Improving Front and Back-of-House Relations in the Restaurant

Restaurant_Staff_RelationsAnyone who’s spent time in the restaurant industry will admit that, occasionally, tempers can flare. We’re only human after all and when a big rush hits mistakes can be made, orders can be missed, and arguments can ensue.

When a conflict takes place between restaurant staff, it often takes the form of front-of-house vs. back-of-house. In my many years as a server, I witnessed several instances of bickering between my dining room colleagues and a chef or line cook. At times it felt like we were on opposite sides, like two warring sports teams.

Seeing or hearing employees fight is awkward for a guest. It also makes a restaurant seem incredibly unprofessional. So, let’s look at a few ways restaurant managers can improve relations between the two sides of their house.

Invest in an Expeditor

If your budget allows for it a good expeditor can work wonders for creating a smooth relationship between front and back-of-house. Expeditors can be a member of the hosting or serving staff, but they should ideally have a thorough understanding of how the back-of-house operates as well.

This role serves as a buffer between the kitchen and the waitstaff, so they need to possess diplomacy skills and demonstrate great calm. Make it a rule that the expeditor – and only the expeditor – can ask questions of the chefs. Have your servers filter all questions and concerns through this person. This keeps a chef from being asked the same question several times.

The expeditor keeps the kitchen on task, and on time. With a good expeditor in place, serving staff have peace of mind that their plates will come out on time, and be well presented. This saves them the frustration of sending back dishes and arguing with kitchen staff.

Enough with the Blame Game

It’s important that your restaurant’s managers understand that regardless of role, people can and will make mistakes. They need to be able to step in and keep everyone focused on finding solutions to problems rather than figuring out which side of the house is to blame.

If a guest has complained about a cold plate, does it really matter whether the kitchen or a server has erred? While chefs and waitstaff stand around bickering, the guest continues to suffer. The Blame Game helps absolutely nobody, so stop it.

Cross-Train Your Staff

We’ve touched on this topic before and it’s a great way to help improve front/back-of-house relations. Cross-training allows your staff to not only develop new skills for themselves, but to see what a typical shift looks like from their teammates’ perspectives. The ability to experience service from the other side of the window and gain insight into what the other side of the house goes through is essential for better staff relations.

Pre-Shift Meetings

If it’s not logistically possible to include both sides of the house in a pre-shift meeting, try to make sure to address the concerns of the other side during these pre-shift gatherings.

Make certain that your front-of-house knows which items are low, which items are 86’d, and anything else the chef needs them to be aware of. Conversely, be sure the kitchen staff knows when all of the shift’s large reservations are arriving, and any other issues front-of-house may need addressed in the kitchen. Pre-shifts need to be about preparing the entire team for the next rush.

All-Hands Staff Meetings

Many businesses say they’re going to have regular meetings including the entire staff. Then they hold that first meeting and never get around to another one, or get to it a year later. Restaurant schedules are tough to manage and the hours of operation can make it difficult to gather the entire squad, but management must truly make an effort to commit to regular all-hands meetings.

Beyond those daily two-to-three minute pre-shift huddles, staff meetings are important, particularly if you’re making substantial menu changes or bringing in new management.

This is the time to encourage all staff to voice questions, obstacles, and concerns. This is crucial for building relationships between front and back-of-house.

Communication Boards

Avoid confusion and miscommunication between front and back-of-house with something as simple as a white board. This is where every staff member should go before beginning their shift. Write the day’s specials, soup of the day, low stock items, and any 86’d items on these boards. If possible, make your expeditor or manager the only one allowed to modify the white board. It’s a low-cost yet effective way to keep everyone on the same page. Time permitting, go the extra step of having a kitchen staffer or manager log into your POS system and flat out remove the ability to order 86’d dishes.

If all your best laid plans still fail to stop an employee battle, the National Restaurant Association offers an interesting tip. In the event of conflict, develop a restaurant-wide hand signal or verbal cue for gathering your team in private. This helps shield guests from embarrassing situations that might affect how they perceive your business.

Any other tips for improving relations between front and back-of-house? Tell us about them below.

Are you a restaurant looking to cut costs? Check out our free ebook, 25 Restaurant Cost-Saving Best Practices, at the button below.

Restaurant Cost-Saving Practices

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Online Ordering and Your Restaurant: 9 Things to Consider

online_ordering_for_restaurantsOnline ordering is quickly becoming a must-have in your restaurant’s digital toolbox. Allowing customers to order directly from your restaurant’s website can greatly increase both your delivery and pickup revenue. What restaurateur wouldn’t want to see a nice boost in takeout business?

