Adhering to Systems Creates Efficiency

Systems / Procedures

Running a Restaurant is Hard

Orders are almost completely customizable and need to be filled in real time.  Your customer occupies the same space where goods are produced and service is delivered.  Your operation consists of a kitchen, a dining room and a bar, three separate and distinct operating units, each staffed by very different types of individuals.  Each unit delivers very different output in very different ways yet is reliant on the others and united in a common goal.

It can seem like a miracle that bars and restaurants are able to deliver the goods; but so many do.  Good facilities, great product and exceptional people are critical success factors and given the attention and effort they deserve.  The systems you have in place are equally important.  They are the map by which your operating units navigate and the critical link that connects them.  Regrettably, they are often neglected or at times forgotten, even by the most talented and attentive managers.  Here’s why that’s a mistake and how attention and adherence to the systems by which you operate makes you even better.

What a System Is

A system is a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done. Within your operation, they encompass the methods by which your great people deliver your great product in your great environment.  Here’s an example of one of them.

Your customer places an order for a cocktail with one of your servers.  The server checks the customer’s ID and then enters the order at your point-of-sale terminal, with specifics and modifiers, and to the appropriate open tab.  Your POS adds the charge to the selected tab, adding sales tax, and sends the order to the prep printer at the bar.  Your bartender fills the order for the appropriate cocktail, using product that has been cut, squeezed, stocked, stored, etc., prior to his shift.  He uses a jigger.  The drink is picked up by the server at the service station and delivered to the appropriate guest.  At some point payment is taken for the drink, gratuity added and the check closed.

Systems may be in place to facilitate service, to encourage consistent production, to control costs, to eliminate theft or to ensure that all items are being rung.  From the example above, what seems simple really isn’t.  The system described incorporates a number of distinct actions designed to result in a number of desirable outcomes.  It exists for good reason and should be adhered to for good reason.

What a System Isn’t

Technology doesn’t constitute a system, regardless of the common vernacular.  At this very moment you may be employing a point-of-sale system, a pour control system, a surveillance system, or an inventory management system.  Despite their names they are simply useful tools that, when employed correctly, can make your systems more efficient and more powerful.  It’s your job as a manager to decide where and how they best fit into your operation.

What You Should Do

You should spend more time and effort making sure your systems are well designed and followed.  The effort will result in a more efficient and better controlled operation.   So...Here are five reasons why systems fail and what you can do to make yours better.

1.      An over reliance on technology – The technology in use at food and beverage operations is powerful and can be quite expensive.  So many managers get blinded by the possibilities of the technology they purchase.  Coupled with the significant capital invested, managers often feel that the technology itself is the fix.  It isn’t.

What you should do – Understand that the technology you employ is a piece of your system and does not constitute a system in and of itself.  Determine what you want to accomplish, design systems to do so and purchase only that technology that helps get you there.

2.      The system sucks – While your intentions may be good, sometimes you simply are not employing the right system.  It’s like a fad diet.  You may want to lose weight but who wants to eat just grapefruit?  That sucks.

What you should do – Audit your systems.   Even if you feel that the policies and procedures you have in place are effective, it’s a good idea to think about them periodically – critically and broken down into each individual step.  You will likely find an incremental improvement in your operation.

3.      Managers are not fully committed to the system – This is the main reason why systems fail.  For whatever reason, managers don’t commit to the system, especially with the passage of time.  They fail to enforce the policies and procedures and fail to reprimand employees who break them.

What to do – Be sure to explain to your managers the purpose of your systems and that without strict adherence by everyone involved they do not work.  Discipline your managers if warranted.

4.      The system favors one outcome at the expense of other goals – Some systems get designed to favor one outcome over all others, especially if something bad has just happened.  After a case of theft by a bartender, managers are likely to implement new policies and procedures that favor controls over operational ease.  Bartenders will look for ways around the new system.

What to do – When you audit your systems, it’s a good thing to assure that they provide a balance of operational ease and tight controls.  Too many controls will hurt service.  To few and you will get robbed.

5.      The system falls apart as soon as things get hairy – When things get busy, all bets are off.  Servers run to the kitchen screaming for food, servers shout out orders to bartenders as they run by, promising to enter them when they have a minute, servers come behind the bar and make their own drinks.  Taking care of the customer becomes a convenient justification for a free-for-all.

What to Do – This one is like number three, but the reason for the breakdown seems justified.  It isn’t.  Most managers have seen this happen and so should be prepared for the eventual inevitability.  They should also be prepared to be particularly vigilant in these cases.  The staff is panicking.  They won’t in the future when they realize there’s no point.

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