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Labor... it's one of the biggest challenges, and costs, we face as operators. Luckily, there are many ways to keep it under control. The best place to start is at the beginning: scheduling.

Calculate a labor forecast to budget a successful schedule
No matter how small your staff, you should build a schedule based on a budget forecast in dollars. Think of your schedule as nothing more than a purchase order for labor. That's right. You need to "order" enough labor to cover your sales projections. Based on historical data, upcoming events (catering, large parties, etc.), and other factors contributing to projected sales, you must determine how many dollars in labor you need to spend.

For example, if you forecast $20,000 in sales for a week and your labor cost goal is 30%, you have $6,000 in available labor dollars you can spend.

Start by scheduling the key positions... managers, top servers, bussers, and kitchen personnel. Once the slots are scheduled, calculate what that schedule will cost in dollars. If you've over-scheduled, look for places to cut back. If you've under-scheduled, make sure your shifts are adequately covered, and then rejoice if you're still under budget!

At the end of the week, compare your actual labor dollars to what you forecasted. We've detailed a comparison on the next page and pointed out typical problematic areas. We've also provided a forecast to actual comparison worksheet so you can do it yourself.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Many computerized timekeeping systems and even some POS systems, can help by doing many of the calculations for you. They can even prevent early punch-in's. But you'll still need to do your own forecast.
  • Be sure to adopt "zero-based" scheduling. Many managers use the schedule from the prior week as the basis for the current schedule. Labor shortages are addressed by adding more people to the schedule instead of analyzing and adjusting the schedule itself. Unfortunately, this results in ineffective coverage and a rise in labor cost. To obtain the maximum coverage for the minimum dollars, all schedules should be "zero-based", built from scratch based on your forecast.
  • Managers usually schedule start times on the hour or the half hour. I recommend adjusting scheduled times by using 10 minutes increments. For example, a shift could begin at 5:40 PM instead of 5:30 PM. You will be amazed at how many labor dollars can be "squeezed" out of your schedule by eliminating 5-10 unnecessary minutes per server per shift. Most employees will arrive on the hour or half hour, the extra ten minutes gives them time to check their mail box, wash their hands, and get ready to punch-in on time.


Bill Main is a nationally-recognized author, consultant and speaker. His company, Bill Main & Associates, specializes in strategic growth plans for foodservice entrepreneurs. For information on how you can grow your top line revenues through innovative marketing, menu, leadership and training systems, visit www.billmain.com.


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