and regular feedback. Let these people make mistakes to learn better proactive measures, and avoid micro-management at all costs.

When department head positions are mastered, make every effort to rotate leadership responsibilities amongst your leaders. You’ll become a great operations organization when leaders are cross-trained and have a deep understanding and empathy for one another’s roles. This is also a great way to develop a personal relationship with the entire staff.

4. Create checklists.

 Now that your management team is meeting weekly, and each member has a specific area of accountability, you’re ready to start tackling task-oriented objectives with the help of forms, manuals, and checklists. Use your manager’s log and weekly meetings to assign various tasks and continually communicate progress and objectives.Your team should easily be able to come up with a list of routine duties that need to be completed before, after and during each shift. Here are a few examples:

  • Opening Manager Checklist – some items typically found on an opening checklist will include turning off the alarm, checking the manager’s logbook for notes, conducting an opening cash audit, preparing cash drawers, review scheduled catering events, and perform a detailed unit walk-thru. 
  • Closing Manager Checklist closing duties might be to inspect cleaning duties for each front and back of the house staff member, inspecting refrigerated foods for proper storage, end-of-day reporting and deposits, and many other tasks that will allow the next shift to begin without problems.
  • Line Checks – a line check ensures the proper quality and consistency of food before the first plate is served to your guests. Line checks are customized to each concept but accomplish the same things. Before each meal period, the line is completely set for success before the shift begins. Food quality meets your standards, hot and cold foods are at optimal temperatures, and ample quantities of stock and back-up are on hand.

Be prepared to modify your checklists as you add more systems and controls. You’ll be surprised at how much your checklists will change as you customize to accommodate unique details.

 5. Be intentional about customer service.

Define your vision of a world-class customer experience at your restaurant. Use very descriptive words that create lasting images in the minds of your team members. Communicating “why” this standard and expectation is important will help staff members understand their roles in living the mission of your restaurant. Now draw up an all-encompassing guest service policy using some of these components:

  • Guest greeting – How do you want your guests to feel upon arrival through your front door? How do want to welcome them? Can you use food aromas to entice your guest’s appetite even more?
  • Cycle of guest service  Map out every phase of the guest experience, complete with time expectations. This will include server greeting, beverage delivery, ordering, food preparation and delivery, check-back, payment, and any of the other important moments throughout a dining experience.
  • Ticket times – Time is important! Set ticket times according to your guest’s expectations. Check presentation and processing can be made faster by new technology.
  • Guest complaints – No matter how great your food and service is, you’re going to experience complaints from time to time. You don’t lose guests when you make a mistake, you lose them when their complaints aren’t handled properly. Regularly teach your staff a consistent method for handling complaints, even if it’s just a slight sense that something’s not right. Good rule of thumb: never let a guest leave your restaurant unhappy, no matter what the circumstance.
  • Guest exit – Is your guest leaving happier than when they arrived? A warm and genuine “goodbye and thank you,” is the last impression your guest receives.

 Make it a point to observe from a customer’s perception, and continually review ways to improve the guest experience.

 6. Be consistent with shift meetings.

One of the best ways to improve your guest’s experience (while enhancing your reputation) is to implement daily pre-shift meetings with your staff. Use this time to keep staff continually focused on making your guests feel special, praise them for good work, and inform them about daily specials or new menu items. Most importantly: the pre-shift meeting allows you to issue daily reminders of your standards and expectations.

 7. Use order guides. 

If it’s not in place already, initiate some purchasing and receiving guidelines. One of the most useful tools is a product order guide (for food, bar and supplies), complete with par levels, on-hand amount, and a build-to-order. Properly designed and used, the order guide becomes the main tool in creating purchase orders and processing weekly inventories. If you keep inventories on a spreadsheet or inventory control software, use the order guide to record your on-hand counts, and enter the data into your program, using the order guide as a reference. When deliveries arrive, have designated personnel verify that all product is in acceptable condition and the correct quantity ordered is received.

 8. Use prep sheets.

The daily prep sheet can help you and your staff make smarter, more informed decisions of what and how much food to produce every day. Develop a prep sheet for each kitchen prep position. Let each prep person determine the usable quantities of product on hand, indicate the inventory amount on the production form and calculate how much of each product needs to be prepared.

