Chris Tripoli

Peter Fernandez, and his family, own a small Japanese restaurant-sushi bar in South San Francisco.  He and his wife are very busy keeping up with all that is needed to support the operation of this 70 seat full service, 6 day a week restaurant.  There is the purchasing, menu planning, staff handling, accounting, and facility maintenance issues in addition to daily shift related customer service duties to perform.  Peter is a bright college graduate who saw himself working in computer technology before the call came to assume the role of caretaker of the family business.  Earlier this year he found himself asking three of the questions that eventually cross the mind of every hands-on restaurant owner…

  1. Is this the best way for me to manage the business and my time?
  2. Is this the busiest I can make my restaurant?
  3. Is this the most profitable my restaurant can be?

Wow, how do we find those answers?  How can we be sure we are handling our responsibilities in the best way, managing costs most efficiently, and marketing our restaurant most effectively?  In school we received report cards that charted our progress, let us know where we excelled and made us aware of where we should make improvements.  If only there was an easy way to grade our own restaurant!  When we feel sick, we typically go to the doctor.  If we don’t, things usually get worse.  That seems to be the case with restaurants, if we aren’t operating on all cylinders…things continue to slip until they finally fall and break…OUCH!

In this article we explore a course to follow and suggest a procedure to use that helps you give your restaurant a “check up.”  How do we know what needs to be cured if we never identify something that is sick?  As restaurant owners, we should play doctor once in awhile in order to find any operating ills while they are small and able to corrected rather than allow an unidentified sickness time to grow into an unmanageable disease.

Performing an operations check up, allows us to confirm the areas operating well and list items requiring attention.  Finding areas for improvement lays a good foundation for an operating plan with specific objectives and scheduled dates for completion.  Restaurants that operate off such plans notice increased management effectiveness, consistency within the operation and improved profitability.  An operations check-up is also a useful tool to develop staff, set goals for their evaluation, and hold them accountable for items within their area of responsibility.

The keys to this exercise are (1) Schedule the time: once or twice a year spending a full day to review your restaurant operation provides valuable insight, (2) Be thorough and impartial: it is important to view things as they are and review the details within each process, (3) Involve key staff:management, department heads and other key staff make an excellent team and will work harder on improvements if they are a part of the process, (4) Follow a format: stay on the checklist in order to ensure consistency and completeness.

I have found that there are four major departments operating within every restaurant.  Whether fast food or fine dining, established or newly opened, large or small, busy or slow, the following four departments are crucial to the success of every concept and should be the focus of our operations “check up.”

  1. Management Systems and Procedures
  2. Back Office Process (reporting and accounting)
  3. Back of the House Kitchen Operations
  4. Front of the House Service Operations

Carefully formatting on observation checklist is the first step one needs to take in order to provide an adequate format to follow for your restaurant’s operating “check up.”

Each checklist should include all documentation-topics to be reviewed and verified with a small area for notes and comments.  A Management Systems and Procedures Checklist might look like this and include the items listed below:


Management Systems and Procedures
Observation Checklist






Chain of Command/Positions


Operating Manuals

Training Material


Weekly Meetings

Meeting Agendas

Daily Log Book


Hiring Packets

Scheduling Process

Employee Files


Disciplinary Procedures

Job Descriptions

Termination Procedures


Management Systems and Procedures
Observation Checklist






Opening/Closing Checklists

Shift Change Duties

Facility Maintenance

Management Training

Unit Evaluations


Mgt. Incentive Program


Point Person

Internal Plans

External Plans

Key Areas of Effort

When Peter listed his current management structure – chain of command he realized there was some overlapping areas of responsibility that created confusion and inefficiency.  He also recognized the need for a service manager and identified a possibility from within the staff.

By reviewing existing operating manuals and training materials we quickly identify outdated items inconsistent with the way daily operations exist.

Questioning the effectiveness of management communication leads to many possible improvements.  Do we have weekly meetings?  What are the meeting agendas?  Do all managers and key staff leave shift notes in a daily log book?

A good review of all employee files is essential for a good check-up and typically becomes an area requiring attention.  Popular questions to ask yourself include…do we keep our interview rating forms and applications?  Do we have job descriptions for every staff member?  Do we have an effectiveevaluation process?  How do we disciplineTerminate? Are we consistent and do we keep accurate records?

A check up of management procedures sometimes indicates we do too much from memory (which leads to inconsistency) and if opening and closing checklist were developed and shift change duties were written, it would be much easier for every manager to perform important daily functions in the same way.  We should verify that our existing management training program is well written, schedule is complete and all essential station information is included.

Dimitri Fetokakis owns and operates Niko Niko’s a well established casual Greek restaurant in Houston, Texas.  His check up revealed an opportunity to develop a management incentive bonus system structured around a unit evaluation done at the end of each quarter.  Working with key staff he recently implemented his restaurants first such evaluation.


The second step of our operations “check up” includes the review-verification of the back office.  This is the area of daily reporting, purchasing, inventory, and cash handling.  The Back Office Checklistwould normally include following items:


Back Office
Observation Checklist







Accounting Software

Reporting Tools

Other Back Office Programs

# of POS or Cash Registers


Daily Sales Report

Weekly Reports

Other Reports:  Items Sales Report/Hourly/Labor

Sales by Type/Cost by Category?

