How Smart Companies Get Employees to Brag About the Business

Your employees can provide the strongest, most passionate endorsements of your business — if they’re engaged.

An astronomical 96 percent of employees who are engaged in their jobs try their hardest at work. If that many of your employees are giving it their all, day in and day out, your company will certainly go the distance. But tapping into that engagement is another story entirely. Here are the five most important strategies that will make your employees want to brag about your company:

1. Put employees first:
Put your employees first by providing flexible scheduling and letting them choose work assignments for select shifts. Make sure they know you have their backs.

According to acclaimed author and public speaker Shep Hyken, great companies will train their employees both technically and on how to deliver the best service possible. However, treating your employees with the dignity and respect that every human being craves is at the core of this process. In doing so, you will create a positive domino effect that trickles down to the customers your employees serve.

Employees will care more about how your customers are treated once you’ve demonstrated that you care about how your employees are treated.

2. Connect with your team:
All too often, there’s a divide between executives and hourly employees. Make yourself accessible, and connect with employees on the floor. Consider trading places with an outstanding hourly employee for a day to recognize good work while demonstrating that you’re willing to do all of the things you ask of your employees. Building camaraderie among your teammates will help them see your company as an establishment that values its people.

3. Recognize good work:
A recent survey shows that while 81 percent of respondents’ employers offer some form of recognition, just 46 percent report that their employers offer recognition on an individual basis. Only 51 percent of respondents feel valued by their employers.

Honest, sincere recognition is much more powerful than a tacky “Employee of the Month” award plaque or a canned company wide congratulatory email. Give your staff members immediate feedback when they meet and exceed your expectations. Instant gratification is powerful. It encourages employees to continue developing positive behaviors at work that lead to better customer service.

4. Give employees a voice:
No matter how well you treat your employees, giving them a platform to discuss issues in a constructive manner will make them feel like they have a say in how they do their jobs. Your platform may be a simple suggestion box or a monthly team meeting at which everyone is invited to speak openly.

Whether your employees want more supplies to do their jobs better or an extra break on busy days, providing solutions to small concerns voiced by your staff members demonstrates that you’re listening and sincerely want them to succeed. In turn, they’ll sing your company’s praises whenever they get the chance.

5. Create career paths and goals:
Employees who see a future with your company are more likely to be engaged with where they work. Provide challenging, rewarding work and advancement paths. If you can help your employees see their work as a career as opposed to simply a job, they’ll be proud to evangelize your company culture. Partner with HR to devise plans for how you can help your staff reach career goals and benchmarks.

Employee engagement isn’t the mystery it’s cracked up to be. Show you care by implementing these simple strategies, and you’ll have a hardworking team of employees by day and passionate brand advocates by day and night.

* Abridged from an article by Sam Bahreini

Restaurants Need To Improve Labor Productivity

Labor costs are a growing concern for the restaurant industry. Numerous restaurant company executives are saying that labor costs are an increasing problem. And more operators are saying they’re struggling to find good workers.

Hudson Riehle, head of the research and knowledge group at the National Restaurant Association, said that employee recruitment is a growing worry for operators. According to the NRA, 12 percent of operators in April said that recruiting employees was their top concern.

A year ago, he said, only 4 percent of operators considered recruitment was their top concern.

Employee recruitment concerns have come as restaurants have expanded and added new employees. The industry has been adding jobs at a rapid clip in recent months as operators add new units and expand existing locations.

But that expansion is coming with a price in the form of higher wages. In addition, it has drawn activists pushing for higher wages. State governments are raising minimum wages. And it’s possible, albeit unlikely, that Congress could get in on the act.

The answer for the industry may be labor productivity.

Riehle, at the NRA Show, noted that restaurants average $84,000 in sales per worker. By comparison, grocers average $304,000. Gas stations average $855,000. Both of those industries compete with restaurants for food away from home.

“Going forward, this will have to change,” Riehle said. “If you look at the history of labor productivity in the industry, it has not been good.”

It’s not easy for restaurants to increase labor efficiency. The industry has a significant service element. Many restaurant consumers are looking for high service levels that they won’t get eating at home. Reducing labor can risk that. In addition, the industry has also been generally shy about adapting technology.

