Creating a Labor Model that Fits Pandemic Sales

Adjusting your labor model to fit business levels and changing guest needs is just smart business, but it has been elevated to a critical task as COVID 19 restrictions take their toll on restaurants. Like so many other tasks in our industry, it is a big jigsaw puzzle. You need to understand what the big picture looks like, then put all the pieces together until the picture is complete. Here are 5 steps to help you in creating a labor model that fits pandemic sales.

get there quickly.

Start with a Target

Your labor target during a pandemic should be the same as any other time, but the dollars might need to be allotted to different jobs. For example, more take out business might mean more host hours, less server hours. In general, service labor should be 4.5 to 5.5 percent of total sales and kitchen labor should come in around 11 to 13 percent for a full-service restaurant. Fast casual concepts usually subtract about 2 percent from service and add it to kitchen. Total labor including management salaries, taxes and benefits should reflect 28 to 34 percent of total sales. Use these guidelines to set your targets, project your weekly sales and start writing schedules to achieve those goals.

While that sounds simple, it will probably require rethinking the way you do business daily.

Produce More with Fewer Hands

If ever you wanted to eliminate those items that do not sell, now is the time. Re-engineer your menu to make it easier to produce by fewer people. Some places to look for effective change include:

  • Lowering the number of components on a plate
  • Maximizing ingredient use in multiple dishes
  • Moving equipment to make it easier for one person to work more items
  • Batch prepping where possible
  • Preassembling items where it does not harm quality

Redistribute Responsibilities

Evaluate the changes in your business and reassign duties accordingly. If bartenders are no longer serving guests around the bar, they may be able to take on take out duties. With fewer tables, servers may be able to bus tables and run their own food. If lunch is strong for only an hour and a half, have the prep person work a line position for those 90 minutes instead of paying a line cook 5 to 6 hours to do the same thing. These are just a few examples but a careful look at how your daily operational needs have changed will result in several new ways to distribute the work.

Combine Jobs

Look for ways to turn two jobs into one. Decreases in sales volume, changes in purchase trends, altered floorplans, and streamlined menus should create opportunities to reassign tasks and eliminate positions completely. Often the first thing you hear when asking staff to take on more work is “am I getting more money?”. When you do the math, look for opportunities to give out raises while eliminating positions. Making this move before the question is asked builds loyalty and encourages your team to give it their all.

Give Some Hourly Functions to Managers

While it is important that managers are free to manage, during tough times they need to take on extra responsibilities too. Chefs will find themselves filling in on the line more, bar managers making more drinks and service managers bagging and cashing out more take-out meals. Look for ways to use your managers to cut labor without overburdening them. Simple tasks like making iced tea or cutting tomatoes can shave minutes off clock in times, leading to significant labor savings over a few weeks.

Labor is never an easy area to control and every dollar saved is a dollar subtracted from someone else’s income. The balance between meeting the needs of the business and taking care of your staff is never an easy one to achieve, but the 5 steps discussed in this article are a particularly good way to start the process.

CARES Program blog contributed by:

Michael Maxwell, partner of Blue Orbit Hospitality Consulting, is a veteran marketing speaker and workshop leader with over 200 successful events under his belt. Event organizers and attendees frequently comment on the nature of the practical, actionable “takeaway” value of his presentations.

Learn more about Michael’s seminar: Recovering from the Pandemic in the Restaurant World and how to access customized consulting through the Collin SBDC CARES Program.