Every successful business has an Operations Manual. There needs to be a process for when someone calls with an inquiry. One key tip is to never, ever let a potential client hang-up the phone without first getting their direct contact information. (This is an example of something that would be outlined in the Operations Manual). Without direct contact information, how will you ever reach them again? How will you do any direct-marketing to them, or their company? An inquiry form, that all your employees use, should be accessible by the phone (next to it or in a digital file) and should be part of the routine when speaking to clients. The form needs to be easy to find, and pens should always be next to the phone in case they choose to complete this form by hand. It would be a complete waste of a good lead if you lost a potential client because there was no pen by the phone. Create a bin where these inquiry forms go. After each employee fills out the form, it is dropped in same bin. They will notify the person responsible for orders (this should be the same person, manager, chef, etc.) who will in turn follow a process that is laid out for them according to the Operations Manual.
Here is a basic philosophy to add to your Operations Manual that will secure your clients and create repeat business...NEVER use the word NO, NEVER use the words I CAN’T...instead say what you CAN do and try to find a solution to their problem. For example, a client calls and asks for Lasagna for 40 people in an hour, let them know what you can do is baked ziti in an hour and a half rather than simply saying there isn’t enough time to adequately prepare, bake and deliver lasagna for 40 people. Live by this basic principle, you’re business will thrive because of it.
An operations manual can (and should) be the engine that drives your catering division. If your immediate thought is, “That’s too bad – because I don’t have an operations manual,” there is good news and bad news. The good news is that you are in good company – most organizations do not have one either. The bad news is that you are in good company – most organizations do not have one either.
The operations manual can (and should) serve as the single-point reference for all important company information as well as containing instructions for how to do things in your business. It is a platform for you to communicate policies and procedures, and acts as a security net for your employees so that they can perform their jobs to maximum potential. Not only does the operations manual prevent you from relying too much on individual employees, it also serves to guide and reinforce the training and cross training of new staff. What’s more, a comprehensive operations manual can increase the value of your business.
One of the primary functions of your operations manual is so employees can answer questions when you are not there. Having a written system in place allows your staff to understand every detail of how you want the business run. For instance, how would you like your delivery representatives to greet your customers? What day of the week does your paper order get delivered? Where are the spare sets of keys to the vans kept? What are the passwords for your social media accounts? What is the procedure for putting gasoline in delivery vehicles? The more answers you provide to questions and situations, the less dependent the operation is on specific personnel – which is what you should be striving for.
No two operations manuals are identical. There is no exact formula to follow. The Corporate Caterer will provide various templates for you to use. You may decide to tweak some and re-design others to better suit your operation. Keep in mind that your goal is to map out how things get done in your catering operation. If you have a mission statement or long-term goal for your business, begin there. Next, document the products and services you offer, and post an organizational chart and job descriptions. After that, create checklists of instructions for all the different areas of the operation, such as:
- How-to procedures: such as how to open and close your storefront and offices.
- Equipment that needs to be turned on or set-up.
- Phone numbers and email addresses for employees, clients, vendors, and emergency contacts.
- Systems Operations – related policies and procedures such as how to refund an item, types of payment terms you accept, and deposit instructions for daily receipts.
Other information you can consider including:
- Daily, End-of-Week, End-of-Month, End-of-Year Procedures
- Product and Service Policy/Procedures
- Customer Service Policy/Procedures
- Sales Policies /Procedures
- Reports and Records
- Computers and Software
- Safety and Security
- Maintenance and Repair
The operations manual is essentially a roadmap that explains your knowledge of your business and how you want things to be done day-to-day. As your business grows, you may wish to have separate manuals for different departments. You might also develop a basic version for entry-level employees and a more detailed version (possibly including financial information) for senior managers. At the same time, you need to continually work on simplifying and refining your manual to make it as understandable as possible.
Why Operations Manuals Work
Regardless of the industry, the most consistently successful business model is the franchise. Franchises almost always succeed regardless of where they are opened or who runs them.