But there are emerging technologies that can make restaurants more efficient. Tabletop tablets making their way across the casual dining sector could enable restaurants to ultimately reduce wait staff.

Perhaps kiosks, or smartphone apps, or some other technologies we don’t know of yet could finally improve labor efficiency in the industry. Indeed, McDonald’s executives note that as they work to improve speed of service in their restaurants, they can use technology to accomplish that even while keeping the company’s enormous menu.

If the industry can find ways to improve productivity, it could pay higher wages even while keeping labor costs under control by employing fewer, better workers.

*Abridged from a story in Nation’s Restaurant News, May 2015 ,

Loyalty Can’t Wait: Why Your Business Needs a Loyalty Program

Loyalty programs are intertwined with our daily routines, even if we don’t always recognize it. When you stop by your favorite coffee shop on the way to work, you pick up a free latte because you bought ten others over the last month. After work, you swing by the grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner, but you always go to “your” grocery store and buy “your” brands for a variety of reasons. Before heading home, you stop by Nordstrom to exchange a new shirt with no penalty for the return, and end up purchasing two more shirts because their service is “just so great.” And before bed, you find yourself engaging with your favorite sitcom online as you watch the show, earning points along the way.

Loyalty programs are everywhere. Our decisions to purchase and interact with a brand depends on the ability to be rewarded for our time and money spent, even if we don’t always recognize it.

It’s clear that loyalty programs are here to stay, and if your brand doesn’t thank its customers for their business by rewarding them, you’re missing out on a serious opportunity that your competition may be capitalizing on. Let’s look at a few reasons why your brand needs a loyalty program in order to stay competitive and win your market.

Loyalty Programs Grow Your Business
While we might not all wake up with revenue on the brain, all for-profit companies have one common goal: to make more money than is spent. Although positive cash flow is not the only reason we’re in business, it’s always a great proxy for success. Loyalty programs are one of the best ways to help your business achieve this bottom line because they encourage your existing customers to boost their loyalty toward your brand, and ultimately purchase more frequently.

In a recent retail study, it was shown that only 12-15% of customers are loyal to a single retailer, but they represent between 55 -70% of total sales (Center for Retail Management, Northwestern University). Put simply, this means over half of your current business is likely coming from a small percentage of your total customers, and those customers are making loyal purchases on a regular basis. Additionally, loyalty programs can increase a brand’s market share by 20% and improve customer acquisition by up to 10% (Aimia).

Not only do loyalty programs increase the number of repeat customers your brand receives, they also increase the amount of repeat purchases that those customers make. In a survey recently conducted by Clickfox, 54% of respondents said they would consider increasing the amount of business they do with a company for a loyalty reward, and 46% said they already have. Talk about driving sales through loyalty!

Loyalty Programs Attract New Business (and Save You Money!)
Bain & Company’s famous metric still holds true today: it costs the average business 6-7 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain a current one. Loyalty programs are all about keeping your current customers happy and engaged, which lowers a brand’s need for new customer acquisition while doing wonders for its retention.

Take a moment and think about how much money you currently spend on acquiring new customer through channels like PPC, PR campaigns, content marketing, social media, and others. Is it in the thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Maybe even in the millions? I’m in no way saying traditional channels are obsolete as they are still critical to customer acquisition, but I am saying that many brands will benefit by spending less on the above when a loyalty program is added to the mix. When brands take a portion of their existing budget and put it behind a loyalty initiative, the acquisition machine will begin to feed itself, which is evident across other channels.

And the acquisition benefits of a loyalty program don’t stop there. A study by ClickFox revealed that 62% of consumers don’t believe that the brands they’re most loyal to are doing enough to reward them, which increased the chances of altering their behavior to maximize loyalty benefits by 57%. Today’s customers expect more from the brands they love, and when they don’t receive a well deserved “thank you” for their time and money spent, they take their business elsewhere. Loyalty programs open the door to easy, real-time opportunities for companies to say thank you to their customers, and are an attractive perk for customers in the market for a new favorite brand.

Loyalty programs help brands say “thank you” to their customers.

Loyalty Programs Keep Your Customers Happy
Happy customers = brand advocates, and we all know how powerful brand advocates can be. Positive reviews from brand advocates can do more for your brand than many marketing campaigns can, and the more they are rewarded for their loyalty, the likelier they are to share their great experiences on your behalf.

