Archives for : March2014

Reducing Restaurant Staff Turnover

restaurant staff turnoverLike many businesses in the service industry, you likely deal with the challenge of restaurant staff turnover. While the exact expense of it isn’t always easy to measure, reducing staff turnover should always be part of your restaurant’s overall cost-saving strategy.

Finding great restaurant employees can be a time-consuming and costly endeavour. Making every effort to keep your best staff members around for the long haul will give you peace of mind that your business is always in good hands, and frees up more of your time and energy.

Let’s dig into a few ways (beyond pay raises which are always good if you can afford them) to cut down on employee turnover, starting with a big one.

Stand up for Your Staff

There’s an oft-cited quote that says “people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.” Part of being a successful and respected manager is knowing when to take another common phrase – “the customer is always right” – with a grain of salt. Management willing to support their team in the face of unreasonable guests will earn staff loyalty and keep top talent on the payroll.

North Carolina restaurateur Scott Maitland agrees:

“Conventional wisdom is that the customer is always right. I don’t believe that, and I think anyone who’s been in the restaurant business has a story where the customer was wrong. But you definitely have to go in with that bias, that the customer is right [...] But at some point, we have to think about the staff, or we have to think about investors. And I think anybody who is worth having as a customer will appreciate and respect that as well.”

Keep in mind that yours customers will notice when management is caving to the whims of obnoxious patrons as well. Take this experience from blogger “ViolentAcres” as a good example. (Warning: that post contains some sharp language)

Think about the message you want to communicate to your team; will you have their back when they are clearly in the right?

Lead by Example and Get Your Hands Dirty 

It’s time to get in the habit of getting out of the office. Few things inspire your staff like a manager willing to jump in and help with any task at the drop of a hat.

Kitchen managers: hop on the salad station if need be. Or help out the prep cooks. Or roll up your sleeves and start racking dishes in the dish pit.

Dining room managers: get out there and bus dirty tables. Don’t spend five minutes tracking down a host to ask them to bus. Assume your staff are busy and take the initiative yourself.

Seeing the bosses jump into the fray not only encourages everyone else to step up their game, it earns management plenty of loyalty and respect.

Empower Through Training 

If you’re looking to set employees up for success and hopefully keep them on board for the long haul, putting together an effective training plan is absolutely essential. An insufficiently-trained employee will feel less empowered, overwhelmed, and far more likely to quickly move on. Maintaining a halfhearted training process shows a lack of commitment to employee success and your turnover rates will reflect this.

Whenever possible, your training process should include a degree of cross-training. Cross-training not only helps reduce your labour costs, it helps employees get a better feel for what a shift is like from a different perspective. A server that knows how hectic the bar can be is less inclined to get into arguments with bartenders. A line cook who’s spent time in the dish pit is less likely to come into conflict with a busy dishwasher. Reduce employee conflicts (tempers can flare during a rush) and reduce staff turnover in the process.

Hire Only the Right Fit

We sound like a broken record on this, but it really is one of the most important things to keep in mind when operating a service establishment. Many have the skills, fewer have the attitude.

You have to resist the urge to fill available positions with the first semi-acceptable applicant that walks in. Whenever possible, hold out for the right person. A quick hire of the wrong candidate means a quick exit, and you’re back to square one.

Recognition and Incentivization 

Do not wait until your monthly team meeting or annual performance reviews to tell employees they’re doing a good (or great) job. And don’t simply praise someone’s hard work; do it in front of their fellow staff. Not only is this encouraging to the employee, it tends to motivate everyone else as well. Everybody loves to be recognized.

Incentivize your employees with tangible recognition. Offer them discounts on food or free staff meals; whatever your budget allows. For the front-of-house, hold nightly contests for things like highest gross sales, or most specials sold for the shift, most large drafts sold, etc. Recognize the winners with both verbal and physical rewards. Praise and incentives work hand-in-hand to keep a highly motivated staff ready to work hard for you.

The Product Makes a Difference

All of the above tips are fine, but the best employees – the ones that take the most pride in a job well done – won’t stick around if they don’t believe in the product you’re plating. Restaurant employees will grow frustrated if guests are consistently sending back dishes, and complaining of poor food quality.

Restaurant managers need to realize that lack of effective quality control in the kitchen will have detrimental effects not only in terms of customer loss, but employee loss as well.

Exit Interview

The exit interview isn’t just for office jobs. This doesn’t need to be an overly formal affair, but conduct a quick interview with any employee that decides to leave the business. Ask for as much feedback as possible and see if you can pinpoint any changes in policy or procedure that could help reduce employee turnover.

