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Make Your Own Restaurant Rule Book


restaurantrulesA large restaurant company will have a book of rules which is so thick that no one is able to remember page 234 or what is supposed to happen every 89 days on leap years.  The restaurateur with one or two locations may not have a rule book which leaves the staff with no direction and no expectations. 

Both businesses claim to have similar goals, lead teams and have a marketing system in place to build sales.

Both scenarios can create barriers to success and will hurt the reputation of the restaurant.

Success is certainly not about rules but without a set of standards, large groups of people will dishonor themselves, their families and the company they work for.   There is not a deliberate or purposeful attempt to do harm; it is more based on Hardin's tragedy of the commons where the consequences are poor when groups of people are left to their own device.

Thus we think of rules as a defensive measure to control the events to avoid calamities that are so common in an ever fluctuating environment.  The problem with most rules is they are not offensive in nature but defensive.  “Protect the assets” is certainly a high priority but when lopsided to only protect assets, there is little time or energy left to go on the offense and create sales. 

Banks finally learned this years ago.  Once upon a time bank tellers were required to stay as long as it took after hours to balance their banks to zero (While on the clock).   The amount of variance was not relevant and if it took three hours to balance a till that was $3.00 off, then so be it.  Fortunately, someone had a brain child and changed the rules.

The old rule kept the tills balanced but the cost to do so was more than the benefit.

If you are a restaurant owner and find having rules more a burden because there is no time to follow up (Or you don’t have the guts), then it may be time to approach making rules differently.

Rules to consider:

  • Management will not be in the office between 6 AM - 9AM, Noon - 2PM or 6PM – 9PM.
    • These are peak meal times when personal contact with both the team and guests are essential.
  • The following will not occur during peak meal times:
    • Inventory
    • Training brand new staff members
    • Orientating staff members
    • Interviews
  • Management will introduce themselves by name to guests upon arrival and departure.
    • The conversation will not be limited to:  “Hi, how is everything?” 
  • Staff interactions to each other will be positive in nature at all times. 
    • Cooperation is also seen and heard by guests which has a big impact on their experience.
  • Everyone helps everyone.  No exceptions.  This becomes apparent to guests and impacts their decision to return.
  • Every guest will have eye contact with staff which includes a positive remark when a connection happens.  (The rule needs to be “Hire those who do this automatically”)
  • “Thank you” responses in the form of a greeting card, email or phone call will be done by the management each day.  (A minimum of 20?  50?  Pick a number.)
  • “No questions asked” when a guest begins to talk about their dissatisfaction with food or service.  Immediate gratification first is the rule.
  • Every guest is asked up front:  Are there any dietary restrictions we should be aware of?
  • Every guest is asked up front:  Is there a celebration, special event or recognition today?
    • Most guests will say no but it leaves the door open and you will be surprised at how many change their minds and remember something special to share.
  • Staff must have one thing they can offer immediately without chasing down one of the management team.  How quickly the team can take care of issues says much to the guest.  Dessert, coffee, drink and appetizers are all good.  Gift Cards can be an option.
  • Work both ways. 
    • This is a rule for 100 years but needs constant monitoring and includes ALL staff.  This will increase productivity and improve service.  Watch the hands; you will be surprised how many times they are empty. 
  • Congratulate three staff members each day with a recognition, award, or reward.  This is a rule, not an option.
  • Don’t walk by the guest and talk and talk while in motion.  STOP for a moment and then hustle away. 
  • Huddle with team members at the beginning of every shift.  Goals, barriers, cheers and frustrations are shared.  (Don’t just say ‘hi’)
  • Huddle with team members at the end of every shift.  Goals, barriers, cheers and frustrations are shared.  (Don’t ask: “Did John already go home?”)
    • The rule in my restaurant was that EVERYONE had to say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to me personally.  That ensured contact at a critical time.  (No one escapes the hello and goodbye)
  • Everyone is on time.   --- Important enough to repeat.  Everyone is on time.
    • Which takes us directly to the next rule.
  • Everyone on the team follows the rules; there are not exceptions – not even the owner or manager. 
  • There is no such thing as a schedule god. 
  • Checklists done before peak periods.
  • There is “firm, fair and consistency” with every decision.

In reality, these can be considered principles to follow vs. rules.  They focus on teamwork, guest satisfaction and restaurant marketing opportunities.   Each can impact the operation, sales, morale and will lower staff turnover. 