Brand advocates also do more than share positive brand interactions; they make up the majority of a brand’s “loyal” customer cohort (check out customer cohorts in more detail here). Most customers who will refer their friends and family come out of your “loyal” customer cohort, and loyalty programs give brands a way to directly affect this cohort’s growth. Through rewards for incentivized actions, program members have the opportunity to earn points that can be redeemed for products and services that will continue to drive their loyalty. The more customers are rewarded through a loyalty program, the likelier they are to become repeat customers and move into your “loyal” customer cohort.

Additionally, happy customers tend to stick with a brand for long periods of time, and are more likely to be consider lifelong customers as the years pass. Whether you’re driving latently loyal customers who purchase infrequently but always from your brand, or premium loyal customers who purchase at a consistent, high frequency, these groups tend to thrive and multiply when a loyalty program is offered. Loyalty programs are a great way to keep your brand’s customers happy and retention metrics high.

Loyalty Programs Help You Do Better Marketing
The best marketers know that in order to drive loyalty, they must have a thorough understanding of customers at a personalized level. Customers are normal folks like you and I, and the desires and expectations needed from your brand are different for each person. If you have limited insight into who your customers are, it’s challenging to market to them effectively. Loyalty programs give marketers a way to gather large amounts of granular data around customers user paths, purchase patterns, demographics, and more in order to create complete individual profiles. Once you have a better idea of who your customers are, you can match them with personas and group them into segments and market to them more efficiently, which offers both the brand and customer a better holistic experience.

Insight gained from loyalty program data is also an opportunity for your brand to reach customers across all of the devices they’re engaging on. When brands invest in offering an omni-channel experience, shoppers have the opportunity to engage with the company wherever they go, whenever they want. This opens up the door for new ways to reward customers for their purchases and actions depending on their device(s). Through geo-targeting, in-app messaging, and unique user quests for different devices, customers can experience your brand in a variety of ways, wherever they are.

Those are just a few ways loyalty programs will help your brand achieve success. Retailers and publishers alike are participating in the loyalty building game at a rapid pace, and it’s up to your to make sure your brand enters the ring in order to win.

*Abridged from a blog-article on

Restaurant Tech Trends – 2015

Restaurant operations will be tapping technology with greater gusto in 2015 in both the front and back of the house.

“Technology will perhaps be the largest arena to see some rapid innovation in 2015,” said B. Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the National Restaurant Association’s research and knowledge group. “Technology is just another tool in the operator tool belt, but 2015 is poised for a much more substantial integration of the technology into the typical restaurant operation.”

The restaurant industry will see some tech items become more affordable as prices dip, such as tablets for line-busting in quick service to tabletop devices for ordering and payments.

“Individual’s basic expectations for a restaurant experience includes technology,” Riehle said, from smartphones to websites to front of the house and back of the house. “As the price points come down, there will be much more substantial integration of technology into the basic restaurant experience.”

After 2014’s data breaches at restaurant concepts as varied as Dairy Queen, Jimmy John’s and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, 2015 may push many restaurant companies in the U.S. to finally adopt point-of-sale systems compatible with the EMV standard that is widely followed outside of the United States.

EMV, named after its developers (Europay, MasterCard and Visa), requires cards that have embedded microprocessor chips that store and protect encrypted user data and is aimed at better protecting merchants and issuers from fraud losses at the point of sale. More U.S. banks and credit card companies are issuing the chipped EMV cards to their users.

In addition, a 2015 POS Software Trend Report from Hospitality Technology showed that 56 percent of restaurants say their top business reason for upgrading their POS is enabling new payment options such as e-wallet. Adding mobile capabilities and prepping for EMV is prompting 47 percent of restaurants to look at POS upgrades, according to the report.

“Yield management” or “dynamic pricing,” which means varying prices based on factors such as time, has been common in the hotel industry for years. Now, digital menu boards and sophisticated POS systems may pave the way for more restaurants to vary prices by day part to drive traffic.

“Restaurants can do really quick tests of not only pricing but menu substitutions,” Riehle said, noting that alternating pricing could generate incremental demand in the industry, according to NRA research.

