07 DEC, 18
It’s always a daunting task when sitting down to write any standard operating procedure. You are never sure how much detail is necessary so an individual can follow your procedures and understand what is expected. Will the person reading it interpret and deliver to the standards or expectations mapped out in each point or will they simply read, sign, then revert to old habits?

I remember when I was first tasked to prepare an SOP for breakfast operations at the Strand Palace Hotel in Covent Garden by my food and beverage manager. Having just graduated from hotel school, it was my first full time role as a restaurant team leader with Forte Hotels, so I relished the opportunity. Despite working long hours, par for the course, I still found time to gather the details, draft out the processes, take photos of buffets set up and breakdown the menu information from a less than enthusiastic chef. Three weeks later I had my first draft of an SOP to present, 50 pages of pure content and imagery, nothing was spared on the detail. With hopes to impress senior management peers and of course strengthen opportunities for promotion! I had printed it out a full copy in colour in a nicely presented folder, bought from my own money. As I proudly left the SOP manual in the in tray of my Food and Beverage manager I envisaged winning employee of the month for my considered work.  The next day I found the SOP back in my ops pigeon hole with a note on top saying “Good work but too much information, keep it succinct and reduce it to 3 pages as you will need to brief and train all new staff in their morning brief”. It was then I quickly learnt the importance of simplifying things for others to read and understand, though I still like to indulge in articulation at time, it has stuck with me ever since!
There has always been a challenge faced by management in a busy food and beverage operations to implement any procedures and ensure all staff are engaged. As not everyone are accepting to change and willing to take on board new information without understanding why.
To enable this level of engagement a well-structured training session is needed but it needs to be fun as this will help in the ‘buy in’ process. It is important to ensure the information is presented in a way that is on their level but enlightening, which I have found through a combination of humour or activity has worked. Training is an integral part of the process, not only in the introduction of change, but will facilitate ‘buy in’ as the individual will have the chance to have it explained fully and be able to question why. Of course, this can turn into a forum but with clear detail and a succinct approach any one taking on the detail will have little chance to question why!

So here are my tips when putting together your SOP that will structure your training.
To start with, not everything needs a procedure, it’s easy to get lost in detail when all that is needed is a clear instruction. Avoid getting carried away in devising procedures for the simplest of tasks because they will be ignored, when writing any procedure ensure it has a reason and purpose. 
A procedure is a guideline to carry out an operational task, it ensures an individual understands what actions to take, ensures that action is carried out correctly and follows the standards. If it is a complex process, a checklist will help ensure all is covered.
A written procedure is only necessary to the operation to clarifying a process. Before you begin writing the procedure, ask yourself what does the person need to know and how would they like explained to them?
When do we need a procedure?
When the process….
•             Will take time – Closing down an entire restaurant at the end of the shift
•             Is a complex task - Taking an order from a guest on a docket using restaurant short hand
•             Is routine but doesn’t allow for complacency – for example the way we meet and greet guests
•             Must be consistent – The way a table is set up in a restaurant
•             Includes using systems – Taking a booking or handling an enquiry or capturing data.
•             Will have serious consequences – How to clean your chopping boards after food preparation
In a food and beverage operation, particularly with a restaurant, many things will get done without written procedures so is an unwritten rule, sometimes these unwritten rules need to be set in a procedure to avoid confusion and maintain clarity!

So where do I start when writing a procedure?
First be clear on what the individual NEEDS to know and not just what you WANT them to know.
To get the most out of your procedures, follow some simple rules when developing them:
Make sure the procedure is necessary.
Then write it in a way that's easily understood – using simple, clear words to communicate as briefly as possible.
Try to ensure you articulate the instructions in as fewer words as possible and avoid being subjective as the procedure needs to directly apply to the process or procedure.
As mentioned in my opening statement, what is the right level of detail? It’s best to start with writing your statements or instructions in full, as invariably you will end up reducing them to simplify detail.
In this process below are my pointers to help you check if your procedure is thorough:

  • Does the individual have enough information to follow or carry out the procedure?
  • Have you provided the right instructions using a good professional judgment?
  • Is the procedure open to interpretation or is rigid enough to follow?
  • Has it been written to an appropriate reading level? Is the language simple?
The first step….
Before you can start writing, gather detailed information on the process you're making into a procedure.
You will need to assess the day to day operation, to help with ‘buy in’ ask appropriate questions to staff or management on how they carry things out as it will help in the implementation as they feel part of something.
Take lots of notes then sit down with the information and reduce it to points, you want to be clear, so cut down the details to what the individual really needs and will understand quickly. Complicated instructions will frustrate people!

Structuring your procedures…
When you write the first draft of your procedure, don't worry about precise wording or format, just include the information you need. You will always be able to re-word or revise, especially when others offer their thoughts in the process of sign off.
Start by writing your actions out in the order in which they happen in bullet points, even in numbers if it helps. Show from start to finish how that procedure is carried out.
If using jargon be careful, if needed add a terminology guide to the manual which can help as reference point.
Avoid too many words but don’t be too brief with an action as it may not be clearly understood and come across vague. Be specific enough to communicate clearly in statements and in an active voice.

Use models or imagery to present your information

  • With most information manuals positive imagery or a picture that can reflect the message often can say more.
  • Apply models to present your information:
    • Flow chart with arrows, simple text can instruct easily and with actual onsite images it helps identify what to do.
    • A Venn diagram can split information and slow when some procedures might overlap. 
    • If it is technical apply a CCP (Critical Control Point) model, this is often used when outlining hazards or risks in the workplace to ensure the safest methods are employed.
  • Include a Q&A – Any individual will have a question to ask and it helps when it is answered directly. It avoids frustration when the individual just wants a clear answer without having to go over points.
And finally…..
A well-written SOP manual will help improve the quality of work within any operation, taking out errors or oversights. It builds confidence in the abilities of staff and facilitates a comprehensive delivery of service which allows the consumer to identify brand or standards.
For inspiration or gain a better understanding of why we write an SOP look up Mr Ray Croc, the man behind the Golden Arches who revolutionized the fast food industry in 1955 with meals produced in 60 seconds. The foundations of which were built on an SOP on how to make a cheese burger!

Neil Preston - Training Director 

07 DEC, 18
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