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3 Ways to Optimize Staffing for Smoother Shifts and Better Profits

Restaurant labor management is an unending process that requires managers to look to the past, present, and future to make decisions that affect day-to-day operations. Not only are operators searching for solutions that allow them to do more work with fewer employees, but also to simplify complex tasks so stores can operate smoothly with fewer, newer managers.

In the past, operators could get by with older tools that offered basic support for labor management, but in today's world, where margins are smaller than ever and consistent staffing is not a guarantee, restaurants that hope to thrive need more support. Restaurant brands are looking for ways to guard against future threats to protect their brand and profitability.

Below, we outline three steps in the labor-management process and how operators can embrace modern tools to safeguard their businesses against the uncertainty of the future. 

  1. Forecasting

Many restaurant businesses use historical sales data to determine sales forecasts for upcoming weeks to then determine correct staffing levels and make the schedule. While this historical data can be helpful, often more information is needed to be truly effective. For example, it would take longer for employees to make and serve 50 two-dollar sodas rather than a single $100 bottle of wine, but both of these occurrences would show up as $100 in sales through historical data.

In order for scheduling tools to be more effective, they have to go beyond the surface level of information to recognize and call out trends. If a certain shift tends to sell a lot of small items (like when the nearby high school football team all come in for snacks), it will take more employees to serve them (and clean up after them). Meanwhile, if the sales come from fewer, larger-cost items, then the shift may need fewer employees than are scheduled, and labor costs can be reduced. Keep in mind: being adequately staffed for rushes is important because when employees start to feel overwhelmed or unsupported, they are more likely to quit, costing the business more in the long run (due to hiring and training replacements). 

Implementing a labor management tool that can create item-based forecasts means that the schedule can be made with more accurate staffing allowances. Not only will this lead to labor cost optimization, but it also can help employees feel more supported and lead to a more positive experience for guests. 

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2. Scheduling

Those who have worked in the restaurant industry know that every day is different, and just small nuances can be the difference between a successful shift and a failed one, meaning that even the most accurate sales forecasts are not all-knowing. Each day needs to have a thoughtfully created schedule that allows the team to meet the demands of the shift, even the unexpected ones. This can be challenging, though, for organizations without the right tools, leaving the success of the schedule in the hands of busy store managers with varying levels of experience.

In order to make an effective schedule, many factors need to be balanced, including (but not limited to) sales forecasts, employee availability, time-off requests, labor laws, and the skill level of team members. These factors change each week as the weather changes, holidays occur, team members learn new positions or become more skilled, and menu promotions drive more traffic. These components are a lot for a scheduling manager to juggle, so using the right tools makes the schedule more likely to be optimized. 

Using labor management software that can be customized for the location's needs (like specified labor laws) can eliminate the human error that often causes issues when creating restaurant schedules. Effective tools can reduce the time it takes to make the schedule or automate it completely, all while alerting managers to potential problems before it is published. 

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3. Running the shift

The entire purpose of forecasting and scheduling is to prepare the restaurant to run smoothly in future service. After a schedule is created and distributed, more times than not, there will be differences between what was intended on the schedule and what actually happens in future shifts. Between sales fluctuations, employees calling in sick, running late, or switching shifts with other team members, operations must be agile enough to react to these changes. 

Restaurant labor management systems can help managers understand labor situations in real-time such as whether any team members are nearing overtime and other essential information needed to make informed decisions. Additionally, integrated systems like employee scheduling apps can give employees increased flexibility in their schedules as picking up, or trading shifts can all be done digitally while allowing managers to oversee the entire process. Employees highly value having flexible schedules, so prioritizing this is key to retention.

Restaurant labor management systems can act as a protective barrier between unpredictable sales and staffing trends and help operations retain employees while increasing profitability. For an industry still facing labor uncertainty, an effective labor-management tool is about as close to a crystal ball as a restaurant operation can get. For more information on achieving optimized labor management and winning strategies to drive customer experience, profitability, and growth, download The Restaurant Operator's Guide to Ops Excellence.
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