What are Standard Operating Procedures, and why would it be disastrous for my restaurant not to have them?

Feb 17, 2021

In Dana Spiotta’s short story “Control,” she imagines a high-end restaurant owner’s perspective on customer service, “Although a great restaurant experience must include great food, a bad restaurant experience can be achieved through bad service alone. Ideally, service is invisible. You notice it only when something goes wrong.”


While fictional, her observation on the need to be consistent and precise in the restaurant industry rings true. Top restaurants do not gain their prestige accidentally. Behind every successful restaurant is a set of rules and standards governing the way things are done. Standard operating procedures, or SOPs, are workflow systems and expectations put into place by management to keep things running smoothly. (These are sometimes also referred to as standard operating systems.)


What do SOPs provide?

SOPs provide the answer to the question, “How do we do things at this restaurant?” Many restaurants make the fatal error of answering this question casually. At these restaurants, training usually happens by word of mouth, and these procedures are only as consistent as the person who happens to be providing the training. Instead, SOPs should be well-documented in a restaurant handbook and implemented through a restaurant training program. With written procedures, there is less confusion and more consistency among staff.


Back of House Standards

How thinly should tomatoes be sliced at your establishment? When should food supplies be thrown out? What temperature should different types of meat be cooked to? Food preparation SOPs can help keep menu items tasting consistently fresh, minimize food waste, and, most importantly, ensure food safety.


Customer Service Standards

After being seated, how quickly should a guest be greeted? Should waiters bring out waters for everyone before getting drink orders? How often should waitstaff check back? Although these questions could be answered using common sense, different interpretations could lead to varying customer service experiences, from not enough attention to way too much. To make restaurant experiences uniformly positive, set specific guidelines and expectations for customer interactions in standard operating procedures. A great way to achieve this is through a script or flow chart that can provide visuals for interacting with a guest. Restaurants should publish these charts in a restaurant handbook and make them a part of a restaurant training program.


Effective Time Management

Standard operating procedures clarify many of the inconsistencies that come up during meal service. At a restaurant without SOPs, managers will likely spend time looking out for and correcting minor employee errors in the way things are run. With the presence of SOPs, managers will be free to spend more time on the things that matter and less time on correcting staff for mistakes they shouldn’t be making.


restaurant procedures


Why would not having SOPs be disastrous to my business?

In addition to negatively impacting company culture and creating confusion, attempting to run a restaurant without SOPs could lead to some genuinely devastating outcomes for a business.


Customer Service Lawsuits

Not doing things by the book could cost a business. Some of the most common lawsuits against restaurants include slip and fall accidents, harassment, and discrimination against customers. Luckily, most of these are preventable with SOPs in place. Furthermore, having these policies outlined in writing could help clear up discrepancies down the line.


Food Poisoning Lawsuits

It is sometimes easy to forget that customers’ health and safety are on the line in the food business. Chipotle was famously sued for $25 million this past year due to food poisoning, sickening people on a large scale. Food poisoning is preventable with specific necessary food safety standards in place. Making these a part of the standard operating procedures is essential to keeping customers safe.


Poor Reviews

As of a 2016 survey, 90% of consumers say that they check online reviews before visiting a business for the first time, and 84% of people even trust online reviews as much as they trust a recommendation from a friend. Good reviews can really help grow a business. On Yelp, raising a review rating by one star equates to a 9 percent increase in revenue. Inconsistent food and service are what lead to these bad reviews. Outlining what makes an excellent customer service experience in a restaurant’s SOPs is key to keeping reviews positive and keeping restaurant guests coming back for more.


Ultimately, standard operating procedures help restaurants build a culture and brand that delivers five-star service every time. Businesses currently operating without SOPs should consider creating them, documenting them in a restaurant handbook, and implementing them through an employee training program.


For just $2.17 a day, you can take control of your restaurant with the Synergy U Restaurant Management Training platform. Our app-based e-Learning training is an easy-to-use program and contains standard operating systems you can implement across all locations. 2021 is your time to get your restaurant organized, systematized, and consistently running like a well-oiled machine.