According to the latest Outlook Survey conducted by Restaurants Canada, restaurant labour costs are now the number one issue affecting restaurant operators across the country (for the industry overall).
Food and beverage costs can be controlled through a number of adjustments to your establishment’s processes; but what about the cost of labour? The foodservice industry can be wildly unpredictable. Scheduling isn’t always easy, and can involve a certain amount of guesswork.
With that in mind, let’s look at a few best practices for reducing the cost of restaurant labour.
Your restaurant’s management have tough jobs. They’ve got to keep the restaurant focused on the guest experience, make certain that products aren’t running low, deal with customer concerns as they arise, create and maintain the schedule, etc.
And one of their most important duties has to involve watching the clock like a hawk. After every shift, they need to be certain that all employees have signed/punched out according to the day’s schedule. Most point of sale (POS) systems now allow you to monitor this information whenever necessary, take advantage of that functionality on a daily basis.
Cross-training is one of the most commonly cited labour cost-saving methods, and for good reason. Cross-training restaurant staffers is of great benefit to both your employees and your business. Train your serving staff so they can easily shift to the host stand if need be on a slow night, or after their shift has ended. Train your bussers to be food expeditors. Train your bartenders so they can step in and serve tables. Train prep cooks to be able to hop on the grill station, etc. This allows management to schedule fewer staff while still keeping your service standards where they should be.
Cross-training allows your staff to not only develop new skills for themselves, but to see what a shift looks like from their teammates’ perspectives.
Look at the layout and flow of your restaurant’s key work and storage areas. Are your labour dollars being wasted on servers and hosts lugging items from a storage closet in the basement to the server hutch on the main floor? Exactly how much time is spent by these staffers finishing up their side duties after a shift? Does it take too much time to restock things because your storage areas are a disaster?
Side work is a part of every server’s responsibilities, so make sure you’ve made it possible for these duties to be done quickly and efficiently. Improve the organization of your key work areas and watch productivity skyrocket. After a hectic shift, many staffers want to finish up quickly and head home. Help them do just that!
If you’re in the habit of simply copying and pasting your schedule from week to week to save time and effort, stop it. Stop it right now.
It’s crucial to spend time with your schedule and be certain it’s prepared based on anticipated sales and customer head counts. Staff members have to know from day one that hours will need to be adjusted as business ebbs and flows. Again, having a cross-trained staff can help reduce employee frustration as a server with reduced hours could pick up a bar shift, or host shift.
Maintaining a watchful eye on your own schedule is important, but make it a point to be aware of what’s happening outside your own walls as well. Be sure to keep up with any events in your local area that could have unexpected effects on that day’s traffic.
Don’t be the family restaurant fully staffed on a Saturday evening only to be left standing around with nothing to do as most of your target clientele sits across town at the Christmas parade. Track anything that could negatively impact the number of customers walking into your restaurant and help take some of the guesswork out of scheduling.
Industry experts recommend maintaining at least a third of your staffers as part-time employees. They note that “retail businesses rely on the availability of part-time workers so that peak periods can have maximum staffing while allowing for staff levels to be reduced as demand wanes. Having additional staff to take up the slack when full-time workers are absent or approaching overtime is also a great way to avoid excessive overtime.
Resist the urge to fill open positions with the first passable applicant. Whenever possible, hold out for the right person. By waiting for the best possible candidate you save yourself potential labour costs in two ways.
The wrong candidate may not stick, forcing you to quickly train yet another new team member. As well, think of the potential customer service problems that could come with a quick panic hire.
A more highly experienced worker may need less time than you think in terms of shadowing time. Say your usual process involves a new server shadowing for two shifts before going off on their own. Holding out for that more experienced worker may cut that shadow time in half, saving you time and money.