Reducing Labour Costs in Cafes and Restaurants

Undercover boss; a television show airing at the moment is becoming the talking point in my cafes in the mornings. “Did you watch it last night? The executive had no idea what the staff were doing on the floor” It’s not too dissimilar in many small businesses. I’ve found even when the boss is working in the same space as other staff, he or she might have no idea what is actually going on around them.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learnt while building my business is to know what everyone is doing at all times. As a manager or owner you simply cannot leave to chance the behavior of your staff. I don’t expect owners and managers to be the best at every task, quite to the contrary, I expect the staff to be better than the manager (not always the case.) But I do expect management to know every duty and task inside out. Below are a few questions I believe every business owner should be asking themselves:

Do you know what they’re doing?

You’ve just employed a cook to do breakfasts in your cafe, because you weren’t sure if anyone other than a qualified cook could do this. If you spend a week working with this cook you may just find that anyone with the right direction can learn this job and perhaps perform it better. A junior or family member in this position may save you a significant amount of money, but the only way to establish this is by learning the position yourself.

Another common mistake made by people that don’t know the positions they employ for, is assuming that whoever you’ve employed has your businesses best interests at heart, and is working efficiently and producing high quality service or product. FACT: Nobody cares for your business like you do. You need to know if a task is taking twice as long as it should to complete, you need to know if quality produce is being used in the preparation of your products. You need to know if a task is taking twice as long as it should to complete, you need to know if quality produce is being used in the preparation of your products. You need to know how much you’re paying for supplies and if too much is being ordered or worse still, thrown away. You need to put yourself in a position where staff cannot tell you what it takes to complete a task without you having a modest clue.

Do you know why they do it?

Why are your staff running items up on the till in a certain manner? Is it because there’s no other way to report the required sale? Why are your staff wasting time peeling potatoes when peeled potatoes can be purchased for only marginally more than unwashed whole potatoes. Why is an annual report being created when nobody is reading it? While performing these duties as the owner or manager, you will be in a position where you can ask questions your staff couldn’t care less about.

Do you know how long it should take to do it?

When things get quiet and the roster needs to be reduced, you need to know how long it takes your staff to perform duties, so as to demand greater efficiency from your staff without being unreasonable. I’ve noticed people by nature don’t maintain efficiencies, so even if your staff periodically halve the time it takes them to complete a task, without fail in 3 months time without continued monitoring the task will take double the time again to complete. Remember it is a rare and valuable employee who without being shown; works smarter as opposed to harder. You need to be able to show the way when you find opposition regarding how long a task should take.

How many staff does it take to screw in a light bulb?

If you’ve never screwed in a light bulb you might be forgiven for thinking that one needs to unwrap the bulb and hold the box the another needs to hold the ladder, one needs to unscrew the bulb and dispose of it, and the highest paid staff member will be responsible for screwing in the light bulb. Oh and of course each staff member by law must work a minimum shift of 3 hours. So imagine the cost of replacing a globe when you’ve never undertaken in this task yourself. Don’t allow the wool to be pulled over your eyes. Especially when you’re new to the industry. For those of you more experienced in the industry begin to learn what your accountant is preparing for you and question what your other contractors are doing.

Do you know if they do it?

Without walking in their shoes you cannot know if certain tasks are actually being completed. Are they following procedures as required. Are they undertaking in those weekly monthly or annual tasks. What shortcuts are being taken that aren’t noticeable but detrimental to your business?