Because every franchise has operations manuals and training programs that allows virtually anyone to learn their internal processes and deliver a consistent product or service. Everything you need to know to run that particular business - from hiring employees to marketing and sales - is documented in the operations manual.
Regardless of whether you intend to open multiple locations, think of your catering operation as a prototype for a franchise. Step back for a moment and ask yourself these questions:
- “What is the best way to set-up and organize this operation?”
- “What should the model look like?”
- “If I walked into this operation for the first time today and had to hire a staff and decide how this business would achieve maximum profitability – how would I go about it?”
Your business may run reasonably well without an operations manual, but if you want to build a business that works - and I mean really works - you will implement this strategy. The operations manual allows you to not be there every second of every day. It also enables you to maximize your business’ value to a potential buyer or successor by having a clearly defined systems-based methodology of running your catering operation.
- Begin by compiling companywide information first. The documentation of your company’s daily operational systems, policies, and procedures is no small feat, but like many things, starting is the hardest part. Once you get rolling, the process will become much easier.
- Document all the individual systems. For example, Sandwich Making Action Plan, Set-up Bags, Salad Dressing Portioning, Dessert Platters, Setting Up for the Client, etc.
- List all of the staff positions in your operation and their corresponding responsibilities. More detailed job descriptions will be necessary, but you can begin by painting broader strokes.
- Schedule annual or bi-annual update sessions and make a plan to distribute the new material. This is a good opportunity to solicit your entire staff’s input, make updates, add new material, and remove outdated content.
- Your operations manual should be a physical three-ring binder and/or electronic files. Be sure to have backups of everything stored in a safe place.
- Check out www.smartdraw for free training courses on how to setup action plans.
- Check out www.bizmanuals.com for helpful templates.
Before you start writing, plan the physical layout of the manual. Here are some suggestions:
- Divide your manual into sections that coincide with the different departments of your operation. This will facilitate employee contributions during the writing process, and allow easy access to information once the manual is in circulation. Include a table of contents for each section.
- If multiple staff members are participating in the writing process, make sure that everyone is using the same word processing software. Common software will make it easier to construct the manual and ensure easier modifications in the future.
- Number the sections and then the pages within the sections. For example, Page 3 of section 9 would be numbered “9.3.” This will save you from having to reprint the entire document each time there is a change.
- On each page, indicate when the page was last modified. If photocopies of old pages lay around, this helps identify the most recent version.
- Include an appendix for interim additions or changes so that you do not have to edit and replace the manual every time there is a minor modification.
If creating an operations manual for your catering division feels like a daunting task, you’re right – it is. If you do it, your business will reap multiple rewards. This is not a process that you want to rush through. It will take time – probably months. If you commit to it, there will be a point when it all begins to jell. The most difficult part is starting. Pick a date on the calendar when you pledge to begin and then dive in headfirst.
Create an outline of all the standing operating procedures (SOPs) you want to include. Since a manual is a group of specific SOPs, make a list of each task you need to cover in the manual. The outline will function as your guide to ensure that you do not leave any of the tasks out as you start to write the manual.
Write an introduction that speaks directly to the people who will use the operations manual. Include a brief description of what the manual includes, what readers can expect to gain by using the manual, and the best way to use the manual. (Example: Read from cover to cover, look up topics as needed).
List the first task. To complete an entire manual, you need to start with one task at a time. Begin with the first SOP on your outline. List the steps involved in completing the task, then go back and write out the details for each step. Make sure the information is clear and concise so that enough details are provided that allows anyone to follow the instructions.
Give the SOP to someone else to read. Have an employee and/ or someone else read it and follow the instructions. They can provide valuable feedback if there are any steps they could not complete or do not understand.
Refine the SOP based on the feedback. You may need to rewrite, edit, or add to the instructions; usually a combination of all three.
Document the next SOP, repeat steps 3 to 5 for each.
Compile all of the SOPs into a binder. Include a cover sheet with the name of the manual, a table of contents, and the introduction.
Make copies and distribute to employees. Encourage regular feedback and update as necessary.