Business and Operations
Five ways to schedule your staff – profitably
By Michelle Brisebois
A restaurant schedule that perfectly matches the business volume is the holy grail we all seek.
Operators can feel like they’re either short-staffed and losing sales or over-staffed and watching costs outpace revenue. In both instances, the business suffers and so does your peace of mind.
Establishing a target for your labour costs is the first step towards scheduling effectively. Many restaurants measure their labour costs as a percentage of sales. According to fastcasual.com, most restaurants run their labour at 20 per cent of sales or less. This number will shift depending on the restaurant concept – fine dining would be more labour intensive and therefore may run higher.
While traditional operators still tend to use this approach, it fails to account for things like menu pricing, differing hourly rates of job categories or promotional activity. Scheduling by estimating your sales can shortchange the customer experience. After all, the customers that takes an hour to eat a salad and a glass of ice water takes as much labour as the one who has prime rib and a glass of fine wine.
The savvier approach is to build a strong and engaged team and to leverage your data. Here are some tips on how to do this.
1. SCHEDULE TEAM MEMBERS WITH A BALANCE OF EXPERIENCE
Your core team may want to pick the prime shifts and to work together but if you’re over-weighted with new talent on some shifts and experienced employees on another, the guest experience will be inconsistent and new employees won’t benefit from shadowing the more seasoned people.
We spoke with Cory Medd of Two Guys and a Pizza Place in Lethbridge, Alta., and Juanita Dickson, president of Gusto 54 Restaurant Group, about how to ensure that a backbone of solid veterans is supporting the less experienced team members. Two Guys and a Pizza Place has about 20 per cent of its team turning over with some regularity and about 80 per cent of the talent pool is experienced, Medd shares. A typical shift will have a 50-50 split of core and new team members.
At Gusto 54, new team members scheduled will always have a “coach” – a person who is a trained expert at their role – to train and mentor them during the shift. Gusto 54 also likes to take about 15 to 20 per cent of existing team members and transplant them into any new restaurants they open. “We find this is the best way to ensure our brand standards are upheld from Day 1,” Dickson says.
2. USE YOUR DATA TO SCHEDULE
Identify key data points, such as average sale, walk-ins versus covers, length of dining experience and breakdown of menu items. A dashboard that summarizes some of these key metrics should be updated weekly and after a period of time, you’ll have a nice war chest of information that allows you to predict the business needs and schedule accordingly. It’s important as well to monitor non-traditional data relationships, for example, the weather. Snowstorms can choke off business and a heatwave can increase demand if people don’t want to cook. Local events that happen annually can have an impact too. While you may know all of this in your head, actually mapping it out by date and correlated to your business results can help you see any changes over time. Two Guys and a Pizza Place has been operating for 17 years and sees an impact from local events. “We make sure to know when the local university convocation is so we can ramp up for an increased demand,” Medd says.
3. CONSIDER USING AN APP TO SCHEDULE STAFF
Last-minute requests for time off, swapping shifts and communication are duties that can easily consume at least 30 to 40 per cent of a restaurant manager’s time. There are scheduling apps that can allow employees to request a day off or even swap a shift with someone by posting it as available for another team member to scoop up.
Two Guys uses an app called Ameego, which they launched with their team five years ago. “It was a good decision to use the app,” Medd says. The app allows him to have certain blackout dates if all hands on deck are needed and for employees to go “shift shopping” to see who wants to give up a shift to someone else. The app does allow for schedules to be automated based on historical data but it also lets you set the schedule.
Gusto 54 has tried several scheduling apps as well and now uses one called Push Operations Scheduler that provides a lot of efficiencies, including allowing people to put in requests for time off and letting them give away shifts. Scheduling apps can also help you schedule your space. A start-up company called WEachSeats has partnered with the restaurant industry using an app that allows freelance workers to use dormant restaurant space as a new type of co-working model. Many restaurants have banquet rooms or private dining rooms that sit unused most of the time. WEachSeats allows these operations to allow freelance workers to set up their laptops in those unused rooms in exchange for a fee.
4. USE CULTURE AND CROSS-TRAINING
When we speak with restaurants that are thriving, Canadian Pizza magazine has noticed a recurring theme; operational excellence and efficiency are a function of creating a strong culture and fostering diversity. Gusto 54 chooses team members carefully and invests in their success.
“We hire and train for each business ensuring that the skills match the needs of the business,” Dickson says. “We do provide some cross-training opportunities to allow for people to move around and advance throughout the company. We spend a lot of energy in hiring people based on our values so we don’t mind investing in additional training for someone who has shown interest and potential to gain experience in another aspect of our business.”
5. VIEW LABOUR AS INVESTMENT, NOT JUST EXPENSE
Operational efficiency and finding ways to cut unnecessary costs are vitally important to a restaurant’s success. The operative word, however, is “unnecessary.” The operator who simply pores over the cost of labour on the income statement without a glance towards growth is missing the bigger picture. Your people and their associated costs are there to serve your guests and run the business. This is where you circle back to your dashboard and scour the data for clues as to what’s causing the increase in labour. Tweaking the menu, the schedule and your marketing strategy should all be viable steps towards success without cutting staff hours.
Effective scheduling is a combination of crystal-ball gazing, culture building and data mining with a dash of technology to make the process smoother. It also allows you to harness the power of the most costly and important asset in your business – the people.
Michelle Brisebois is a marketing consultant specializing in e-commerce and digital content strategy and retail/in-store activation. Michelle has worked in the food, pharmaceutical, financial services and wine industries. She can be reached at email@example.com.