“Ten years ago,” he said, “that capacity did not exist because menu boards and tablets were not there yet. Now, it does allow the average restaurant operator to step up their game to generate additional demand.”

Technology applications will also continue to help cooking equipment to save time and labor.

For example, winners of the NRA’s Kitchen Innovations Awards at the organization’s annual show in May included combination ovens that saved energy and reduced cook times by as much as 20 percent, ice machines that sanitized themselves with ultraviolet light oxidation, and dishwasher technology that reduced water use and sped drying times.

While the restaurant industry expects to see modest growth in 2015 and increasingly intense competition, operations will become more streamlined. The challenge for operators, Riehle advised, “is to remain high-touch in a high-tech environment.

* Abridged from an article by Ron Ruggless at
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless


How to Pay Employees for Great Ideas

Most companies say they want employees to be more innovative, to the point that it’s become a nearly meaningless buzzword. But can you actually pay people to innovate?

Yes–depending on how you pay them, according to a pair of Canadian researchers.

In a review of seven years of corporate survey data, the researchers found that individual performance bonuses and salary did not spur a rise in new ideas and products. However, group or team bonuses, profit-sharing plans and indirect pay, such as robust employee benefits, did relate to higher creativity and better problem-solving at work.

“You can pay employees to innovate if you do it properly. But be aware that individual incentives really are not going to help,” says Bruce Curran, a co-author of the research, and a doctoral student at the University of Toronto.

Curran speculates that group bonuses encourage the kind of team-based brainstorming that leads to meaningful new ideas. “Innovation is in many respects collaborative, and these incentives are encouraging collaboration,” he says.

What’s more, rewarding teams may allow workers to take more short-term risks because their own pay isn’t necessarily on the line. “If you go down a blind alley, you aren’t going to be punished for that,” he says.

Curran and co-author Scott Walsworth of the University of Saskatchewan studied survey data compiled by the Canadian government from nearly 3,000 workplaces. The data included information about how workers were paid, as well as questions about whether firms had developed or significantly improved a product or production process, and whether the firm created an innovation that was new to the market. The paper was published in the most recent edition of Human Resource Management Journal.

Crunching the numbers, the researchers found that group variable pay was far more important than individual salary when it comes to corporate innovation. Curran says firms need to pay enough to take major salary concerns off the table, but above that baseline, salary seems to have little effect on innovation.

Pay alone, of course, isn’t the only factor driving innovation. Regular corporate training, among other things, plays a big role.

Benefits matter too. Companies with more robust benefit packages, tended to produce more innovation, the researchers found. That may be because benefits encourage employees to take a longer-term view of their relationship with the company. “People tend to innovate more when they feel secure,” says Curran.

* Abridged from an article by Rachel Emma Silverman

Boosting Cocktail Sales With Simpler Menus

It’s a common belief that unique signature cocktails can help drive sales, but Omni Hotels & Resorts found benefits in scaling back creativity in the 60-unit hotel chain’s bar program.

A couple of years ago, David Morgan, the company’s vice president of food and beverage, came up with what he thought was an incredible cocktail menu, with all the complex flavor combinations and flourishes in presentation that have become popular. But there was a problem: “They took forever to make, so the bartenders didn’t want to sell them,” he said.

So he went back to basics and worked with beverage consultant Kim Hassarud to rehabilitate classic cocktails. The result: Cocktail sales rose 20 percent.

“When you’re developing your signature cocktails, you have to know who your customers are, and who your servers are,” Morgan said. He found that his customers wanted friendly bartenders who made good, consistent drinks.

That means detailed training manuals were developed that not only had precise measurements, but also the back story behind the ingredients that were being used, so bartenders can explain that the rye-based Polish vodka in the Ultimate Martini, which is made with Lillet instead of vermouth and is garnished with an orange peel, has subtle notes of vanilla, rye and lemon peel. The manual also explains that the drink is to be stirred (not shaken, which is why 007 had to specifically request that his martini be shaken) for 20 seconds.

The Dry Martini, on the other hand, is made with vermouth and a French vodka with an “elegant floral citrus aroma.”

Two gin martinis are on offer as well, as well as four Manhattans, each with a different whiskey and unique combinations of vermouth and bitters, and four margaritas — three made with different tequilas and one, the Smoky Margarita, made with mezcal.

