Shifty business

Effective rostering is a delicate balancing act—with many variables to consider.

Rostering can make or break any hospitality business. Get it right and you’ll consistently deliver good customer experiences on budget. But get it wrong…. Shane Conroy reports

Effective rostering is a delicate balancing act. Overstaff a shift and you’ll take a bite out of your profitability as staff expenses outstrip your revenue. However, understaff a shift and you’ll quickly be facing bad customer reviews as your service standards plummet.

“Getting that balance right is one of the most important—and most difficult—aspects of restaurant management,” says Paul Jewson, head chef and co-owner of Fitzrovia, a popular cafe/restaurant that has been a St Kilda mainstay for eight years. 

“Consistency is vital in the restaurant business. About 90 per cent of our clientele are locals, and they expect to have the same quality experience at Fitzrovia every time they visit us. That is only achievable with good rostering practice.”

Jewson explains that understaffing a shift can build stress as both kitchen and front-of-house staff feel overwhelmed. Mistakes begin to occur and the service flounders. 

“Customers certainly pick up on stress, and that’s not the relaxed dining experience you want to deliver,” he says. “Stressed-out staff are also more likely to lead to higher staff turnover. That creates more inconsistency, and your recruitment and training costs will go through the roof if you’re continually replacing staff.” 

“About 90 per cent of our clientele are locals, and they expect to have the same quality experience at Fitzrovia every time they visit us. That is only achievable with good rostering practice.”

Paul Jewson, head chef, Fitzrovia

However, overstaffing your shifts can be just as bad for business. Paying out more in staff wages than you’re bringing in is the fastest route to financial disaster. So how do you get the rostering balance right?

Optimise your model

Start by optimising your operational processes to get the most bang from your staffing buck. 

“There’s no point in spending out of your means,” says Carlos Swinton-Lee, a consultant at Melbourne-based Bar & Restaurant Consultants. “If your business model is too labour-intensive to meet your budget, you should reconsider what you offer, how it’s produced and how it’s delivered.”

In other words, if you run a tight ship, you’ll generally need fewer staff members to get the job done. And implementing as many formal operational processes as possible will make it much easier to get your staff numbers right. 

Forecast your sales

Accurately forecasting your sales will help you match staff numbers to your expected trade. Account for seasonal revenue flows, and know which shifts are your busiest and which are your slowest. 

“It’s good practice to start with a base roster; forecast your worst week of sales and build a roster that meets this level,” says Glen Bagnara, a consultant at Bar & Restaurant Consultants.

“Increase the forecast sales levels by small amounts per day and ask yourself the question, ‘would I need any more staff to do $500 more per day?’ If the answer is no, add sales to the forecast roster but don’t add any more labour. This way you can build your roster with the costs and the sales intensity in mind.”

Structure your roster

Swinton-Lee points out the importance of structuring your roster to appropriately cover the various skill sets required to deliver a smooth service.  

“It’s good practice to start with a base roster; forecast your worst week of sales and build a roster that meets this level.” 

Glen Bagnara, Bar & Restaurant Consultants

“There are many variables to consider when rostering, it’s so much more than a tick box exercise to fill shift times,” he says. “How you structure your team across the restaurant or cafe floor is vitally important. For example, using food runners and drinks runners can free up the waiters to spend more time with your customers, which results in higher sales, more attention and a better customer experience.”

Balance your expertise

Staff each shift with a good balance of experienced senior staff and cheaper junior employees. This will ensure you have experienced leaders overseeing the service, while junior team members can be used to fill the gaps while keeping wage expenses down. Experienced staff working alongside new employees will also assist with training.

“When recruiting, it’s worth investing in a solid backbone of experienced staff,” says Swinton-Lee. “Often more experienced staff can support training, and you can build some younger, less experienced team members around them at a lower cost.

“Good training is absolutely key when managing your wage costs. Trained staff can manage larger sections, up-sell, build rapport and deliver great service.” 

Use the right tools

Technology is here to help. Point-of-sale systems can provide the data insights you need to set your staffing budgets and understand where your workflows can be optimised. 

“There are some great resources to use when rostering and analysing your business,” says Bagnara. “POS systems like Deputy, Kounta and OrderMate can report sales by the hour. This will enable you to plan sales by menu item, which can help with food production levels and minimising wastage.

“It’s also useful to use the timed features on POS systems. This gives you visibility into the timeline from order to when the food gets to the table. Using the technology available is so important these days.” 

This great content is produced for members of the Restaurant & Catering Association. Find out about becoming a member here.

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