The National Restaurant Association notes that nearly a fifth of today’s customers say technology options are an important feature that factors into full-service restaurant choices. As well, 24% of 18-34 year old diners said they consider a restaurant’s tech options when making their dining plans.

Here are some key points to consider when developing your restaurant’s process.

1. Online Ordering for Restaurants : It Starts with a Call-to-Action

Any actions you want customers to take on your website need to be supported with calls-to-action. Add a prominent button or icon to your home page marked “Order Online Now” or something similar. When visitors enter your website, they should see these calls-to-action right away.

2. Add Social Media to the Mix

Integrate your online menu with your social media presence. Facebook has now made it easier than ever to upload and display your menu on their platform. They know the importance of online ordering for the restaurant industry and have taken steps to make it as smooth as possible. Consider using any number of online ordering applications that integrate with your Facebook page. Examples include OpenDiningChowNow, and GloriaFood.

3. Make Sure It’s Mobile-Friendly 

Keep in mind that 50% of mobile phone users now use mobile as their primary means of surfing the web. Be sure whichever system you’ve implemented as your online ordering solution looks good on any mobile device.

4. Leverage Existing Technology Partners

When deciding on the right online ordering software, try discussing the issue with your current POS provider. See if they have a list of online solutions that effectively integrate with your POS system. Your POS partner may in fact already offer their own online ordering solution. This could make your decision easier, but do the research anyway. The day may come when you decide to switch POS providers.

5. Build a Database and Get Creative

One benefit of online ordering is the ability to create a robust customer database. Capturing names, email addresses, phone numbers, and purchase histories will be vital for future marketing campaigns. Make sure somewhere during the process that you get permission from customers to send them future emails. This is a golden opportunity to build your email marketing list. These customers are definitely interested in your product, they’re already ordering it!

We’ve heard of restaurants using this information to send out notices on those low-traffic storm days. Those occasions serve as a good reason to send your database a quick email reminding them of your online ordering options.

6. Save Money by Reducing Errors

Besides the time saved from online ordering (customers are doing the bulk of the work), keep in mind the amount of money to be saved by reducing communication errors. When someone self-orders their meal, you’re eliminating the possibility of a miscommunication between customer and server.

Be sure you have an option to easily produce a full written copy of the customer’s order. Imagine having that ready the next time a customer comes in claiming their order is incomplete or incorrect.

7. Make Payment Easy

Whichever service provider you choose, it’s imperative that customers are not only able to order the food from your website, but can pay for it right away. Make it as simple as you can for payment to take place and be sure to have an option for storing their payment information. That makes it even more likely that customers will return for future ordering.

8. Ask Questions, Lots of Questions

Choosing the right provider and developing the right online process requires some reflection. Take some time to think about the options and functionality you want your ordering experience to include.

  • How flexible will it be for customer substitutions?
  • Are there fields for customers to note important allergy instructions?
  • Will there be a minimum purchase requirement? A maximum?
  • Is it going to be available in languages beyond English?
  • Are there options that facilitate upselling and add-ons?
  • Can customers include a tip for the delivery/take-out worker as part of their payment?
  • Can it remember the customers’ previous order(s)?
  • Is there an option to redeem gift cards?

9. Have a Plan for Website Outages

It’s never a good thing for your website to be offline, but if you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into driving online sales a downed website can cost you serious money.

– Have a plan in place so you know exactly who to call as soon as a problem is spotted. Make certain you have the correct support phone numbers and email addresses at the ready.

– Halt any planned emails or ad campaigns until the outage is corrected. Make sure to pause any emails that may be set to launch that day.

– Use your social media accounts to let customers know of website issues and alert them to alternate ways to contact you (phone, email).

– Finally, consider using a website monitoring service (there are free options out there) to alert you of website slowdowns and outages. Also, consider having your updates go to an email address provided by a service other than the one hosting your website. Perhaps have them sent to a gmail account, or to your mobile via text.

This post originally appeared on FoodTender.com’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.

Restaurants and Mother’s Day: A Few Tips

Mother’s Day, the busiest day of the year for the restaurant industry, is almost upon us. The annual salute to Mom can be a highly profitable (and stressful) affair for restaurant workers and managers everywhere.

The FoodTender team have all been there. We’ve worked on the front lines serving, cooking, and managing our way through several Mother’s Days over the years.

So, in an effort to help with this year’s onslaught, we’ve combed the web to collect a few ideas for making this year’s event a smashing success for your establishment.

Promoting

If you’re offering the usual menu on Mother’s Day, you run the risk of losing those customers looking for something a little different for that special occasion. This is the time to run a special feature.

Decide on your special and start promoting it both inside the restaurant and outside. If you have an email newsletter, Mother’s Day needs its own edition. Spread the word across your social media accounts, update your website with relevant content (perhaps a blog post), and add a memo to the bottom of your receipts. Use every channel at your disposal to make sure frequent guests know yours is the place to be on Mom’s special day.

