When I was a caterer, I had dozens of systems. I had them in writing for everyone to read. I had them on the walls, in the delivery vans and even as reminders in payroll envelopes. They were very important to me. Since it was I who spent great amounts of time gathering the ideas and working hard on making them both logical and efficient, I absolutely made them rules for everyone to follow. In fact, many of them became laws—usually when they weren’t being followed as systems. The truth is, most of my systems, or laws, were so complex and single-minded that many of them never really had a chance for success.
To prevent losing equipment at events, I developed an elaborate coloring, numbering and packing system that was, in my mind, foolproof. Unfortunately, it was flawed from the get-go. But, because I had the system in place, I stuck to it. I made everyone stick to it because the system made me feel like I had more control. What I’ve learned is that when putting catering systems in place, the ends don’t always justify the means. Most systems become too difficult to follow fully right from the start, especially with the impromptu chaos of a normal catering day.
Too often systems are created to create accountability. Whose fault was it? Accountability isn’t a bad thing, but accountability needs to be a self-guided principle, with staff members recognizing errors themselves, rather than getting a “failure notice” in a system of checks and balances.
The actual time spent on creating a system can delay the solution of the concern itself. For example, suppose items seem to be missing from inventory at a caterer’s commissary or warehouse. An elaborate system of enhanced inventory procedures could be created—or you could simply install surveillance cameras.
Good systems have two things in common: They are simple and easy to complete and they are created and endorsed by the team of people who need to make them work, rather than by just one result oriented leader. I’ve come to believe that systems, when it’s appropriate to have them, need to be democratic rather than autocratic.