I received an email last week regarding the payroll percentages I wrote about last May. In that posting I said that payroll percentages should fall between 20 and 25 percent on a weekly basis.
In the perfect world that number is a perfect target. Boy, have things changed. And with the changing times, it is probably becoming more difficult to maintain any rigid percentages in your operating formula.
The problem we all face is the constant fickle fluctuation of customer and consumer and not knowing how to predict whether we will experience a busy or slow evening or shift. With this constantly moving and changing factor of “how many covers will we do”, it is almost impossible to adequately staff a shift. If we go lean and get hit with a rush it hurts us, if we overstaff it could kill us when payroll rolls around.
One way to deal with the problem is to staff for a bare minimum on obviously slow shifts. On days and evenings that can go either way, it may prove prudent to bring in a stand-by server but not have that person formally report for work until you make a decision as to whether you will be busy or slow. Of course, some type of compensation will need to be paid to the stand by server – whether a complimentary meal, a gift certificate to another restaurant – for an accumulated amount of stand-by shifts, or possible a complimentary drink at the saloon down the street may suffice.
Staggering your staff also works to trim payroll waste. The standard procedure of bringing everyone in at the same time and cutting them as they complete their tables and side work could definitely be a drain on your targeted percentage. Try bringing some staff in just before the shift begins these employees will set up and get ready for service, just before the diner rush bring in another server or two and as soon as the rush subsides begin cutting, transferring tables if the need be.
In order for any payroll trimming plan to work you need to address the possible move with your staff. Make them feel as though they are part of the plan, not the cause of the plan. Ask for volunteers to go stand-by a few nights a week. Make sure your managers know they may need to work as runners, bussers, or even waiters if the balance between customer and server becomes imbalanced.
And finally, make sure you present the plan with the confidence of an owner who knows everything will work out in the long run, even if you don’t know everything will work out in the long run.
Once you take these steps, your payroll should be something you will want to analyze rather than feeling you need to hide from the percentage. Maintaining an in-line payroll percentage is one of the most challenging tasks any owner has. Focusing on keeping it lean but professional will save you money and make it easier to meet your obligations each week.