Got any other tips for reducing staff turnaround? Share them in the comments. And be sure to download the free ebook, 25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices, at the button below.

25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices

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Cover image via Flickr.

7 Tips for Cutting Restaurant Labour Costs

Restaurant Labour costs

Rolling silverware and other side duties are adding to labour costs

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.

Watch the Clock

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-Train Your Team

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.

Side Duties Made Simple

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!

No Copying and Pasting the Schedule

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.

Keep Your Finger on the Pulse 

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.

Build a Roster of Part-Timers

RSG Magazine recommends 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.”

No Hiring in a Rush

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Have any tips of your own on reducing labour costs in the restaurant? Share them with us in the comments. And be sure to download our free ebook, 25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices, at the button below.

25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices

 

Learn more about what FoodTender.com can do for your establishment by subscribing to our newsletter.

Cover image via Flickr.

Fine-Tune Your Restaurant Inventory Practices Now

We’ve already outlined a few ways to get a better overall grasp on your restaurant’s food costs. Now let’s look a little closer at perhaps the most important food cost-saving measure, improving your inventory practices.

Taking inventory isn’t the most glamorous part of running a food establishment, but it’s crucial to keeping weekly food costs low, ingredients fresh, and customers satisfied.

Take Inventory More Frequently

Our own Andre LeBlanc notes that “often, restaurants wait far too long between inventory counts and are ultimately left unsatisfied with the results.” It’s difficult after three or four months or a year to see a trend that resulted in higher than expected food costs. LeBlanc recommends at least weekly or even daily spot checks on high-cost items, even if the rest of your inventory is done once a month.

Less is More

RestaurantOwner.com makes a compelling case for keeping inventory levels low but adequate, and never over-ordering “just in case”, which some managers and chefs still do for their perennially popular dishes. They offer the following comparison:

“If you’ve ever served fries, you’ve probably made the horrifying discovery that there is only one box left in the freezer and four hours left in the shift. So the manager tells everyone to be real careful with fries because there is only a box left, and guess what happens? Fries are immediately perceived as a valuable commodity. Somehow the staff manages to scrape by with the last box. Everyone’s handling them with kid gloves because they’re scarce. They’re valuable. When there are 20 boxes in the walk-in who cares about fries? Nobody.”

Keep Organized!

Inventory time will only run smoothly if your establishment is kept properly organized. Ensuring all products are kept in designated spaces allows your chefs, cooks, bartenders, servers, and managers to know when an ingredient is almost empty and needs to be re-ordered. Be sure to have a senior kitchen staffer fill out your inventory form(s), this will help ensure that appropriate amounts are ordered. And, if possible, consider having a second set of eyeballs helping out with inventory to ensure nothing is missed, and reduce the chances of employee theft.

Go Shelf to Sheet

Avoid the mistake of doing your inventory in a “sheet to shelf” fashion. This means using your inventory sheets as a starting point, and tracking down those products on your shelves from there.

If you choose this route, you’ll undoubtedly overlook items which are on your shelves but not on your sheets. This will likely be brand new products that have yet to be included on paper, or seasonal specials.

Get in the habit of always using a “shelf to sheet” method.

Rotate Regularly 

Always ensure that products are being used on a “First In, First Out” schedule. Older product should be rotated to the front of walk-in shelves so they’re used-up first. It may be an obvious tip to some, but it bears repeating. It’s easier for kitchen staff to maintain the “FIFO” system if all products are properly labelled, and kept in a consistent positions in your walk-ins.

Rush hour in a restaurant can be a hectic scene, and team members need to be able to grab the right product quickly. Stick to consistent storage spots and never forget your labelling to ensure they’re always grabbing the oldest product first.

No Resting on Sunday

The National Restaurant Association advises restaurateurs to take inventory on Sundays. They note that typically, inventory levels will be lowest on a Sunday evening after the busier weekend days. This provides the bonus of having less stock to count; the path of least resistance.

Have any other best practices for a smoother restaurant inventory? Share them in the comments. And be sure to download our free ebook, 25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices, at the button below.

25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices

 

Learn more about what FoodTender.com can do for your establishment by subscribing to our newsletter.

Cover image via Flickr

Key Takeaways From the Foodservice Event of the Year

CRFA ShowOur team is now back from a terrific week in Toronto at Canada’s largest foodservice industry event, the CRFA Show organized by the now rebranded Restaurants Canada.

FoodTender President & Co-Founder Andre Pellerin has been attending these types of shows for the past 25 years and says this week’s event didn’t disappoint.

“The Direct Energy Centre is a beautiful facility to host a show of this importance. It was extremely well organized, and the event staff was incredibly helpful.” he says.

