Operations manuals arm restaurants with the consistency to compete
After college, graduate school and work at a national pizza chain, Dean Koutroumanis returned to his family business –– New Haven, Connecticut-based Yorkside Pizza –– in the early 1990s armed with important lessons about the performance-driving value of systemization in the restaurant industry.
Among Koutroumanis’ first steps at Yorkside: creating an operations manual. Updated and revised over the last two decades, the restaurant’s manual details everything from menu items to closing procedures and serves as the iconic New Haven eatery’s operational blueprint.
“It clarifies and standardizes everything we do, defining who and what we are as a business,” Koutroumanis says.
For any pizzeria operator focused on building a successful and sustainable enterprise, an operations manual is a virtual necessity. From opening the doors and greeting customers to cutting the tomatoes and cleaning the floors, the systemization a manual promotes inspires the consistency and culture that fuel successful restaurants across the country.
“When everybody is moving in the same direction day in and day out, the restaurant has a far better shot at success,” says Bob Zanolli, a California-based restaurant operations consultant and former vice president of operations at various foodservice chains.
An operations manual establishes guidelines for how a specific restaurant should function, setting company standards as well as responsibilities and expectations for staff — important priorities in an industry plagued by workforce turnover.
Yorkside’s operations manual shares a brief history of the restaurant alongside policies and procedures covering everything from the eatery’s dress code to cell phone use and bank deposits. The document, which serves as both a reference tool and training aide, also outlines the daily processes that promote consistent and quality operations, such as food storage, recipes and guest engagement.
With the manual’s defined and detailed steps, Koutroumanis says his staff members understand expectations and are better positioned to succeed.
“The manual takes the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants management style out of the equation and provides structure,” he says.
For growth-minded companies and franchised concepts, in particular, a professional operations manual helps business partners and managers understand how the business works and fosters operational consistency across multiple units, says Pam Simos of Five Star Training, a Florida-based restaurant training company that specializes in restaurant and hospitality operations and training.
Yet, systemization isn’t solely for the big guys. An operations manual provides as much value to the one-unit independent shop as the regional or national chain, especially since all pizzerias face staffing, customer service and competitive challenges. In fact, Koutroumanis contends that an operations manual might be more important for the independent given the hefty advantages many chains inherently wield.
“One reason the chains are so successful is because of their consistency,” Koutroumanis says. “If you want to compete and have a chance at surviving, then you better match that consistency.”
Operations manuals carry other key benefits as well. The document can be a valuable tool if legal issues arise around termination or workplace injuries, while it can also enhance a restaurant sale.
“With a roadmap for how the restaurant operates successfully, the business is worth more to prospective buyers,” Zanolli says.
Simos say a restaurant’s operations manual should encompass every aspect of its business, including: opening, operating and closing tasks; menu information; food and beverage handling; inventory; safety and sanitation; guest relations; and training tasks and schedules for new hires. A comprehensive operations manual should also feature a discussion of company culture, philosophies and goals.
Furthermore, Simos advises operators to have a statement of compliance in the back of their manuals for staff to sign. This, she says, heightens accountability and provides restaurant leaders the confidence to know that key team members have read and understand the information.
For operators crafting their own manual, Zanolli suggests going through the establishment and generating precise notes regarding the various tasks staff tackle throughout the day.
“This requires some real attention to detail, especially since some things are second nature to a veteran operator, but you want to reflect on exactly what needs to be done,” Zanolli says.
The manual, however, need not be cumbersome. While the national chains might have 200-page monsters, independents can define what’s important to their business and specify how they want to behave on a daily basis. Information can be presented in a checklist or step-by-step manner for easy comprehension.
“The important thing is that this is your system and what you want followed every day,” Koutroumanis says.
According to Simos, one of the most common mistakes operators make when developing manuals is generating piecemeal documents devoid of organization and flow. For example, the manual liberally jumps around to different responsibility areas or uses conflicting terms, such as guest and customer.
“This lack of cohesiveness can add confusion,” Simos says.
Finally, Zanolli urges operators to update their manuals on a regular basis, lest the document becomes irrelevant. Zanolli says many well-run chains provide quarterly manual updates and revise the entire document every
“The manual is a tool that’s only as good as it’s updated and used,” Zanolli says.
TIP: How to create a strong operations manual
For restaurant operators creating their own manuals or revising an existing manual, Pam Simos of Five Star Training acknowledges the reality of “detailed and time-consuming work.” She offers these tips to ease the process:
- Find an operations manual template online, which will provide an immediate framework from which to work as well as guidance on topic sequence and flow.
- Form an internal team and delegate manual sections to staff that specialize in particular areas, such as recipes, closing procedures or food storage. Identify one individual as the project manager and final authority.
- To make the project more manageable, schedule time to work on one section at a time.
- If the process remains too daunting, consider hiring a writer with hospitality experience and familiarity with technical writing and “how to” methods. A qualified expert will know the learning fundamentals and create results-oriented manuals that will allow the operator to do what he or she does best: run the restaurant.
Chicago-based writer Daniel P. Smith has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.