Monthly P&L

Other Monthly – Balance Sheet, Cash Flow


Invoice Processing (who, where, when)

Inventory Counts (when, who)


Back Office
Observation Checklist






House Accounts

Catering Process


Accounting Calendar/Schedule


Payroll Processing

Time In Attendance System


Cash Handling Process


Safe Banks

Paid Out/Petty Cash Process

# of Bank Accounts

Over/Short Policy


What is listed on a daily sales report is vital to the record keeping we want and the information we expect our managers to use.  Ask yourself if these reports include labor hours, sales by item and a detail of promotional expenses.  Most restaurants find the need to use a standard chart of accounts so that processing invoices can be done quickly, accurately and within the general restaurant accounting principles.  How often is inventory counted?  Does the monthly P&L statement include the itemized breakdown of cost of sales?  And labor?  This format allows management to be effective, track costs more accurately and react to cost increases more quickly.

Lanny Gardner and his business partner John Myers own and operate the Boondocks in Ramrod Keys, Florida.  They have built a successful business that includes a casual beach themed restaurant, bar, entertainment, miniature golf, and special events.  As business grew so did the complexity of their reports until one day they noticed they had more types of reports and were more confused than ever.  Their check-up revealed an opportunity to separate and simplify their monthly reporting in a way that could list current period information, create a comparison to budget and note any variances on one form.

Confirm cash handling policies, daily deposits, paid outs-petty cash and maintenance of the safe banks to ensure all are handled within your companies’ standard.


Step 3 is the Back of the House/Kitchen Checklist.  The menu is the heart of any concept and yet the kitchen seems to be where we find more inconsistency than in other areas of the restaurant.  This department check list would cover every area from purchasing and storage to preparation and service.  Specific checklist items are:

Back of the House/Kitchen
Observation Checklist





Recipe Documentation/master Book

Plate Presentation/Portion Guidelines

Order/Purchase Guide

Purchase/Inventory System

Approved Vendor List

Product Production Lists

Staff Position Responsibilities

Maintenance/Cleaning Checklists

Opening /Closing Procedures

Inventory Tracking Procedures

Station Descriptions/Diagrams


Confirm that purchases are being made from approved purveyors and that all product specificationare being met.  Does the kitchen manager order from a purchase order? And check all delivery invoices against it?

Master recipe books have a way of becoming ignored or inaccurate over time.  It is most important to use these regularly and keep information (items-measurements) current.  It is easy to create recipe inconsistency if approved recipe books aren’t in use.  We find that expansion enables recipe inconsistency if we aren’t careful.  There once was a family owned specialty dessert-café chain in Dallas, Texas.  They didn’t realize until their “check up” was complete that some units were making icing and other basic items differently than the original recipe…ouch!

Are staff positions clear on their responsibilities?  Station set up?  Cleanliness and equipment maintenance?  Does each menu item have a plate presentation guide?  These questions will help make us aware of the level of strength there is in this department as well as when opportunity lies for improvement.

One area of kitchen management that your “check up” will certainly identify is inventory tracking and proper preparation scheduling.  Having the right amount of product ready for service without over prepping and creating waste is always the kitchen No. 1 goal.


The fourth and final step in the restaurant “check up” process is the assessment of the Front of the House (FOH) Service Operation.  This is where it becomes important to view the restaurant from your customer’s perspective.  Speed of service, friendliness, and menu knowledge are but a few of the items this area includes.  A complete FOH-service checklist would include all of the following:


FOH Operations
Observation Checklist





Customer Experience

Work Flow

Customer Flow

Beverage/Condiment Service/Flow


Speed of Service/Ticket Times

Speed/Accuracy of Orders

Speed/Accuracy of Guest Payment

Effectiveness of Menu/Legibility

Order Taker Menu Knowledge

Alcoholic Beverage Service

Ease of Use for Guest

Maximizing Sales Opportunities


The customer experience is defined by the type of service your concept is offering the guest.  Table service or counter server?  Fast food or fast casual?  To rate appearance-ambiance, we must work from the front of our establishment through the reception area, into the bar-dining and restroom areas.  We must allow ourselves to view the experience we are offering through their eyes.  We may be surprised at some of the things we notice.  The front sign might be misspelled, or the front door marked with finger prints.  Is there trash in the front flower bed?  Or perhaps a light out?  Does the hostess greet us promptly?  How is the interior music level and lighting level set? Measuring the service includes service times meeting the standard for greeting, order taking suggestive selling food and beverage delivery, and guest check presentation.  Ask yourself how the service staff is with menu knowledge and their ability to maximize sales opportunities.  Are managers present and helpful?  Is marketing material well places?  Is the to-go order pickup working effectively?

When we review the finding with our staff we may learn more about some issues that are obstructing their ability to meet expectations.  I have often been surprised by how harsh some staff members rate themselves and the role they are playing.

Once the data has been collected, and your “check up” is over…it is time to review the findings with management and staff in order to set objectives and schedule completion dates, for what good is a check up if we don’t write the prescription and take the medicine?

Whether you are a full service Japanese restaurant in San Francisco, a counter service Greek Café in Houston or South Florida’s largest Tiki Hut, you will find that doing your own operations “check up” is the best way to rate what works, note what doesn’t, and set a course of action with management and staff to implement the necessary improvements.