Best Strategies for Understaffed Restaurants – Forbes Advisor
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In September 2021, the National Restaurant Association found that nearly four out of five restaurants were understaffed. Fortunately, staff shortages don’t mean the end of your catering business. There are several ways to centralize your restaurant operations to increase the productivity of the staff you have. With restaurant software growing at a faster rate than ever, you’ll have plenty of tools to consider.
But streamlining your restaurant isn’t just about software. There are several low-tech ways to reduce the amount of human attention and man-hours needed to run your restaurant. This is our best advice for organizing your front-of-house, back-of-house, and back-office operations to survive a staff shortage.
The front of a restaurant (FOH) includes all of the customer-facing areas and typically requires the most staff. Depending on your type of restaurant, your front desk staff may include hosts, servers, bartenders, baristas, busses, and couriers. Then, of course, there are the customers, their orders and their payments to manage. Most of your HOF solutions involve customer-facing software.
- Use QR codes. A QR code is a square barcode that smartphones can read. They were invented in Japan in 1994 but took off around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Cameras on customers’ smartphones can read a QR code that links to your restaurant’s online ordering site, creating a portable ordering and payment device. Several restaurant point of sale (POS) systems include a QR code generator. If you’re not using POS, several websites generate QR codes for free.
QR codes won’t eliminate all of your room staff, but they can reduce the number of servers you need and free up the staff you have to focus on other tasks.
- Set up self-ordering kiosks. Self-ordering kiosks no longer require a massive outlay of money. Most tablet POS systems now include optional software to convert tablets into customer-facing kiosks. This is a great strategy for counter-service restaurants that lack cashiers and already have multiple POS terminals; simply convert your POS terminals into kiosks.
Kiosks that can take both orders and payments and increase restaurant sales. According to internal research by kiosk companies, self-ordering kiosks can cut table turn times by six to nine minutes, increase server tips by 15%, and encourage customers to spend 21% more per check. .
- Sell in advance. Using a ticket-based model to sell your food in advance is nothing new. Upscale independent restaurants have been using this model for several years now. If you’re understaffed, a ticket template is a great choice. Customers pre-order and pay for their meals, taxes and tips and arrive at your restaurant on time. All you have to do is prepare the food. A ticket template also lets you control the flow of customers into your restaurant to avoid overwhelming your team.
- Trust ready-to-drink beverages. This is a low-tech solution that can have a big impact. Replace your fountain drinks and drinks on order with ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages in bottles and cans. Using RTD beverages, even bottled beer and cocktails, allows your staff to focus on other tasks. It also makes the words “free refills” a thing of the past.
Back Office Strategies
Restaurant kitchens require a lot of personal attention, especially if your restaurant is busy. The key to back of house is to streamline tasks without reducing the quality of your food. You don’t need to buy a hamburger flipping robot to make changes to your operation in the background.
Here are some easy places to start streamlining your kitchen:
- Simplify your menu. The main idea here is to go back to basics. Remove dishes that are not selling well and analyze dishes that require multiple ingredients or long preparation times.
Are there ways to reduce the ingredients or labor required without reducing the dish? Can you adjust the dishes to reduce the number of cooking stations you need? Can you replace a fried protein with a roasted protein that requires less attention to service? Simplifying your menu will reduce the number of cooks you need to work simultaneously.
- Buy pre-prepared ingredients. Buy commonly used ingredients like pre-diced onions and carrots from your supplier. If fresh pasta is one of your signatures, look for a quality pre-made product from your suppliers. Consider buying your bread and desserts from a local bakery or small business. Pre-prepared ingredients save you the hours of labor your cooks would otherwise spend chopping and cooking items you can easily find elsewhere.
- Switch to single use. Casual restaurants can replace crockery and cutlery with single-use items that don’t require washing. It can be as simple as using metal baskets with paper liners in a burger joint or sturdy pressed fiber plates for salads or burritos.
When choosing your single-use containers, remember: 55% of consumers say they are concerned about the environmental impact of product packaging. So stick to sustainable and recyclable options. You’ll support customer tastes while saving money on dishwashing hours.
Back office solutions
Adding new software tools to your point of sale will save you administrative hours in the back office. It may even reduce the number of managers you need to run your restaurant. If you’re running a cloud-based POS, it’s an easy way to innovate. If you’re considering adding new restaurant software to your POS, you’ll be in good company, as 65% of restaurant owners plan to expand their POS with new modules in the coming months.
The best tools to streamline your restaurant back office include:
- Employee scheduling tools. If you are not yet using scheduling software to manage employee schedules, now is the time to start. Scheduling software keeps track of your staff’s availability, time off requests and hours worked. Most systems can also estimate your labor costs, suggest schedule changes, and send messages to your staff’s smartphones. This change alone can save you five to ten office hours per week.
- Inventory management tools. Almost every restaurant outlet these days has built-in or built-in inventory tools. Importing all of your ingredients, recipes, and suppliers can be administratively time-consuming. But once you do, you’ll have a fully automated ordering wizard.
Automated inventory tools can track ingredients as you use them, alerting you to low stock and suggesting supplier orders. Many include vendor management, which lets you create and manage purchase orders right from your POS dashboard.
These tools will also speed up your physical inventory. No more transferring the number of papers into spreadsheets to calculate food costs and find losses; built-in inventory software lets you use tablets or smartphones to track live counts. These digital counters show you real-time counting progress and automatically calculate your food and drink costs.
- Automated marketing: More than any other business model, restaurants rely on loyal customers. Most restaurants make a higher percentage of their sales from repeat customers than from new customers. Using targeted, automated email and SMS advertising helps you inform loyal customers of upcoming events and promotions. It also helps you convert new customers into regulars.
Most cloud-based POS systems include automated email modules as an add-on tool or integrate with customer relationship management software. You can create personalized guest lists based on their dining preferences, frequency of visits, or upcoming birthdays. Your marketing module will automatically send personalized messages, which will save you administrative time.
If you need a low-tech back-office solution, adapt your opening hours. View your sales and customer traffic reports. Can you possibly close an hour earlier or open an hour later most days? If there is one day of the week when your sales are consistently lower than others, consider closing that day to give yourself (and your staff) a day off. These changes won’t necessarily be permanent, but they can be a temporary fix until you can recruit staff again.
Regardless of staff availability, the restaurant business remains a people-based business. Technology is unlikely to replace the human touch customers expect. The smart application of specific software tools and streamlining strategies can help your restaurant get the most out of your staff. By reducing the number of hours you need for each staff member and streamlining the tasks they perform, you’ll also mitigate another pandemic sweeping the restaurant industry: employee burnout.