The trendy but nonetheless classic Moscow Mule — vodka, ginger beer and lime — is also on the menu, as well as lesser-known classics such as the Knickerbocker and the Strawberry Basil Smash.

Morgan said the detailed instructions gave bartenders and servers the confidence to sell them. “The fact that they were easily made and had to be done correctly gave them a comfort level to sell them,” he said.

The customers like them, too. “When you look at the perfect Manhattan and use the proper bitters and the right vermouth and cherries, our customers seem to be happier,” Morgan noted.

Sales reflect different regional preferences, however. Martinis are the top-selling cocktails in the Northeast, while margaritas dominate in Texas and the Southeast. Meanwhile, in the West, brown spirits are hot.

“We do recognize the fact that the expectations of a customer in New York may be different from a customer in Texas,” Morgan said.

Because of that, Hassarud also developed four signature cocktails each for five regions: Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, Texas and the West. Each region has its own version of the gimlet, traditionally made with gin or vodka and sweetened lime juice. In the Northeast it’s a Salted Gin Gimlet, it’s a Basil Peach Gimlet in the Southeast, a Lemon Poppy Gimlet in the Midwest, a Salted Tequila Gimlet in Texas and a Passion Fruit Gimlet in the West.

The Old Fashioned — sweetened bitters with a brown spirit and sometimes fruit — has black walnut in the Northeast, Tiki fruits in the Southeast, hops in the Midwest, mole in Texas and figs in the West.

Whether the classics or the regional variations sell best varies from one property to the next, Morgan said.

* Abridged from an article by Bret Thorn at


2014 – A Tough Year For Commodity Prices

At the end of last year, commodity watchers thought 2014 would be a year of benign price fluctuations — predictable and nothing too radical.

But food prices have been anything but predictable, with climate change, disease and rising global demand affecting the price of cheese, coffee, beef, pork and other items.

Lime prices are currently around 10 times what they normally are due to drought in California and unrest in Mexico, but those prices are expected to drop before long. But other commodities that affect broader swaths of foodservice are likely to stay high for months or even years, which could require operators to explore other purchasing options.

Commodities expert John Barone, president of Market Vision Inc. and a Nation’s Restaurant News columnist, said four factors in particular are affecting commodities this year.

Global demand

Demand is driving up the cost of many commodities, particularly cheeses.

“U.S. exports are way up so far this year,” Barone said.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange block cheddar cheese prices, a key figure, have hit record highs of more than $2.40 per pound; the price is typically below $2, according to data from the University of Wisconsin. The spike does not appear to be due to drought in California, where milk production is up, according to purchasing cooperative SpenDifference.

Drought in Brazil

A drought in the South American country has resulted in spikes in the prices of coffee, sugar and soy products, Barone said.

Commodity coffee futures prices are currently hovering around $2 per pound, but coffee trader Kevin Flaherty said they could go above $3 if the August Brazil harvest is bad.

Damaged coffee beans suffering from a drought condition known as Coraçao Negro, or “black heart” — which makes the normally green beans black and shriveled — have been found in drier, northern areas of the country’s coffee-growing region, he said. Although actual wholesale coffee prices will likely stay relatively flat through 2014, it might take years for prices to recover if the drought is severe.

PED virus

Also called PEDv, the virus “came out of nowhere to drive pork prices to record highs,” Barone said.

“The Easter ham market was running more than double year-ago levels,” he said.

Adding to that, bacon prices are 35 percent higher than a year ago and could be up to 50 percent higher this summer, he said.

PEDv kills whole litters of piglets, which grow to slaughter weight in about six months. The disease will start affecting pork inventory from June at least through September, Barone said, further driving up prices. If the disease is not contained soon, the high prices would likely last longer.

Drought in California

A drought in the state is not affecting milk prices but is raising the price of feed and motivating beef and dairy producers to slaughter their cattle rather than pay to feed them, according to Barone.

The Los Angeles Times reports that cattle supply is at its lowest level since 1951 and that prices are at record highs.

Operators should get used to those prices. Barone said beef prices are not likely to fall significantly until 2016 at the earliest since it takes up to two years to bring steer up to slaughter weight. Dairy prices are likely to drop in the second half of 2014, he said.

