Skip to content

Employee Experience

5 Ways to Prevent Long Restaurant Wait Times

It’s all about turnaround time

Turnaround time is the duration of a customer’s visit, from the time they arrive to the moment they walk out the door and, for a restaurant manager, it can be the difference between surviving and thriving. Focus entirely on speed and you’ll make mistakes. Ignore timing and you limit your capacity to meet potential demand. (And with such slim profit margins – as low as 2% according to the National Restaurant Association – every minute counts.)

While there’s a space for creative strategies – so called ‘nudges’ – for getting diners out the door faster, a restaurant manager’s first task is to speed up the parts of the process they control: mostly everything that happens between orders being taken and food served. Like a menu, every restaurant is a work in process. However, to reduce long wait times your team must work like clockwork. This requires great management – with the help of smarter HR.

  1. Optimize Schedules
  2. Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but they also hurt the balance sheet. A relatively lean operation is essential if you want to turn a profit – again, it’s all about margins. And yet, go too lean and you’re left understaffed, overwhelmed and unable to prevent long restaurant wait times.

    Optimizing staffing levels – to ensure sufficient productivity without excessive labor cost – requires a level of precision that just isn’t possible when scheduling by spreadsheet or pen and paper. With staff scheduling software, though, you can automate many of those tricky calculations, allowing you to avoid over-staffing while getting the right people where you need them – when you need them. This way you can trim the fat off your scheduling budget – and as a result ensure a healthier business with shorter wait times.

  3. Ensure Your Staff Know Where to Be
  4. Creating schedules is just the first step – any additional efficiency will be lost if the right staff don’t actually show up on time. Even one missing or late employee can throw the whole system out of whack, especially as more efficient schedules leave less room for error. So, it’s important to get everyone on the same page. That’s no easy challenge when, as any restaurant manager will know, staff can differ dramatically when it comes to experience and professionalism.

    You don’t want to have to rely on the memory of a high schooler working their first part-time job or hope that your veteran chef is checking his emails. When publishing schedules, notifying staff and sending reminders, you have to do so in the right format for each employee – whether that’s push notification, text message, or phone call.

    And you shouldn’t be left just hoping that staff know where to be and when. Instead, you can implement a shift acknowledgement system, whereby staff are obliged to confirm that they have received their schedules. If there is no confirmation, the shift can be reassigned to ensure that you avoid any unexpected absences.

  5. Empower Staff to Fix Scheduling
  6. Scheduling teams of part-time or short-term staff can get complicated. Finding out who is available and when can be a constant struggle. One solution is to offer elements of self-scheduling, whereby staff can compete for which shifts are best for them. This doesn’t mean that schedulers have no control over who works, when – it’s still advisable to allocate important roles to your team’s leaders, the lynchpins on whom your success depends.

    However, the rest of the schedule can be comprised of open shifts, which other staff can ‘pick up’ – subject to management approval. Of course, if any shifts are left open, they can then be assigned. This system has the added benefit that staff feel more empowered, more in control of their lives, and more engaged with their work – no mean feat considering Gallup polling shows that only a third of American workers are actively engaged by their jobs.

  7. Improve Employee Retention
  8. Turnover in the restaurant industry hit 75% last year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Turnover is always going to be part of the restaurant business, but it only makes sense to do everything you can to limit your exposure to turnover. It can cost up to $13,867 to replace a restaurant manager, according to industry specialists TDn2K. And there’s always the risk that you replace that person with a bad or disruptive hire. Then there’s the time it takes to bring a new hire up to speed.

    The good news is, improving restaurant wait times can actually help drive employee retention. The more experience your staff have of working together, the more efficient they can be, and everyone wants to be part of a winning team. (And don’t forget, there are lots of other ways to improve employee retention, like improving benefits packages, reworking your onboarding process so that new staff feel comfortable and part of the team from the moment they begin and tailoring your recruiting process to give priority to staff who can offer long term commitment.)

  9. Train, Train and Train Some More
  10. With high staff turnover the industry norm, it can be tempting to limit spend on staff training. Why bother when your people will probably leave sooner rather than later? Well, if you take this approach, you’re pretty much guaranteed a turnover problem. Keeping staff around long term requires making a commitment. And there’s no better commitment than a focus on training and growth. If your employees feel like they’re learning new skills and of some kind of career path forward, they’re far more likely to stick around.

Bottom Line

The high-wire act of balancing quality, speed and labor cost in the restaurant industry isn’t complicated – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The recipe for lowering restaurant wait times is engaged, well-trained, long-term employees – but as with any recipe, timing is key. For perfect timing, you need the right staff in the right place, every time. And that’s why staff scheduling software is so valuable.


Paycor guided hr software tour