Summer is a busy and often unpredictable time for restaurants. Many experience an increase in business as the weather warms up, tourism increases, and people look for an excuse to get out of the house. However, factors like weather, travel, and seasonal events make for unexpected spikes and dips in sales that can keep even the best managers and employees on their toes. Preparation is critical to weather rush and slow periods, but good time management practices on the job can be just as important. To help you maximize both the frantic and quiet periods of summer business, here are five time management life-hacks tailored to meet the needs of a busy restaurant manager.
1. Proactive Planning
I spend all day putting out fires, and never have enough time to get ahead.
Nearly every restaurant manager or owner has spent a shift (or more!) putting out fires. In the restaurant business that could mean both literal and figurative fires. To some degree, fire extinguishing by management is inevitable and unavoidable. However, the extent to which those types of activities occupy a manager depends largely on whether he or she takes a proactive or reactive mindset toward work. As dynamic as restaurant work can be, it simply doesn’t pay to take a reactive stance.
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail,” goes a popular quote from Benjamin Franklin. Proactive planning is about much more than being ready for what lies ahead: it’s about being ready for just about anything that will or can happen. In “The Proactive Professional,” Chrissy Scivicque recommends a five step strategy: Predict, Prevent, Plan, Participate, Perform. The idea is to look into the future, predict possible scenarios, identify obstacles to prevent, create a plan based on those predictions, and then implement that plan through timely action and influence as a manager.
A key to successful proactive planning is to create time for it in advance. Often, that means at least the night before a busy day, if not earlier. By the time morning arrives, you might already be reacting to situations that could have been predicted and prevented.
2. Prioritize and delegate.
I’ve planned everything thoroughly, but there’s just not enough time to get everything done.
Restaurant work is compartmental by nature. There are front of hour and back of house employees. Fry cooks are separate from grill cooks; servers, bussers, and hosts all have distinct roles and responsibilities. This can lead managers shy away from delegating tasks that seem to stretch others’ strict job roles. However, it’s important to bear in mind the power and importance of delegation. Leadership author John C. Maxwell puts it nicely when he says, “If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”
An effective system (that even comes with an app!) comes from CommitTo3. As you review your tasks for the day – ideally as part of a proactive planning session well in advance – choose the three most important tasks, particularly ones that can only be accomplished by you. Then delegate everything else on the list. Letting go of responsibility is scary, but the long term benefits are profound. You’ll have more time to support your team, and employees will become more confident and capable at their work (as we’ll discuss below).
3. Quality, frequent professional development.
I want to delegate, but I’m not sure my staff can handle the added responsibility.
Delegation becomes much easier if it occurs alongside a program of professional development. In this way, it’s more about developing staff capacity than just offloading tasks. The most common type of restaurant professional development is cross training, where management trains bussers to be hosts or servers, fry cooks to work the sauté station, or even front of house and back of house employees to switch roles. Practically everyone wants to be better at their job, and few will scoff at learning new skills or working toward promotion within the restaurant.
Particularly when it comes to unpredictable summer rushes, heavy cross training creates a strong security network in case a large party arrives suddenly, or one or more employees no-shows to work. Moreover, quality cross training empowers employees, improves loyalty, and decreases turnover. All this can mean major time and effort savings for managers.
However, to save even more time, consider taking cross training a step further: train employees in management tasks. Making yourself redundant in routine tasks doesn’t mean you’ll become disposable; it means you’ll have more time and energy to be an even better, more valuable manager.
4. Keep logs and track time.
I’d like to plan more proactively, but how do you predict the unpredictable?
Planning without data is a significant challenge. However, thanks to modern employee time management apps, you don’t need to be a ten year restaurant veteran to develop a useful reserve of predictive data. With time tracking software, you can measure exactly how long your staff takes to perform key job responsibilities. Pair this with logs on covers per day, reservations, materials costs, and employee attendance, and you have the fundamentals for successful proactive planning. A week’s worth of data is enough to begin to identify inefficiencies in prep routines, employee arrival times, table turns, and a variety of other restaurant tasks. This data is useful for improving processes – for instance bringing in the right amount of extra prep help for busy days, or investing in a piece of equipment to automate processes that are costing too much in labor. Additionally, time tracking data is excellent for forecasting how many employees you’ll need on days you know or suspect will be busy, or how many to call in if the restaurant suddenly becomes slammed.
5. Switch to digital scheduling and employee time management.
Some weeks, just keeping up with the employee schedule takes half my time at work!
Restaurants have incredibly complex scheduling needs. With all the stations to cover, plus uncertainty as to the staffing demands of any given day, putting together a solid schedule can be hugely time consuming. Add to that employee leave requests, last minute call-offs and no-shows, and shift swapping, and managing it all can feel like Sisyphus pushing his stone up the hill only to have it roll back down every day. Fortunately, the complexities of restaurant scheduling can be reduced with a bit of technological help.
Online, shareable schedules built into employee time management apps make building a schedule as simple as dragging and dropping. Overtime is automatically calculated and flagged in the case of too many shifts being added to a single employee. Perhaps even more useful to restaurant managers, though, is the communicative features of online scheduling. Employees can access their schedule from any mobile device, clock in and out via their mobile phones, and even receive instant updates any time the schedule is changed. This significantly reduces confusion surrounding shifts and working times, and eliminates the need to contact and notify every employee any time there’s an emergency schedule change.
Online, shareable schedules also make it easier for employees to take ownership of schedule swapping. Instead of being the hub for employee shift swaps, managers can use cloud-based, shared schedules to place the onus of finding cover on the employee. This way employees come to management with schedule solutions, rather than schedule problems to be solved.