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How to budget for restaurant maintenance

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Question:

We offer curbside delivery, but for nearly a year the camera in the parking lot has been broken, meaning that customers have to call us when they arrive or come in to pick up their order, defeating the purpose of curbside. I have definitely noticed a decrease in tips and an increase in [guest] attitude and frustration since the camera went down. I’ve told our manager that it is hurting my income, and he says it’s an infrastructure issue—so, the responsibility of corporate—but that corporate is expecting them to pay it out of their budget, which will affect their costs and bonuses. I’m almost ready to go to Best Buy and fix it myself. How do I resolve this?

– Server

Answer:

It is a shame that what is presumably a small repair—but one that has big impact on guest and employee happiness—is held up by what sounds like apathy and bureaucratic finger-pointing. It is also probably indicative of larger problems with the operation: If they can’t manage this, what else are they fighting about?

Deferred maintenance is never pleasant—we want broken things fixed today—but there are often understandable reasons that repairs may be delayed. Sometimes, for example, at the end of a quarter or fiscal year, an operation will try to push a repair into the next period’s budget. One repair may necessitate a slew of others (for example, why replace a walk-in door if the whole unit needs to be replaced?), or it may require a specialized part or technician that requires you to wait in a long line.

However, a few things about your scenario are of concern. First, while no restaurant is perfectly maintained, and there is always a big to-do list, my advice is to always prioritize repairs that directly impact safety or guest experience. A broken camera impacts both. Second, an operation should never tie maintenance budgets to expenses used in calculating manager bonuses. While managers might be acknowledged for a great job in the upkeep of restaurant equipment and fixtures, these costs are not controllable through good management like food, beverage and labor costs would be. Any home or car owner knows that sometimes, despite best efforts, maintenance costs are higher than expected: too bad. Deferring maintenance as a way to make the numbers look good for manager bonuses is addressing one problem with a second problem.

My suggestion for the short-term is that you clearly articulate, in writing, the timeline of the broken camera and the need for its repair in a constructive and positive fashion. While your tipped income is important to you, the guest experience should be important to the entire operation, and you should emphasize that. If it’s not addressed, you’ve made your concern known and can find an operation to work for that prioritizes its guests and employees over accounting quibbles.

More on budgeting for restaurant maintenance here.

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