Business and Operations
Beat your time busters
By Laura Aiken
Wishing for a 36-hour day is common, but the chances of that hope panning out are sub-nil to the infinite exponent. The best we can do is to nip our time bandits in the bud in an effort to run our businesses better and have more time for our biggest priorities.
Wishing for a 36-hour day is common, but the chances of that hope
panning out are sub-nil to the infinite exponent. The best we can do is
to nip our time bandits in the bud in an effort to run our businesses
better and have more time for our biggest priorities.
There are simple ways that restaurant operators can tighten up their
processes and improve their time management in the overall scope of
their business. It’s important to first critically examine your use of
time and decide where it’s most inefficient. If we’re honest with
ourselves, we all generally squander time in some way that, once
identified, can be fixed by changing the habit or process associated
with it. Time is like money. Invest it wisely and earn a high return.
Restaurant owners and managers face considerable challenges in the time
management department. The day is often consumed with putting out
“fires” and juggling the many facets of the operation. Often it’s a
reactive position of minimizing catastrophes that could result from
There are common ways that restaurant operators can tighten up their
processes and improve their time management in the overall scope of
Hugh Johnston of Hugh Johnston Strategy and Business Planning is a
specialist in developing strategies for food service to increase
revenues. Johnston emphasizes looking at the aspects of your business
that are not actually in demand by your market.
“The biggest single time waster is doing anything that the customer
doesn’t want or won’t pay for,” he says. “In doing so we ignore all the
things the customer does care about, such as great quality ingredients,
service and cleanliness.”
An example of this is the time spent on menu items that don’t sell,
suggests Johnston. Trimming the extraneous from your menu saves not
only money in product, but precious time.
Purchasing, in general, is an area where operators should carefully
look at where they may be misplacing minutes of their day. Geoff Wilson
is president of fsStrategy, an alliance of senior consultants who focus
on solutions for the foodservice industry. Wilson advises looking at
how your time is broken down in your supply chain.
“Invariably, what happens with independents is that they get a lot of
sales representatives knocking at their door,” says Wilson, adding that
it happens less than it used to nowadays, as it’s expensive to keep a
sales force in the field. “All those calls take a lot of time to deal
Many chains have gone to one-stop-shop organizations, where they end up
with one point of contact, one invoice and one delivery, he says, but
lots of operators don’t like this system because they like to price
shop. Wilson suggests weighing the costs of paying more for some items
through a single supplier against the time spent driving to
cash-and-carry outlets for a better deal. See if your current system
makes sense for what your time is worth. Time is money, as the familiar
saying goes, and the focus for the business should always come back to
what creates more face-time with your customers and ensures that
“Saving a nickel won’t matter if your customers don’t come back,” says Wilson.
Johnston agrees that time spent dealing with suppliers is a common time
bandit. He sees owners and managers not leveraging their suppliers
enough or even trying to “reinvent the wheel” by doing something
themselves that suppliers can do for them. Maximizing relationships is
part of delegating, which for entrepreneurs is always a balancing act.
The natural inclination is to want to do everything yourself, which is
impossible, but Wilson points out that absentee ownership doesn’t work
either. The goal is to strike that balance between being hands-on in
all aspects of your business while spending enough time with your
Food preparation is another area where time can be saved if you are
making everything from scratch. In some cases, using value-added,
already prepped products can make sense for your operation without
taking away from the pride and uniqueness of making it all your own.
Ask yourself if the time invested in cooking from scratch pays off for
your operation. Perhaps it’s your entire focus and the recipes made
from scratch are vital, but perhaps there are areas where they are not.
It is an important area to examine and weigh from a cost-benefit
“You can make ready-made ingredients yours in the way you use them,”
says Wilson. “And you can benefit in saving time and gaining enhanced
food safety and consistency.”
Charles Hobbs, a time management expert and author of an article for
the restaurant industry called “Time Management Tips for Tired
Managers” offers top time wasters for restaurant managers, which
include a failure to delegate, negative employees, too many meetings and insufficient planning. Sticking to an agenda can prove particularly challenging to restaurant managers.
“Planning applies to every business,” says Geoff Wilson. “You have to
set priorities and identify the key things that need to be done. This
can be difficult in this industry as you often go easily from the
frying pan to fire and end up being the firefighter.”
It’s essential to have an agenda so you can get back on course quickly when you get sidetracked.
“Your business is only as good as the last meal you served,” says Wilson.
In 1999, the National Restaurant Association in the U.S. published an
article called “How to Avoid a Time Management Meltdown” that reported
almost three quarters of restaurant operators as working more than 50
hours a week and almost 10 per cent are putting in more than 80 hours.
Jeff Mayer, author of Time Management for Dummies, was interviewed in
the article, and relayed that harried restaurant managers need to get
organized because people in a hurry make mistakes, and that’s when time
management becomes a quality issue. The article then outlined a case
study of Log Haven restaurant in Salt Lake City, which had to manage
increased time pressures after receiving several accolades in the
press. The owners created policies to deal with potential fires – from
what to do in the event of a supplier shortage to what is an acceptable
ingredient to substitute in an emergency and what is not – and this
allowed the facility to gracefully handle the boom in business.
Planning for the unanticipated, and sharing that plan with your staff,
will leave you with more time to spend with your customers or thinking
about where to find new customers. If you find yourself so disorganized
that you have trouble setting priorities, take a step back and create
These simple tips are a starting ground for looking at the most common
areas where restaurant operators are losing time in their day. Time
management is an ongoing challenge but taking the moments needed to
eliminate time wasters is time well spent. After all, your profits are
a result of how you manage your personal 24 hour clock. It’s not just
how you run your business, but how you run your life.