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Time is money, so save some of it

5 places to look for timesaving operational solutions.

Electronic clocks

Sure, they still make cheap analog punch clocks, but don’t expect to gather much useful information from them. “In the same price range–about $250 to $300–you can get an electronic time system,” says Joseph Wagner, founder of employeetimeclocks.com.

Electronic time clocks don’t have to be fancy. “You can’t find a business these days that doesn’t have some kind of computer that they can connect the clock to,” Wagner says. Plus, “Restaurants are a unique situation because employees often transfer departments, with different pay rates.” An electronic time clock sorts that all out. When workers punch out, the clock will calculate hours worked at each pay rate and give a total. Time-clock systems also will total tips, “a big help in case of a cross-audit.

Actually, “punching in” is a misnomer. Modern systems are accessed via an employee card with a mag stripe or barcode; by typing in an ID and password on a keyboard; or by waving a contactless card embedded with a computer chip and RF transmitter.

Scheduling software

Scheduling software lets you juggle department shifts, work around sick days, record lateness or absenteeism and honor vacation requests. It can also help you comply with tax laws, insurance issues and union regulations. Many software packages even integrate with time-clock mechanisms and payroll programs for seamless accounting.

There are plenty of scheduling systems out there, including Digital Dining, RTI, TimeForge, Deterministics and HotSchedules. These help you to determine how much time certain tasks should take and then graph employee production rates; many programs can interpret sales data from POS systems to predict labor demands and recommend staffing mixes. You can also track historical business trends and anticipate growth—and staff up accordingly.

The latest wrinkle in scheduling is the Web-based system. “There’s no software; you just need a browser and Internet connection to start creating staff schedules and look at reports,” explains David Lanci, vice president of sales for CrunchTime! Information Systems, a Web-based provider of restaurant management programs.

In many Web-based systems, staffers can remotely check their scheduled shifts and make requests for changes and vacations. There’s also no need to buy new hardware either, and if your PC’s hard drive crashes during operation, no data is lost. 

Cook and hold ovens

Shifting prep times with cook and hold ovens not only saves time and labor, but can also cut your energy bill by operating during off-peak hours. “The classic use is to throw a prime rib into the cook and hold oven after dinner service,” says Andrew Mayeshiba, corporate executive chef for Alto-Shaam. “Overnight the prime rib cooks perfectly to the temperature desired and then the oven goes into holding mode. The labor to create, say, 15 servings of prime rib, is 10 minutes, and no one needs to watch over it.

Many commercial equipment manufacturers make cook and hold ovens, including Hatco, Vulcan, Blodgett, CresCor and Wittco. Most models have programmable controls that can also be a big time saver for the busy chef. “You don’t have to spend a lot of time training people,” notes Mayeshiba.

Another upside is more consistent product, with no variation from one cook to another. The low-temperature cook and hold ovens also give better yield with less shrinkage.

The ovens can also save customers time. Cooked-to-order lamb, explains Mayeshiba, typically has a long ticket time because the meat has to be seared, finished in the oven and then rested before slicing. But with a cook and hold oven, racks of lamb are cooked and held ready in holding mode. “When an order comes in, the line cook takes a portion from the oven, smears it with a bit of Dijon mustard, some breadcrumbs and butter, then pops it in the broiler for a moment.

Food labels

According to the FDA Food Code, foods prepared in a foodservice establishment must be clearly marked with the preparation date and use-by date; commercially processed food requires a label indicating when the original package was opened and its use-by date. Newfangled labels are easy to remove, which means less time scraping them off and no sticky residue that can attract bacteria and mold. Conversely, when you want a label to survive a trip through the warewasher, there are super-durable labels that will do just that—and still peel off easily.

Most broadline distributors carry a number of food-labeling systems, from manufacturers like Cambro, FreshMarx and Daydots. Labels have various time and dating systems, making it easy to spot-check the contents of a walk-in or storage. Some have visual presentations of days and time, others are color-coded and some use barcodes.

“The labels are a time saver for employees,” says Paul McGinnis, VP of marketing for Daydots. “The system is easy for them to understand.” For example, “You have tomatoes with three-day shelf life, and you put a Saturday label on it. When employees come in on Sunday and see a Saturday label they know to throw them out.

In inventory rotation follow the FIFO (first in, first out) principle, and you’ll reduce waste and the risk of foodborne illness. SmartDots labels, from Avery Dennison, provide a visual color indication of freshness. Once activated, the labels change color according to temperature; at below freezing the color shift is slowed, while at danger-zone temps, it changes faster, alerting you to possible deterioration.

Personal calendars

There’s plenty of shareware on the Web that can help you manage your own time better.

Take Google calendars. It’s a free service that offers views by day, week and month, handy keyboard short cuts—and you can import info from other calendar programs. The program integrates with Gmail, Google’s mail program, so that any email appointments or invitations can be zapped right to the calendar.  Event reminders pop up on your computer, email to your in-box or text to your cell.

Best of all, you can create several calendars for different parts of your business schedules, and share them with others.

Other shareware to check out include Calendar Builder and Calendar Magic.

For projects big and small, check out Todoist (todoist.com), an online task manager that’s free, fast and easy to use. The interface is simple and intuitive. The program lets you create hierarchies to break down daunting projects into doable sub-projects. A collapse feature lets you hide or reveal levels for simpler or more complex views. Todoist integrates with Gmail and other Google widgets.

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