It’s shaping up to be a very tough year.

* Abridged from article by John T. Barone, NRN and at

A Checklist For Strategic Cost Savings

Constantly scrutinizing and reducing the amount of money expenditures going out the door is a good strategy. Using the following checklist is a start to strategically tackling cost.

Dial up a new telecom system: Everything’s up for grabs: landlines, internet, wireless providers, equipment and service plans. First step, contact a telecom consultant who will analyze your needs with no upfront charges. Instead, they take a percentage (usually 50 percent) of any savings they find.

Quick tip: If you’re not using a modern VoIP-based system for multiple phone and internet connections, you should–you may be able to save up to 50 percent on your equipment costs.

Enforce a no-splurge business-travel policy: The funds that are the travel and entertainment budget is often a black hole of overpriced airline tickets, hotels and meals. Put an end to it by instituting a written policy that requires employees to seek out discounts or less-expensive alternatives. Make folks accountable for their travel budgets.

Move IT to the cloud: Moving software and digital files off your desktop and into a virtual environment accessible through the internet can reduce the need to upgrade equipment and software every couple years. To put the cloud’s efficiency savings in perspective, today’s startups can reduce their IT build-out by a factor of 10 to 1 compared with 10 years ago.

Make overtime a crime: For hourly wage businesses, overtime can kill the bottom line. Yes, seasonality and other factors may require more manpower at times, but in most cases, businesses know when to expect them. Smart planning that expands full-time or part-time staff to soak up the overtime hours with straight-time wages can almost eliminate time-and-a-half pay, with labor savings of 10 to 20 percent.

Use credit to earn vendor discounts: Take advantage of any early-payment discounts offered by your vendors. If they don’t offer them, ask for them. Then tap your credit line to pay your vendors immediately. Here’s why: A 2 percent discount for payment within 10 days equates to a 72 percent APR. At that rate, you’re almost guaranteed to come out ahead by using your credit line. You’ll also likely jump to the head of the line as your vendor’s VIP customer.

Whatever steps you take be sure to write out a plan and assign clear managerial responsibilities and authority to carry out each task. By the time you’re all done with the first round of cost-cutting, you’ll be ready–and more experienced–to do it all over again.

* Abridged from an article by Joe Worth, read more:

Portion Control – How to Reduce Portion Sizes and Still Keep Customers Happy

One of the reasons that franchise restaurants are so successful is because they have menu portions under control. Whether you go into a California Pizza Kitchen in Los Angeles or Dallas, you’ll be served the same food in the same portion sizes. Customers like that predictability and consistency. And by streamlining their portion sizes, chain restaurants ensure healthy profit margins. Even if you own a small, independent restaurant, portion control is still an important factor in keeping your business profitable.What is Restaurant Portion Control?
Just as individuals need to watch the portion sizes of foods they eat, restaurant owners need to watch the portion sizes coming out of the kitchen. Every item on your menu should have a controlled portion size in order to keep food cost in check. Restaurant portion control is also important for keeping menu items consistent for every shift. For example, say your restaurant offers an entrée of cranberry chicken with mashed potatoes and a side vegetable. To streamline your portion sizes, the entrée is broken down as follows: a six ounce boneless chicken breast, a cup of mashed potatoes, a half cup of cooked vegetables and two tablespoons of cranberry sauce on top of the chicken. Every time this entrée leaves the kitchen, no matter who is cooking, the serving sizes shouldn’t waver.Why is Portion Control Important? 
Imagine a customer’s reaction if they ordered the above meal and instead got a four ounce chicken breast, half cup of potato and a quarter cup of vegetable. While people rarely complain about getting too much food, they certainly notice if you are giving less, especially if the menu prices remain the same.On the other hand, it’s important to keep portion sizes in check in order to maintain correct food cost and overall restaurant profits. Consider the following scenario: You offer a bowl of clam chowder for $4.00. You based the price on 10 oz. of chowder per bowl. That equals .40 cents an ounce. Say that five times each day, during the lunch and dinner rush, your kitchen staff uses the wrong ladle and overfills a bowl by one ounce. That equals $2.00 a day in uncharged chowder. Not a huge loss. But if it happens every day, that adds up- to $730 a year. Now imagine that happening consistently with all your menu items. A ounce of chicken here, a ounce of cheese there…get the idea? If you don’t keep your restaurant portions in line with your food costs, you will lose money.So How Do I Control Restaurant Portions?
Start by training your staff to always use the correct serving utensils and dishes. A chart breaking down every menu item is also helpful for new staff. On it you can list exactly how much food goes with each item: five mozzarella sticks for an appetizer, one slice of cheese for a burger, three cherry tomatoes for side salads, five for an entrée salad…and so on. Photographs also help staff correctly portion food as it goes out of the restaurant kitchen.

