What comes first: service or systems?

Is this the chicken and egg question of the restaurant world?

Someone said to me recently that their nephew was running a Subway using an ‘instruction manual’. Most franchises come with an instruction manual. This is how McDonalds came to infiltrate our planet; a formula was created and tweaked until it was ultra-efficient and then reproduced over and over again.

Now, while many restaurateurs baulk at the idea of running an establishment akin to a fast food outlet they would do well to ask themselves why they have a problem with this methodology.

Society is run via rules. These rules are complex and need constant adjustment but generally our lives are governed by laws and social and moral instructions handed down from generation to generation.  We know that we have to obey the Highway Code to avoid crashing our cars into each other. We know that if we steal each-others stuff we will be punished and we know that we have to pay our taxes to ensure that our streets are clean and safe. Without rules there would be chaos and anarchy. Without guidelines, that the majority of us are willing to abide by, we wouldn’t have the nicer things in life: cycle paths, beautiful parks, the Olympics, concerts, tourism.

The same goes for restaurants: Without a set of clear guidelines and rules for everyone to follow there is chaos, anarchy, a high staff turnover and, as a result, unhappy customers and a loss in both turnover and profit.

Ultimately there is no point focusing on trying to get waiters to be cheery, smiley and chatty with your customers if, two shifts in five run into chaos because everyone is running around like headless chickens.

Systems and procedures such as; staff handbooks, stock checks, cash and till reconciliation, employee attendance records, order of service rules, food safety records, costed recipe sheets and cleaning rotas are boring and laborious to write as well as being hard work to implement, enforce and make habitual. But, the reward is that they will stop inaccurate finger pointing, arguments and wrong doing and, instead, create a sense of democracy within the business…a pirate code if you will. Once this is in place then you can work on the smiles!

Now, imagine a Subway without its systems and procedures in place….it’s an amusing image but, this is because we take it for granted that, each time we go, our favourite sandwich will be made using the same quality and quantity of ingredients, it will look identical each time and will be served in a timely manner in a fully stocked, clean and well organised environment. As per the instruction manual.