Principles of Scheduling – Restaurants

26 Feb

It amazes me how little restaurant managers focus on how many people they need to staff for a shift. I hear things like “I’m good tonight. I have Jose and Ramon. They’re awesome line cooks!” Perhaps they are, but what does that mean mathematically? Every management decision should have a mathematical formula in order to accurately test it’s effectiveness. Otherwise, you’re scheduling by the seat of your pants.

Questions that need to be answered are:
1. How many dishes can each line cook produce in an hour, comfortably and running? [My experience is a veteran can produce 25 plates if he is properly set up, and 30 running. A newby will be 5-10 plates per hour behind that.]

2. How many plates are ordered in an hour? [This varies by shift and it’s vital to scheduling to know your range on a Saturday lunch or dinner or a Wednesday night. If you’re manager doesn’t know, he/she shouldn’t be doing the scheduling.] Use your POS, it’s there to help you access easily the business metrics you’ll need to be successful.

3. Now you can determine how many line cooks you need. Note I did not mention support personnel like the dishwasher or the prep cook. The line cooks are producing your sales. They are your front line just as your waiters are in the front of the house. For waiters, 15 customers per hour is the norm, 20 if you have a star waiter and 10 if you have a newby or underperformer.

So if I have Jose and Ramon – both veterans – pumping out 25-30 dinners per hour I can do 50-60 dinners per hour before I the km has to jump in. If my range is 80-100 dinners per hour, the km is going to be buried on the line along with Jose and Ramon, the great chefs. Pray nothing goes wrong. But, wait, the expediter is overwhelmed as is the foodrunner. Complaints come in that the fries are cold and you know it’s because they sat too long in the window. What do you do now? Learn how to schedule!

At your disposal, you have Betty, a trainee, who can do 15 plates an hour. Bring in another veteran, Jaime, for the rush hours and you have 90 plates an hour you can do comfortably. The km has enough staff to be able to…manage.

A few more notes:
Of course, 30 plates per hour doesn’t mean your cook gets one dish ordered every two minutes. Orders come in waves, not piecemeal. As much as 80% of an hour’s business can come in a 20 minute span. A 90-plate hour could see a wave of 72 plates in 20 minutes. More often you’ll see 50-60 in a third of an hour where you sold 90 plates. Ticket times will drag and things will go wrong if you’re not properly staffed and your km doesn’t know where he needs to be.

Productivity formula. Since your line is the largest contingent of labor – and usually make the higher pay rates – it is important to track productivity. Example: If you averaged 80 plates an hour all night long, and your average plate costs $15, your 4 line cooks produced 20 plates per hour, or $300. If they earn $14 an hour, they are producing at a labor cost of 4.67%, better than 20 times their pay rate. With support personnel added in as well as opening and closing duties (that time before anything is rung up and after the last sale; set-up and break-down), labor will be in the goal range of 10-14% of food labor to food sales. That’s a homerun in the industry.

Panic scheduling. Take time to do your math. It’s very easy to panic after a rocky shift and start telling your staff to come in extra here and here. Before you know it, productivity plummets and you’re into overtime. If you’ve done your scheduling accurately – mathematically – your worst case scenario is that you may need ONE more person in a specific spot if you’re expecting a higher volume.

Rule of thumb regarding where to add. If the km is stuck in a position for more than 1 hour, you’ll want to consider one more staffer for the rush in the position the km got stuck in. Keep in mind, we are talking about high volume restaurants that do 80-100 plates or more per hour.

Where does the km jump in? Answer, exactly where he must. In a multi-station line like Shooters [char-grill, flat grill, fryer, saute, pantry], the hot spot for the km is the WHEEL. That is, the spot between the grill cook and the fry cook. From this vantage point, he can see what is dragging on each ticket and make sure the dishes are being plated close together in time. The worst enemy of an expediter or food runner is an incomplete order. Those fries and that rice can get cold fast when they are waiting for a missing item that was not fired on time. By jumping into the wheel position, the km solves that problem by keeping the cooks focused on finishing orders.

Mexican food is different, being already pre-prepped and needing assembly more than anything. There the LEAD position is where the manager can quicken up the service. That is, the plates are getting started much quicker and, since melting cheese or heating up the plate is the main action, they are finished a lot sooner. In both cases, Mexican and standard American fare, the km has to also keep an eye on his food runners and expediters. They can be overwhelmed very quickly.

The manager has to surf the wave, so to speak. In my own restaurant, I was usually the only manager, so I would back up the bussers and waiters when the waves would come in, then bail the bartender out, then run into the kitchen in time to get them in mass production mode. Once that wave was on its way to finishing a good dining experience, there was normally a new wave right behind it as the waiting list was liquidated. Run to Bussers/Servers, then Bartenders, then Cook Line, then Foodrunners, then Repeat. So getting stuck in any one position is an epic failure of management.

So we solved our problem with Jose (25-30 plates per hour) and Ramon (25-30 plates) by adding Betty (15 plates) and Jaime (25-30 plates). We can now do 90-105 plates per hour with the kitchen manager filling in for a few minutes during the large waves. We’ve met our goal of 10-14% labor while keeping the customers happy.

If for some reason we can only find Jose and Ramon to work, then we know we are limited to what we can do per hour to 50-60 plates with the km helping stretch that a bit more. Our only salvation if we get a strong dinner pop is to go on a wait at the door. That is a last resort and it is a failure of scheduling.

Front of House scheduling. These principles hold true for waiters and waitresses as well. Their number is 15 per hour, but remember that Sally might only tend to 10 customers well per hour while Jane the speed demon can handle 20. Outside the printable areas of my schedule, I write the capacity of the server by tables they can handle. A weak server like Sally might have 4 tables, Jane might have 8. So the manager can draw the map accordingly. Each shift has a number limit of tables that can be open for seating.

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