Everyday Business Continuity in the Restaurant Industry

I bet you didn’t know that when you walked into a restaurant, you were seeing business continuity ins action every day.  I had 13 years in the hospitality industry and I never knew that just about every day I was immersed in Business Continuity Management (BCM).  The management piece is easy, as I was a kitchen manager, assistance manager, general manager and a corporate trainer throughout my tenure in the industry.  Business continuity to me back then would have been keeping customers coming in the door and keeping our food, liquor and labour costs down but over the years I’ve discovered much more than that.  Restaurants are perfect examples to help describe and explain BCM. 

  1. Technology & the “Back of House” – Like most corporations, the public hardly ever see the technology department (never might be a better term); the managers, developers, network architects, those manning the helpdesk  and the production support staff are just a few of the areas.  Well, like a restaurant, the public rarely see the dishwashers, prep staff and line cooks.  The back of the house – the kitchen – is like the technology department in corporations.
  2. Business & the “Front of House” – Just as a restaurant has a back of the house and a corporation has the technology department, there is also the other side of the coin.  For corporations its the “business units” and for restaurants it’s the servers, the buss staff, the host staff and the bartenders.   These are the areas that the public see or interact with.  Like sales forces for corporations and the call centre staff.  They are the ones who directly deal with the clients and customers, either over the phone or in person. 
  3. Supply Chain Management – Every restaurant has more than one supplier and there are many times when a specific or primary supplier doesn’t have a specific product in stock for some reason or another.  For example, in my own experience, when a my main produce supplier didn’t have a romaine lettuce I knew exactly what other supplier to call to get something delivered.  I had more than one supplier listed in our contact list.  If I didn’t, we wouldn’t be serving salads, which wouldn’t go over well with customers who came in expecting a Caesar salad for lunch.  We had to keep out options open to ensure we continued to be supplied with what we needed.
  4. Workforce Availability – More often than not, someone always called in sick.  When this happens you have to know who else to call to cover shifts and know right from the beginning, who is close to overtime and who is even of comparable skills to cover the vacant position.  This is the same in the front and back of houses, as you can’t replace an experienced seasoned professional with someone who is new; it just wouldn’t work.  Knowing the skills and who to call to cover shifts – or even how to rearrange existing schedules if there is no one to call – is utilized on a regular basis – I know, I did it enough times. 
  5. Cross Training – In many restaurants and/or restaurant chains, before someone starts their permanent role – let’s say a server/waiter – they have to work a shift as a bus person, host and even sometimes a shift on the bar.  This is true for other positions too.  Sometimes, people in front of the house work a shift or two in the back of the house.  This allows people to understand the roles that others play in the restaurant to keep things going.  It also allows for some backup, so that when someone is missing, someone else (or groups of others) can step in to lend a hand when it’s needed.  Just like the members of “DR” teams should be able to do, don’t you think?
  6. Technology Availability – if you’re like me, you remember the days when credit card slips were written out and not run through machines.  Well guess what, that old way of doing things is the exactly what restaurants does as a contingency when their Point of Sale (POS) terminals no longer work.  They also write down the orders on paper and pass it through to the kitchen, kind of like watching old movies where the waitress yelled out “order in.”  Technology outages have contingencies in restaurants and have processes in place to address them.  While they’re waiting for the terminals to be fixed, they’re able to continue operating.  Sure, it might take just a bit longer to get the order in but it’s a manual process that works.  If it could be this easy for corporations…
  7. Facility Availability – I wasn’t going to put this one here but since it’s a major item for corporations, I thought I should at least mention it.  Let’s face it, if the restaurant is closed you just go to another.  There isn’t much a restaurant can do when the site isn’t available.  They might have a BBQ outside but still, they need to be able to get at things inside the restaurant – and be able to wash dishes and glasses.  Of course, if it’s a chain they may just direct people to an alternate location but chances are most people will just walk down the street to the next place.   
  8. Roles & Responsibilities – In a restaurant, everyone knows what each is responsible for. There isn’t confusion over who takes the order, who cooks the meals, who washes the dishes.  Each person has a role and is well versed on what is expected of them.  This holds true for busy days and days when it’s not too exciting.  If someone doesn’t understand that the manager handles complaints or special offers, the chef/line cook/kitchen staff manage the kitchen components then I don’t think that person is going to last too long there. 
  9. Contingency Strategies – And because everyone knows their role and what they are responsible for, they’re better equipped to help someone out when they get ‘in the weeds’.  Knowing what everyone can/cannot do also helps with knowing what to do when someone calls in sick.  A manager (front or back of house) knows who they can call and who they can’t.  They also know that if they can’t get someone to come in and cover the shift – or get someone already in the building to work a longer shift – they know to move people around a bit to get the best people in the right positions.  You don’t want to have the possibility of 2 weaker employees working together when at the other end of the restaurant you’ve got 2 stronger employees working.  This would just cause issues; a greater issue that having someone call in sick.  The contingency is to know how to get the best out of people and moving the weaker employee to work beside a stronger individual so that there is a better chance of continued good service or making sure that all the steaks aren’t burnt because there’s no one there to help. 
  10. Service / Program Maintenance – Really, this is asking for something to be remade if it doesn’t meet the needs of the customer and the hiring and firing of employees.  To make sure things work well, the best staff has to be hired.  If someone isn’t working out – in the front of the back – a new person must be hired and trained to ensure the right fit and the right level of commitment to ensure sales continue to increase.  If the wrong people are kept on, then management will see sales slide and see the good staff begin to leave of their own accord because the lower sales means they won’t be making the money they used to.  Management must maintain and review their comment cards (or through chatting with customers) too so that they can identify when issues they may not be aware of and build a plan of action to address.  One bad word about a restaurant can mean a large amount of lost sales, so maintaining good quality of service and food is key to keeping the doors open. 
  11. Program and Project Management – This is the supervisor and managers jobs.  They make sure it’s all running smooth and jump in when they need to help.  They can slow the seating down because the kitchen is getting slammed hard with orders, which if they don’t slow the seating down, will slow everything down including the food coming out of the back.  It also stops servers from getting too many tables at once and lowering the level of service.  If you get 4 tables of 4 at the same time, it’s like getting a table of 16 all at once…and if you can’t do it what makes you think others can run around for 16 people all screaming for different things?  They make sure the payroll is done, hire/fire employees and ensure the supply orders are managed and the costs kept in line (labour, liquor, food costs); generally making sure the doors stay open. 

I’ve been in the BCM realm for 16 years and never knew that my first job in the hospitality industry was in fact, already touching upon many of the aspects of BCM.  Eventually I made it into the BCM realm – for real. 

If you’ve ever wanted to see BCM in action, go to your closest restaurant.  I can bet that one – or more – aspects of BCM are in play right in front of you and you may not even know it; better yet, you might not even see it.  After all, don’t we just want to continue servicing our customers when all heck breaks loose? 

The next time you’re in a restaurant, see if you can spot contingencies at work or spot what’s going on.  It can be quite interesting.

 …And don’t forget to TIP your server, in almost all cases in the US and Canada, they get paid less than minimum wage. 


The new book by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3, “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.”  Available at www.stone-road.com **

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s