Fast Casual Summit: 10 moves to maximize your manpower

| by S.A. Whitehead
Fast Casual Summit: 10 moves to maximize your manpower

When it comes to maximizing resources and optimizing their labor pool, The Simple Greek focuses on the three P's of People, Process and Product, said Eric Lavender, executive director of operations of the brand's parent company. ML Foods. The three prongs of this particular food service fork represent the operational elements that Lavinder and two other restaurant executives described last month in a session about optimizing labor last month at the Fast Casual Executive Summit in Dana Point, California. 

The discussion, which revolved around the best ways to recruit and train as well as energize and retain employees for maximum productivity,  also included Blue Lemon President Aaron Day, Juan Martinez of Giardino Gourmet Salads and Michele Strong of LRS.

Below are the Top 10 takeaways from the panel. 

1.    Spend more time talking to and learning from employees.
Although restaurant workers are often credited as being among this industry's greatest resources, that sometimes refers only to their abilities to deliver on customers' demands. All three participants, however,  repeatedly mentioned the critical importance of constantly checking in with staff to learn how they think they can optimize their work for the best results.

For instance, are there old remnants in your standard operating procedures for wait or kitchen staff that no longer serve any real purpose? Almost every job carries around this type of extra weight. That's why the regular process of sifting out these types of extraneous actions keeps your staff a lean, mean customer service machine.

The panelists emphasized the importance of ongoing communication with employees to stay abreast of needs and deficits. These are each business's frontline warriors and thus, they are typically the best sources of information about what's working and what's not. 

2.    Periodically run an efficiency check on the overall situation and performance of restaurant equipment.
This step harkens back to those three Ps Lavinder previously mentioned. It's also why he recommends that restaurateurs and managers "do a spaghetti map of what each of their employees do throughout the course of a shift."

Lavinder said this is a great way to discover basic inefficiencies in each individual's job functions and then develop a new more streamlined procress. The end result could be the kind of cost, labor or time savings that cumulatively can save big bucks in the long run. 

3.    Give them a reason to connect with your culture and their job's placement on a restaurant career path.
This is a particularly important element in the realm of attracting and keeping younger employees who, research repeatedly shows, demand that their jobs represent their "place" in the world. In other words, does your culture echo the kind of culture that younger workers want to be identified with?

If not, you could be missing out on a lot of potentially business-bettering applicants who are seeking to join brands whose names stand for certain priorities.

"Environment is huge," said Giordano Salads' Martinez. "Really, some look at these jobs as being 'in a show.'" 

By way of a "what-not-to-do" example, Martinez referred to one competing brand's decision to remove some of its high-end coffee brewing equipment. Unfortunately, he said that left the brand's baristas without an element they considered essential to the "more showy" elements of their roles. 

"Thebaristass didn't like it because they thought it took away from the 'art' of what they do," he said. 

Also important to consider here, according to the panelists, are things like your chain's reputation for locally sourced, sustainable and even healthful food and/or its preparation, as well as your brand's philanthropic or community connections. 

4.    Don't overlook the baby boomers.
"There's been a big decline in the number of 16- to 24-year-olds who want to work in the restaurant industry," said Strong.

Day agreed, saying his brand's ranks are expanding with these over-50 workers.

"We're seeing lots of baby boomers, particularly for part-time," he said.

The other panelists agreed that older workers are becoming an increasingly larger part of their workforces because they tend to be reliable and hard-working. They cautioned that restaurateurs have to ensure that their brand's culture is providing "a place" for workers in this age group, who may be more akin to one-on-one communication and training.

Likewise, the panelists said that quite often they are employing a variety of generations who must work well together. Take steps now to help them communicate effectively with each other and you. And consider instituting training that can be executed in a number of different ways, from the classic manual-based tutorials, to those higher-tech training platforms often so amenable to younger workers. The panelists said making these accommodations can and will affect both a brand's ability to attract and recruit workers, as well as retaining them for longer periods.

The cost of not paying attention to these multi-generational differences can be costly. As Strong reminded the panel, current research indicates that the cost of turn-over for one hourly worker is more than $2,000, while the cost for one salaried worker is $13,523 each. In fact, she said that today average restaurant with 50 employees, including four managers, spends about $130,000 a year in additional costs related to turnover and replacement costs. 

5.    Use analytics to steer your attention areas that need improvement.
Martinez said that although many restaurateurs see analytics strictly as a means of gaining insight on their costs and price-setting structures, he urged his colleagues to use it to gain insight on where other inefficiencies are slowing down operations or driving up costs. 

"Use anyaltyics to drive things you need to change," he told the audience. 

Day agreed, reminding the audience to ensure "You have the right operating metric for the problem you're trying to solve. Know what you need to quantify." 

6.    Use technology to enhance efficiency and job satisfaction, while enhancing the "human element."
All the panelists said that there are a lot of technologies that can augment each worker's efficiency and satisfaction on the job. They repeatedly suggested looking at ways that help the restaurant remain very "human-centric," while simultaneously helping human staff enjoy their work and perform better through the little lifts technology can provide. 

"Consider using aids like Table Tracker," suggested Day, referring to a restaurant table location system that identifies where diners are sitting to expedite food service. 

Others suggested restaurateurs labor-saving goals, like augmenting counter service with self-order kiosks to siphon off some of line populations during high-traffic times. 

7.    Let employees have a say.
Efficiencies increase if the members of a restaurant's workforce feel like they have a say in the way business is handled every day. That means giving employees chances for input regarding certain problems or operational deficiencies.

The panelists suggested everything from prompting employee suggestions on menu items and providing flex time options, to unique work-arounds, like the "dependability chart," used by one of the panelists to heighten employee input by indicating when each worker "definitely can" and "definitely cannot" work, as well as days they might "prefer" not to work if possible. By giving them a say they have become more engaged, loyal, interdependent and unified which can often lead to higher sales and lower turnover.

8.    Modify schedules and cross-train to get the right people on at the right time doing the right thing. 
"Restaurants tend to cut back at the wrong times — often at what ends up to be peak hours," Martinez said. The panel suggested approaching scheduling almost like a forensic scientist, by analyzing data to determine weak links in your labor chain that slow down service.

Are more staff needed on prep or in dishwashing at a particular time? Consider cross-training staff in similar roles to handle a number of specific duties as the demand increases across the workday. This gives employees exposure to more types of work and puts the manpower where you need it most as the traffic dictates.

9.    Check out your competitors' innovations and updates. 
"Keep your eyes on the competition and that includes C-stores," said Martinez. 

Look at how others in your area and line of business are allotting resources to meet needs for product, manpower, advertising and any other work-a-day need as it occurs.

Ask yourself questions like, Are there other types of technologies that might be worth a pilot test? Is too much time or resources invested in acquiring or preparing certain low-return menu offerings? 

10.    Use your POS as a data mine and additional employee. 
POS systems are quite often rich in offerings that can help guide how and where you make changes to optimize your workforce. Everyone on the panel advocated using data, such as POS analytics to gain insight on key elements that might improve workforce efficiency and plug "holes" in service.

POS systems can reveal your weakest spots and shed light on everything from whether you might benefit from the addition of catering to handle big-ticket off-site orders, to which times of day online ordering is most intense and might even benefit from other types of marketing or loyalty programs. 

Register here for the 2017 Summit, Oct. 22-24 in Nashville.


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Communications, Equipment & Supplies, Fast Casual Executive Summit, Marketing / Branding / Promotion, On the Menu, Operations Management

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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