Aside from the obvious benefits; connecting with foodservice professionals, and enjoying some incredible food, a few key takeaways emerged that will better guide a digital strategy for simplifying the food buying and negotiating process for Canada’s foodservice industry.

The Importance of Keeping Trendy

Easier ways to source unique products and niche-market food suppliers is a challenge many restaurateurs we spoke with would like to see addressed. This was reinforced for us this week with the release of the Restaurants Canada 2014 Chef’s Survey.

Locally-sourced food is still an important issue for restaurant chefs, however, the top trend is now gluten-free/allergy conscious menu items. Quinoa, a gluten and wheat-free product, checks in at number two to reinforce that point. These trends have us excited about some of the additions made to an ever-growing list of suppliers in our online marketplace.

Canada’s Competitive Food Market 

It’s been encouraging to read recent reports that restaurant sales are expected to grow in every province in 2014. Trade floor conversations, however, also confirmed that food costs and an increasingly competitive market weigh ever more heavily on Canada’s restaurateurs and chefs. The Restaurant Operations Report for 2013 did note that cost of sales is still the largest expense faced by restaurants at 36% of operating revenue. After three days of intense networking, it’s clear that there is a real value in digital solutions like FoodTender, which makes for an exciting future.

Suppliers Face Challenges as Well

Canadian food suppliers are facing their own set of complications. VP & Co-Founder Andre LeBlanc notes that “supplier’s sales agents are struggling with time management as the larger city centres can be traffic nightmares that tend to limit personal face time with clients.” There is serious value to be found in any solution that reduces windshield time for these reps.

We’d like to extend a big thanks to everyone who stopped by the booth this week (and wore one of our buttons), and a huge thank you to Restaurants Canada and the city of Toronto for a great learning experience. We’ve uploaded a photo album devoted to our Toronto Adventure on Facebook, be sure to take a look!

Interested in becoming a part of the FoodTender.com online marketplace? No problem! Food suppliers can join at no cost, while food establishments enjoy a 30 day free trial membership. Just click the button below to join today.

 

Create a Great Customer Service Experience in Your Restaurant

Restaurant Customer Service

The cost of bad restaurant customer service can be bigger than some restaurateurs assume. Many foodservice businesses are still only meeting the minimum standards of guest experience. For an industry that so depends on repeat customers, that’s simply not good enough.

Even those restaurants with the tastiest dishes in town can’t afford to let their service be subpar. The Soup Nazi may be an indelible television character, but in the real world, restaurant customers won’t stand for bad treatment, no matter how addictive your Crab Bisque may be.

We’ve done you the service of collecting a few best practices for creating a truly welcoming guest experience for your restaurant.

1. Service Starts Before They Walk Through the Door

Service expert Jeff Toister advises restaurant owners to pay attention to their establishment’s signage. He notes an experience he had walking past a local restaurant with a rather off-putting amount of rules posted at their entrance. Toister feels the amount of signs “suggested the restaurant focuses more on making sure guests are well-behaved than providing a great experience.” Do an audit of your signage; are you as welcoming as you could be?

2. Don’t Rush to Hire 

Restaurants face employee turnover like any other service business, but that doesn’t mean you must always be in a hurry to hire. Customer Care VP Marc Bernica reminds businesses that “the long-term cost of hiring the wrong person can be much greater than keeping those spots unfilled.” In restaurants aiming for head-of-class guest experience, even one discourteous dining room team member can have an effect on guest loyalty and word-of-mouth. This is particularly key for new establishments, when word-of-mouth is so very crucial.

3. Listen Effectively Online

We’re big on leveraging digital technology for the benefit of today’s restaurants. Today’s consumers are sharing their latest restaurant experience (good and bad) on their social media channels, writing about them on their blogs, and detailing their experiences on a growing number of review sites. Be aware of the major sites like YelpUrbanSpoon.com and Trip Advisor, and find review sites that may focus on local establishments. You can never collect too much feedback from customers, and the negative feedback is typically the most valuable.

4. Policies are Good, but be Flexible

It’s fine to have policies, but make sure your team knows they can break the rules in the name of good customer service. Consider this example from acclaimed service guru Shep Hyken. The main takeaway from Hyken’s experience: “The employee was just doing her job. She was probably told by a boss not to seat incomplete parties.” Processes need to be designed to be customer-centric, rather than simply focusing on what makes life easier for restaurant staff.

5. Back-of-House is Part of the Service Team

The service in foodservice doesn’t begin and end with your waitstaff. Kitchen staff are part of the complete experience and can’t be left out of service discussions. Too many times, I’ve watched servers and cooks bickering about who’s at fault for a mixed up or forgotten order. And the person suffering the most from this in-house squabbling is the customer.