Along with consistently using the same size ladles and serving spoons, a commercial kitchen scale is good for weighing deli meats and cheeses into correct portion sizes. PC cups can hold set amounts of sauces like guacamole or salsa.

By controlling restaurant portions, you not only keep your food cost in line, you also ensure that customers will receive consistency when they order their favorite meal.

*Abridged from an article by Lorri Mealey, – Restauranting

Control Labor Cost by Boosting Productivity

Whether your revenues are up or down, controlling your labor costs is essential to maximizing your bottom line. Focusing on productivity as opposed to merely cutting hours or wages maintains the proper balance between labor and quality—it’s not efficiency, but effectiveness. If you cut labor and diminish quality, your revenues will go down. Labor costs can be controlled through careful planning, attentive scheduling and improving the productivity of your staff.

The first step in improving productivity is to have a plan in place that allocates labor hours based on actual needs and revenue drivers. Managers have a tendency to over-schedule “just in case,” but if the extra employees clock in, productivity automatically decreases. The time invested in a little extra planning will more than pay off on your bottom line.
 A proactive approach to labor starts with examining the time it takes to perform tasks and how those tasks relate to service volumes. This approach enables an organization to build the labor forecast from the bottom up. What is the absolute minimum labor needed to function? And when and why are extra people needed?  

Figuring out what those triggers are, and building your schedule to them, will improve productivity. The peak time when a second person is needed may only be three or four hours, so a four-hour overlap shift is productive. An eight-hour shift gives more labor than is necessary, and is therefore less productive, unless you can find outside tasks for that person. Cross-training your staff to perform more than one function is one of the easiest ways to improve productivity.

Many hotels and restaurants do things inefficiently because of a focus on the capital cost rather than the labor cost associated with the loss of efficiency without that item. One minute of extra vacuuming per room sold over a year would yield 167 hours of additional labor per 10,000 rooms sold. Multiply that by the hourly wage, and a newer, more effective vacuum might pay for itself in saved labor fairly quickly.

Logistics and layouts can be productivity killers. If a kitchen has an inefficient layout, it creates a need for more labor to work around the design flaw. Depending on the situation, correcting these design flaws may be cost-prohibitive; however, there are times it is simply a matter of improving organization of the work area that will immediately improve productivity.

Look at the layout and flow of your key work areas. Are labor dollars spent on team members moving items from a storeroom on the second floor to the kitchen on the first floor? Does it take longer to find things because storage rooms are disorganized? If so, productivity is lessened.  

Many businesses are strapped looking for “good help” and they can get desperate at times and make bad hiring decisions. Hiring the wrong person may feel like it is taking some of the load off of the existing team, but it often negatively impacts productivity even more. Training is essential. Hiring a new server and having them work with someone for a day, followed by putting them on a shift alone, guarantees a loss of productivity and can negatively impact guest satisfaction.  

Proper and thorough training of your team allows them to be far more productive and also ensures that quality and service standards are maintained. Think you can’t afford the time to train people? The reality is that you can’t afford not to—the loss in productivity, quality and service is far more than the cost of training.

Once you have planned your labor, tailored your schedule to meet your actual work demands and improved the logistics and training for your team, you need to analyze your results. Follow up with your managers weekly to see if they are scheduling to the objectives you established. Walk the busy work areas and make sure the reorganization is improving the flow. Talk to your team and make sure they have picked up key practices and concepts in their training.

 Following up helps cement the changes you are making, and can help the morale of your team as they become accustomed to higher productivity levels. Increased productivity requires an investment of time, and sometimes up front capital, but it will pay off on your bottom line for years to come.

*Abridged from Unifocus – Clear Results Delivered & Restaurant