Have the kitchen manager review the prep sheet before the work begins. Over time, your staff will recognize a regular pattern for production. Prep sheets also allow the manager to gauge the amount of time it will take to complete the tasks on the list.

 9. Conduct regular sales reviews.

Assuming that you’re able to remove yourself from small issues and details, it’s time to start implementing result-oriented systems that can be measured in terms of dollars to the bottom line, guest satisfaction levels, and staff improvement.

The restaurant business is most fun when you’re profitable, so you need a system to track your financials. Use several metrics for looking at weekly/monthly and year-over-year trends. There are many good restaurant sales tracking programs on the market that’ll keep these records easy to read and access. A custom excel spreadsheet can work just as well.

And don’t forget forecasting. Sales forecasting will allow you to write optimal labor schedules and order food products that are in line with anticipated business.

 10. Establish labor controls. 

A master schedule is a helpful tool for showing the staffing requirements for each day of the week. By referring to a weekly master schedule, department heads can verify that the proper number of staff have been scheduled for each shift.

The master schedule also serves as a budgeting tool for estimating expected labor costs. By projecting daily sales, employee schedules can then be written to match headcount with the expected volume of guests.

 Put your labor budgeting to good use. Your POS system will give you detailed labor cost reports on a daily, weekly, and period basis. Compare your daily labor cost reports to the budgeted labor cost totals from your master schedule. Daily comparisons will help management to quickly identify over/under scheduling discrepancies and proactively respond to future schedules.

 11. Conduct regular inventories. 

In order to effectively control food and beverage costs, you can’t afford to wait on a P&L report that may be several weeks old when you receive it. Food or bar cost problems have to be identified quickly so corrective action can be taken immediately. The only way to attain an accurate cost of sales is to keep a record of:

  • Sales – from your sales log
  • Purchases – record purchases by category: food, beer, wine, liquor, paper, etc. For more detailed inventory reporting, record food purchases by major category: beef, seafood, poultry, produce, dairy, frozen, dry, beverage, etc.
  • Inventory Count Sheets – designate food categories to match your purchase log. Shelf-to-sheet order guides make the physical count go faster.


To calculate the value of your physical inventory, count the quantity on hand for all food and beverage products, and then multiply the quantity by the current price of each item to arrive at the inventory value for that item. Next, add the extended values of all items counted to arrive at a total inventory value. 
It’s important to note that purchases alone do not reflect the true cost of sales. Simply dividing purchases into sales do not take into account existing inventory in your restaurant that has been paid for.

The correct formula for calculating food cost for a given period is as follows:
Food Cost = Beginning inventory value + Purchases – Ending inventory value.
Take this dollar figure and divide into food sales for the food cost percent.

 12. Create a standardized recipe manual and plate specs.

In order to ensure guest consistency, every menu item will have to follow approved recipes. This is best accomplished by creating a standardized recipe manual containing exact instructions on how you want your staff to prepare each menu item, as well as every batch recipe.

Even the simplest menu items often require several sub-recipes that are produced in batches and become part of the routine prep tasks. Record each sub recipe in the recipe manual for reference by the kitchen staff. Photograph the proper plate presentation and use as a training guide.

What’s Next?

If you were able to incorporate all of the systems listed in this plan overview, then you’re well on your way to developing a team and business that requires less reliance on you for day-to-day operational needs.

There’s still more work to be done. The good news is that you now have some systems and controls to help you be more consistent and to become more profitable. It will become significantly easier to dedicate time to such things as developing an operations manual, employee manuals, and training systems.

Good luck, and keep at it! The time you invest in this activity will be reflected in sales growth and guest satisfaction in the days and shifts to come.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THESE RESTAURANT OPERATIONS TOOLS

john-pare-director-of-business-solutionsJohn Paré is the Director of Business Solutions for Cheney Brothers. In this role, John serves as a restaurant consultant, providing comprehensive analysis of customer’s restaurant operations, and developing strategies designed to increase sales and profits. Before entering the distribution business in 2006, John worked for over 20 years in the foodservice industry, as an owner and operator of several full-service, casual themed restaurants.