The Answer to Your Staffing Problems Is Hiding Right Under Your Nose


A few simple insights can clear up common challenges

If you’re like many restaurants in the U.S., you see a significant boost in sales during the summer months. All of those customers mean you’ll need extra serving staff to make sure you’re creating great experiences when you’re at your busiest. Did you know the restaurant industry is the second-largest creator of summer jobs in the U.S., second only to the construction industry?

If you’re also like most restaurant operators, all those extra staff members take a big bite out of your profits and your work day. It is estimated that restaurateurs spend up to 33 percent of their monthly budget on staffing costs, five or more hours a week on ongoing staff training, and if they have to let one of those summer hires go it could cost a whopping $2,228 in lost productivity and on-boarding costs.

So how do you spend less time and money on managing FOH staff and still get great results? Luckily, the answer is simple, free, and already at your fingertips. It’s data, and it’s flowing through your business every day, leaving clues about how to focus training, spotting red flags, and hiring the right people for your serving staff the first time around.

With the tools you need and a little know-how, you can turn the data surging through your business into actionable insights that will pay off in spades in time saved and extra revenue earned.

Clearing up a few misconceptions about “data”

“Data” can mean a lot of things, but at the simplest level, it’s information about what’s happening in your business that may not be obvious at the surface. Data isn’t meant to replace the instincts you have for running your business, but it can certainly help inform your decisions.

Here are a few more things you should know about data:

  • Data doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or time-consuming. In fact, it should be the opposite: helpful, cost-effective, and time-saving.

  • It’s not meant to change or replace what you’re already doing right in your business. Instead, data should simplify decision-making and let you measure results.

  • You don’t need to know everything about everything, just what’s important to you. Avoid data overload by focusing on the insights that impact your bottom line.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how data can help you tackle the most common challenges in managing your serving staff to better performance.

Common Challenge #1: “Telling my servers to ‘work harder’ isn’t clear enough—I need help setting goals for my team.”

Solution: Use data to understand the benchmarks your team needs to hit in order to keep your restaurant profitable. Then watch over time to see who is consistently hitting the targets you set.

Tips for goal setting:

  • Understand how your goals break down into everyday metrics like average ticket size and number of covers served per shift. This way, you know exactly what to look for when reviewing team and individual performance.

  • Tie a dollar amount to server performance: understanding that a server performing just five minutes slower than the average turn-time will cost you thousands over the course of a month is all the motivation you’ll need to carve out time to address performance issues.

  • Know when to use motivational tools to improve performance: incentivizing team members with contests, rewarding great performance, and acknowledging improvement over time are all important factors for staff happiness and retention.

Common Challenge #2: “I spend time coaching my servers, but I’m not sure I’m focusing on the right things.”

Solution: Use insights to understand where your team needs help and if your coaching is effective.

Tips for focusing your server training:

  • Keeping a leaderboard—a list of your servers ranked by different skills—is an easy way to quickly see what your best servers have in common and what traits are most valuable to focus on in training.

  • Know what to look for in new hires: knowing what makes servers successful at your restaurant lets you screen potential new hires quickly and save time in the hiring process.

  • Train smarter, not harder: set priorities so servers are focused on developing the most important skills from day one. Consider asking your top servers to join training to share their secrets for success with the rest of your team.

By the way, data also helps you quickly spot red flags where servers are lagging so you can correct bad habits fast, offer a little extra coaching, then watch for improvements to see if your efforts pay off.

Common Challenge #3: “I’m not sure training is worth my time and money. I’ve got more important problems that are probably costing me more.”

Solution: Do you actually know what a lack of training is costing you? Data can show you what you’re losing, down to the penny, in underperformance and the increase in revenue that even the smallest improvements could bring in.

It’s easy to see who’s making you money (you can add up those receipts), but what about the sales you’re losing to under-performing staff? That’s something you can’t see. Data helps you make important decisions about where to spend your limited time, by showing you exactly what improved performance is worth to your business.

Simply decreasing turn-time by 3 minutes, or increasing the average ticket by a few dollars, may seem insignificant—but it could mean thousands more in sales when added up across all shifts and servers over time.

  • Use data to see how much revenue your best servers are bringing in and which of their skills translate into sales clearly and consistently.

  • See exactly how much underperformance is costing your business and what improvements are worth to your bottom line. Then, make informed decisions about where to spend your time coaching staff.

  • Tying training to profits will give you all the motivation you need to set aside a few minutes each day to coach your staff to success.

Getting started

Understanding the power of data in staff management is the first step. Having the tools you need to access it is the next. There are tons of affordable, simple-to-use technology options out there—you just have to find the right fit for your business and management style.

The important thing to remember is that data—and the deeper insight that comes with it—is not meant to replace what you’re already doing right. Instead, data is great for telling you what you could be doing better. It will let you test your gut instincts and give you lightning-fast feedback on whether you’re managing your staff as effectively as you could be.

This summer, test drive some technology and see how it helps you manage your serving staff to better performance. The payoff? More great experiences for your guests.

Want more great tips on using technology to manage your staff this summer and all year long? Visit the Swipely Resources page to read more on this topic.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

Michelle Seekamp

Michelle Seekamp is a member of the Swipely content team, covering the very best in restaurant technology news and helping to create valuable resources that merchants can use to grow their businesses. Off-hours, she can be found enjoying the best her adopted Ocean State has to offer in beaches, culture, and food. Her favorite local Rhode Island eats include: Caserta's Pizza, Ivy Tavern, and Matunuck Oyster Bar.

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