the basics of SOP CREATION

In Concept & Design, Vol 20

Depending on one’s own experience, creating SOPs will inadvertently vary from individual to individual. For instance, if you have been trained in hospitality, you may be familiar with the vagaries of starting and maintaining SOPs. Whereas if you’re not, you may perhaps choose to hire a consultant who can do that for you. Regardless if you choose to, or not, reading this section may help you know the basics of creating SOPs and what to avoid when you’re in the process.

To get an idea of the basics, we spoke to Ben Gregoire, Vice President of CKP Hospitality:

Mise En Place: What is your advice to business owners about starting and maintaining SOPs in the kitchen?

Ben: We will usually advise our clients to focus on the concept and menu, otherwise known as the ‘hardware’ of commercial kitchens, and after that is defined, then only move on to the ‘software’ which includes the SOPs. Ideally, we advise business owners to get an experienced chef to handle the creation and maintenance of SOPs. I would recommend a chef that has at least five years of experience at a reputable establishment and is familiar with the inner workings of a commercial kitchen. The maintenance of SOPs should be tasked to the General Managers or Restaurant Managers – in the sense that if tweaking is necessary, they can do that via weekly meetings where, along with brainstorming new dishes and recipes and conducting tastings, they would discuss any amendments required to the SOPs, based on previous discussions.

MEP: You mentioned the word ‘ideal’ and that’s always a great standard to live up to, but more often than not, there is no ideal in the commercial kitchen. Most owners are too busy running the daily operations and these things can slip under the radar. What would you say are the bare necessities of incorporating the practice of SOPs into a business?

MEP: You mentioned the word ‘ideal’ and that’s always a great standard to live up to, but more often than not, there is no ideal in the commercial kitchen. Most owners are too busy running the daily operations and these things can slip under the radar. What would you say are the bare necessities of incorporating the practice of SOPs into a business?
Ben: I would say that at the very least, owners should stress on communication – and this includes communication between the Back of House (Kitchen) and Front of House (Service), as well as communication within the Back of House itself. A very good example would be – finding out what dish takes the longest to make, to ensure that the necessary prep time is made available, and to make sure all the other dishes are cooked in time to accompany whatever cooks the slowest. Communication between your staff, whether Back or Front of House is critical to the success of your kitchen.

Another bare minimum to incorporating SOPs, I would say, besides personal grooming which goes without saying, is training your staff on the restaurant’s menu and products. This is something that I find is really lacking here in Asia – I get nervous when I ask what is good on the menu and nobody knows what to tell me. It is an immediate red flag as it shows a lack of knowledge on your products and reflects badly on the employer who appears to be too costconscious to spend time training their staff. Even if the food turns out to be good, it is likely to create a less-than-stellar impression. It’s impressive to me when a staff knows the menu in and out, and is well-versed on things such as ingredients and other aspects of the dish. The next stage would be knowing what drinks pair well with the food.

MEP: What are the common pitfalls that confront smaller F&B establishments – those that may not have the resources to invest in a proper SOP system?
Ben: Not having clear, established SOPs. You really can’t run from that. More often than not, an F&B establishment doesn’t do well because they have no guidelines, and the reason for that is because the owner didn’t spend enough time training their staff. Most who enter the kitchen are often entry level or inexperienced. You must give them, at least a basic overview of training.

And whether the SOPs are written down in black and white – of course I strongly suggest you have something, even if it is not elaborate – the owner and operator must spend the time training their staff, or lose out on quality and service. Encourage your staff to come to work prepared, having studied the materials beforehand. At very established places, they won’t even allow you to interview until they know that you’ve become familiar at least, with some of their rules and regulations.

MEP: In the field of kitchen SOPs, some argue that the SOP needs to be extremely precise, whereas others counter that there is such a thing as too precise. In your opinion, how precise does an SOP need to be?
Ben: I think, more than the SOP, what is important is the training. The training needs to be extra precise – so that it can be a loose interpretation once your staff learn how to master it, but it is an absolute must to precisely master all the stated SOPs. Also, I believe what’s even more important is your vetting process, so before you even begin training your staff, make sure that you’re hiring the right people. There’s no sure way of doing this, but I have found that testing staff from the get-go is probably the best bet. Before they come in for an interview, give them something in black and white, so for instance, your menu, or your SOP manual, if you have one. Give them the papers and let them know that they will be tested on it. This may sound harsh, but don’t just hire anybody.

If you ask me what is missing nowadays at F&B outlets, it is the personal touch. So many people are not real – when I go out for a meal, it’s nice to meet someone who’s being real. It makes for a much more satisfying customer and dining experience. Of course, you can’t teach common sense, but you can instil the kind of culture that you think is appropriate for your F&B business. Your staff learns through correct guidance on what to do and what not to do.

MEP: How do you maintain a set of SOPs as a ‘live’ document?
Ben: It’s not a Bible, that’s one thing to keep in mind and it is not as if what is stated in the SOP is the only way to do something. But if there is a need to make a change, I believe it should be done by consensus. Especially in the kitchen, it’s important that your frontliners influence and inform the changes to your SOP – this is known as bottomto- top communication. Of course, managers need to be involved as well, but your frontliners are the ones who know what’s going on and what sort of issues crop up. Try to evaluate your SOPs on a weekly basis.

MEP: Any word of advice on implementing sustainability into your SOPs?
Ben: Try to keep a low turnover by keeping your staff happy. I don’t see this very often but it’s important to cultivate a positive work environment and offer better rates via competitive salaries.

CKP Hospitality: Founded in 1985, CKP Hospitality Consultants (Formerly known as Creative Kitchen Planners) is a leading international hospitality consulting company, specialising in a myriad range of discipline; with the key focus being food and beverage design and concept facilitation, operational postmortem and consultancy, hospitality facilities planning, kitchen facilities planning, laundry facilities planning and solid waste management consultancy. Our areas of focus include resorts, hotels, food courts, stand-alone restaurants, hospitals, theme parks, industrial canteens and convention centres.

CKP has an excellent track record of more than 1500 successful projects worldwide. Some of our most noteworthy projects include the world’s tallest hotel JW Marriot Marquis Dubai, Ritz Carlton Shanghai, Andaz Shanghai, W Singapore, Park Hyatt Beijing, Wynn Resort Macau, Crown Casino Perth, Sandy Lane Barbados, Westin Kuala Lumpur, Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong among others.

CKP was noted among the top 5 kitchen design firms globally by the FOOD ARTS magazine for the creative work done at the award winning SENSI restaurant at the Bellagio Las Vegas.


Ben’s Bio:
Ben is a Canadian hospitality consultant who creates bespoke F&B concepts for new and developing hotels and restaurants, as well as manages concept planning and project management for commercial kitchen and bar projects. He recently relocated to Kuala Lumpur from Shanghai where he spent nine years working with CKP and Starwood Hotels.

Eileen Chanthe basics of SOP CREATION