Consider regular staff meetings with both back and front-of-house teams focused solely on guest experience. Any service training literature given to new waitstaff should be read by new kitchen staff members as well. Everyone is on the same team!

6. Know Your Customers

Keeping with the idea of being flexible, author Ron Kaufman says the best restaurants will modify their actions (and processes) according to their customers. He writes:

“..if you have three types of customers come in – business people, tourists and a family with kids – each wants something different. One group wants privacy; one wants to be engaged and hear about the locality; and the other needs lots of attention because it’s a family. To create an uplifting experience, you modify your actions to provide value. You need to educate the waiter that the purpose of their job is – to take action to create value for whoever comes in.”

7. Send Them Home on a High Note

Micah Solomon says the exit experience is every bit as crucial to a guest’s perception of your restaurant. He advises that “even the slightest hint that a server is “over” one party and on to the next toward the end of a meal dampens the entire dining experience.” Are the guests obviously tourists? Perhaps they’d like entertainment recommendations, or even a cab. Service doesn’t stop when the credit card slip has been signed.

Looking to free up some time and money spent on food buying? Looking for a solution that will allow you to focus on other aspects of the business, like customer service? Good news! Click the button below to learn more about becoming a part of FoodTender’s online marketplace.

 

Learn more about what FoodTender.com can do for your establishment by subscribing to our newsletter.

Cover image via Flickr

6 Tips for Reducing Restaurant Food Costs

reducing restaurant food costsOver the past few years, we’ve seen friends in the industry continually squeezed by rising restaurant food costs. Restaurants need to think of even the smallest operational changes that could result in reducing the cost of kitchen orders.

Andre Pellerin, President & Co-Founder of FoodTender.com notes ” Thirty-five to 40 cents out of every dollar restaurants spend is on food costs, and those costs are soaring.” Indeed, according to the CRFA’s 2013 Restaurant Operations Report, cost of sales is still the largest cost faced by restaurants at 36% of operating revenue.

Let’s highlight a few ways restaurants can get a better handle on their food spending.

1. Prioritize Communication With the Front-of-House

According to StarChefs, it’s crucial that chefs be more interactive with their serving staff and never hesitate to tell them which menu items need to be pushed. When a restaurant’s food costs are running high and/or business has dipped, tell your serving staff what low-cost menu items to emphasize to guests. “If you have lower food cost items on your menu, you have to motivate your staff to sell those at certain times.” notes restaurateur Ethan Stowell.

2. Stick to the Recipe!

Well Done Chef notes that too many restaurants have cooks with no idea what a standard plate should consist of. “Imagine you have one cook who puts 30 mL of demi-based sauce on a plate vs another who puts 80 mL. That’s over 200% of the difference, and this can throw your cost average for the plate out by as much as 30%.” writes Chef Jason Sandeman.

3. Go Seasonal Whenever Possible

Seasonal updates to the menu can be about more than adding cold dishes in the summer, warm in the winter. Veggie costs obviously vary from season to season. When produce is in-season there’s greater supply, and demand from food buyers is more easily met. That usually means good low prices. Consider keeping many of your specials built around seasonal vegetables.

4. Talk to Your Dishwashers

Jeffrey Summers at Summers Hospitality Group makes a great point about stopping by the dish washing area for a quick cost control chat. “You’d be surprised how much your dishwashers know about what items on your menu are over-portioned or come back uneaten for other reasons.” he notes.

5. Remember: Nothing is Too Trivial

The Wall Street Journal makes note of one US restaurant that focused on fountain drink costs. “Even though they typically cost the restaurant only a dime a glass. Some of the most effective moves recommended include cutting out the middleman syrup supplier and offering only one size drink instead of three. Goodbye, costly cups.”

6. Find New Ways to Connect with Local Suppliers

Rising fuel costs means manufacturers and suppliers are paying more to move product across the country, and that cost can be passed along to the independent restaurant owner. Chefs and kitchen managers need to stay on top of new ways to connect with local food suppliers in their region they may not be aware of. This is all the more important with a growing numbers of Canadians making an effort to buy local products, even if it means paying a bit more.

Most restaurant-based technology aims at improving the dining room, with little focus on the back-of-house. We’re obviously biased, but we feel the foodservice industry will benefit from online food marketplaces like FoodTender.com.

Interested in becoming a part of the FoodTender.com online community? Click here to learn more, and join us for your 30 day free trial. And be sure to download our free ebook, 25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices, at the button below.

25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices

 Cover image via Flickr

 

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