How to come up with your own rules:

Stay in touch with reality when making your own rules.  To come up with your own rules, carry 3X5 index cards in your pocket.  Every time you see or hear something happen that you “hate to see” or believe it will have a negative impact on the restaurant, write it down on your index cards.  The index cards you use for this will be:

I hate it when that happenscards. 


The idea is simple to execute as you see something that risks business, you write it down.  It is now on your “list” and you carry it daily in your pocket.  Once something is on your “list”, it is only a matter of time before you and your team find a solution.  It may take a day or even a month but everything on your “list” has a solution. 

By writing it down each time, you see the list again and again. 

By writing it down, it takes away stress of remembering because it is “on your list”.

As your list grows and forms a pattern, your new rules will develop as the core issues become more apparent.  You will begin to treat the issues at the very core vs. the symptoms.

The 3X5 index cards are not high tech.  They will change how you look at each problem and the new rules will shape the culture of a team.

Make your rule book faster:

Give 10 people on the team index cards and ask them to write down “I hate it when that happens” relative to what they see in the operation, guest service, waste, teamwork. 

Rule books are helpful for defense but when the team develops principles under which to operate, magic happens.

Rules are necessary but not usually motivating.  

How much of the day is based on principles and how much time focused on rules?  Are the rules helpful to growing sales or staying in control of things that don't matter much?




I like your point that you need to hire people who are automatically friendly. But I have found that even people who are a little shy have an excellent gift for humor and personal interaction if they aren't driven into cynicism or forced to abide by literal commands that they clearly find awkward or unnatural. Are these people beyond hope? What are your suggestions for drawing these people out, and giving them materials or scripts or suggestions or SOME kind of room to find where their personality and the hospitality your restaurant requires of them intersect? (Basically, what would have happened if the Jennifer Aniston character in Office Space were given incentives and room to work; could she have been a lot of people's favorite server, and made each customer feel like she was their advocate and "on their side," instead of chafing under the arbitrary Rule of how many pieces of flair she was required to wear, and the false attitude she was expected to adopt? Or was she just not cut out for the job?)
Posted @ Tuesday, February 12, 2013 8:46 AM by Charlie Hopper
Thank you. Glad you found he information helpful. 
The answer to your question is: I cheat. 
The goal is to have talented people who do have great personalities shine more. 
I cheat. 
I will sneak a big tip onto a table and then ask the person to clear the table. 
The individual will find a big tip specific for them with a comment card attached. The comment card say "Staffpersonname was very excellent. We love his/her personality and how committed they were. We will be back!" 
I cheat 
I talk to those who are regular guests and ask their opinion of the person in question. When they say positive remarks about the staff member, I ask them "can you tell them for me?" Almost always they say yes. They go out of their way to approach the staff person and tell them how awesome they are. 
I cheat. 
Other staff... a little trickier. "I don't have time to let staffmember know because I am on the way out the door. Can you let staffmember know that I have heard many good things today about his/her service? Thank you for helping me." 
These are only three simple methods.  
It has always been about consistent positive feedback from the source (guests), the peers and the supervisors. The little successes build and I have seen wall flowers who wouldn't say a word rise to the top and become restaurant managers and great leaders. 
Their style remains the same but they have a personal power which needs to be ignited. 
Note: The examples I gave above are reflections of reality as I already had great feedback from the many sources. My cheats become a reflection of scenarios I am aware of.  
Hope these get your engine running. 
Rewards each day help a lot to. 
Every time someone made a positive comment, I would put a sticky on someone. Not required but a sign that someone is connecting well. They turn their stickies in for meals, benefits, etc. 
Posted @ Tuesday, February 12, 2013 10:34 AM by Michael Hartzell
That's great. Great advice and your scenarios draw wonderful pictures of lovely moments, and make me feel good about the human race.  
And I don't always feel good about the human race. So thanks.
Posted @ Tuesday, February 12, 2013 10:55 AM by Charlie Hopper
This is great advice! I also feel if you have a rule book, your employees cannot question all of your decisions and it helps to direct your staff better. Thanks for sharing!
Posted @ Sunday, June 16, 2013 3:07 PM by Doug
Glad you like the article Doug. Boundaries can be helpful to keep the team... working as a team. :) 
Appreciate the comment! 
Posted @ Sunday, June 16, 2013 3:30 PM by Michael Hartzell
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