Menu Planning 

Many restaurateurs recommend going with a smaller menu for this occasion. The key is to focus on something that makes it simple for the kitchen to put out quality dishes in the timeliest manner. On the single busiest day of the year, try to streamline your offerings in order to take at least some of the heat off your kitchen.

A smaller menu for the day also allows the back-of-house to prep efficiently. Focus on a few easy-to-prepare dishes, like fresh salads, and simple appetizers. Try not to offer a special feature that puts focus on one particular station of your kitchen. This is inefficient on the best of days; it could prove downright catastrophic with Mother’s Day’s increased traffic.

Treat Mom Like a Queen 

If you’re serious about making a good impression with Mom you’ve got to go above and beyond. A great meal and friendly service is very important, however, on this holiday, you need to take your guest experience to the next level.

Consider any of the following specials for moms:

  • Free dessert
  • Complimentary bar drink
  • Chocolates after the meal
  • Gift Cards and/or flowers

Depending on budget, you could consider hiring entertainment for the day. If you go this route, keep in mind volume and noise levels; not everyone enjoys live music while they dine. And be sure that whomever you hire to perform (bands, kids entertainer, etc) does not require much of your management’s time. You don’t need distractions taking management’s eyes off your guests.

Don’t Forget About the Kids

Where there are mothers there are children. So, be sure you’re prepared for an increase in younger guests. Few things make for an unsatisfying dining experience like a slew of unhappy, restless kids. It may be Mom’s day in the spotlight, but be sure to keep the junior diners happy as well.

Now is the time to make sure your toy box is stocked and ready to roll. Crayons and children’s placemats should be fully-stocked as well. If you’ve got extra high chairs and booster seats in storage, now would be a good time to dust them off and get them out.

Booking 

The worst thing you could do is create excessive wait times, so don’t overbook. Management needs to be very hands on with the reservation book. Make sure you’ve got well-communicated limits on how many guests you’ll serve at what time. And make sure managers and hosts know when to stop taking reservations.

Keeping parties waiting, specifically those with reservations, is a recipe for disaster.

Consider holding set seating times to avoid this hassle. For example at brunch book tables for 11:00, 12:00, and 1:00, etc. It may be worthwhile to limit large parties.

Make the Wait Bearable 

If people do have to wait to be seated, do what you can to alleviate boredom. See if you can free up extra seating in the bar area. Some restaurants prep some extra appetizer samples to be distributed in the waiting area. It’s a great excuse to push a new appetizer.

Staffing 

This one’s simple enough: make sure you have plenty of staff on to keep up with the day’s traffic. Also, be sure the Mother’s Day staff is made up of your A Team –  the cream of your crop. If you’ve got brand new staff on, let them bus tables, serve as extra dishwashers, or help with expediting.

If you’ve created special features and new menu items for the day, be sure serving staff are able to discuss the particulars with guests. This goes back to starting your prep as early as you can. Be sure to have a quick pre-shift meeting with all staff before open and/or before the next rush.

Do Something For Your Staff

You should absolutely consider doing something special for your team. Remember, they’re spending a large chunk of their Sunday away from their own mothers and families. Free staff meals, free drinks (after close of course), small gifts. Whatever you can think of. And whatever you do, don’t forget about the mothers on staff.

Create a Great Guest Experience 

Finally, here’s the part where we drop in a quick plug for another one of our posts, Create a Great Customer Service Experience in Your RestaurantMaybe give that one a read before Mom arrives.

NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared on FoodTender.com’s Strategy Blog.

 

Create a Great Restaurant Customer Service Experience

Restaurant_Customer_ServiceThe 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.

NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared on FoodTender.com’s Strategy Blog.

Restaurants: Stop Losing Good Employees

Restaurant_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 endeavor. 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.

  Restaurant Cost-Saving Practices


NOTE: A version of this post originally appeared on FoodTender.com’s Strategy Blog.

7 Tips for Cutting Restaurant Labour Costs

Restaurant_labour_costsAccording 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.

Restaurant Cost-Saving Practices


NOTE: A Version of this post originally appeared at FoodTender.com’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.

Fine-Tuning Your Restaurant’s Inventory Practices

Restaurant_InventoryTaking restaurant inventory isn’t the most glamorous part of the job, but it’s crucial to keeping weekly food costs low, ingredients fresh, and customers satisfied.

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.

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 ways to create smoother restaurant inventory practices? Share them in the comments.

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

NOTE: This post originally appeared in March 2014 on FoodTender.com’s Restaurant Strategy Blog.

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