How to Reduce Labor Costs in a Restaurant in 2023

There are various strategies to help restaurant owners reduce labor costs without compromising food and service quality. These strategies include efficient staff scheduling, optimizing labor productivity, embracing technology and automation, streamlining menu offerings, rethinking front and back-of-house operations, and implementing effective hiring and retention practices.

Labor Optimization
Revenue Optimization
There are various strategies to help restaurant owners reduce labor costs without compromising food and service quality. These strategies include efficient staff scheduling, optimizing labor productivity, embracing technology and automation, streamlining menu offerings, rethinking front and back-of-house operations, and implementing effective hiring and retention practices.
Erin Watkins

Running a successful restaurant requires a delicate balance between providing excellent food and service while managing operational costs. One of the most significant expenses for any restaurant is labor. Restaurant labor-related costs include wages, benefits, payroll taxes, overtime pay, and other employee-related expenses, which can account for up to 20-35% of a restaurant's total gross sales. By efficiently managing restaurant labor cost percentage restaurant managers can maintain profitability, adapt to market fluctuations, and remain competitive in an ever-evolving industry.

There are several strategies restaurant owners can employ to reduce restaurant labor costs without sacrificing the quality of food or service. These strategies range from optimizing restaurant employees scheduling and boosting employee productivity to embracing technology and automation. Additionally, streamlining menu offerings, rethinking front and back-of-house operations, and implementing effective hiring and retention practices can also contribute to managing labor costs. In this blog, we will explore these strategies in detail to provide you with actionable insights that can help you streamline your restaurant operations and reduce labor expenses.

Efficient Staff Scheduling

1. Analyzing Historical Data for Demand Patterns

To minimize labor costs, it is crucial to understand and predict the demand patterns of your restaurant. By analyzing historical data, such as past sales records and customer traffic, you can identify busy hours, peak days, and seasonal trends. This information allows you to create staff schedules that accurately match the anticipated demand, ensuring you have the right number of employees on hand without overstaffing during slow periods or understaffing during peak times. Additionally, monitoring local events and holidays can help you adjust staffing levels accordingly to accommodate potential fluctuations in customer traffic.

2. Implementing Flexible Scheduling Methods

Flexible scheduling methods can help you reduce restaurant labor costs by enabling you to adjust your staffing levels more effectively. For instance, using split shifts can ensure that you have sufficient staff during peak hours while reducing the number of employees during slower periods. By adopting a flexible scheduling approach, you can optimize your workforce to match demand, ultimately reducing restaurant labor costs and preventing employee burnout.

3. Ensuring Adequate Cross-Training of Staff

Cross-training employees to perform multiple roles within the restaurant can significantly improve the efficiency of your workforce. When employees are competent in various tasks, it becomes easier to redistribute responsibilities during unforeseen situations, such as employee absences or sudden surges in demand. Cross-train employees can seamlessly transition between roles as needed, allowing you to maintain optimal service levels with a leaner workforce. Moreover, cross-training can boost employee morale, as it provides opportunities for skill development and growth, which can contribute to increased staff retention and reduced turnover costs.

4. Utilizing Sales Forecasting Software

Sales forecasting software, such as 5-Out, can provide valuable insights for predicting future restaurant demand. These tools analyze historical sales data and consider factors like seasonality, special events, and local trends to generate accurate forecasts. By implementing such software, restaurant owners can create more precise staff schedules and ensure they have the right number of employees to meet customer needs without overstaffing or understaffing.

Utilizing sales forecasting software can also help identify potential areas of improvement, such as labor scheduling and inventory purchasing, by providing a clear picture of customer preferences and sales patterns. Armed with this information, restaurant operators can make data-driven decisions that directly contribute to a more efficient operation and reduced restaurant labor costs.

Book a demo today to learn how sales forecasting software can help your restaurant gain success!

Optimize Labor Productivity

1. Monitoring and Setting Performance Benchmarks

Establishing performance benchmarks is a critical step in optimizing labor productivity. By setting clear performance standards and monitoring employee progress, you can identify areas where improvements are needed and take corrective action. Track key performance indicators (KPIs) such as table turnover rates, average service time, and customer satisfaction scores. Regularly review these metrics with your staff to provide constructive feedback and ensure they are aware of the expectations. By consistently monitoring and adjusting performance benchmarks, you can create a culture of continuous improvement and maximize the productivity of your workforce.

2. Regular Staff Training and Development

Investing in regular staff training and development is essential to maintain high productivity levels. Providing employees with the knowledge and skills they need to perform their tasks efficiently will directly contribute to reduced labor costs. Ensure that your staff is well-versed in menu items, service standards, and restaurant procedures. Offer training sessions that cover various aspects of restaurant operations, such as customer service, food safety, and equipment usage. Encourage employees to share their knowledge and experience with one another to foster a collaborative learning environment.

3. Implementing Incentives and Recognition Programs

Incentive and recognition programs can play a vital role in motivating employees to perform at their best. Implement reward systems that acknowledge employees for exceptional performance or reaching specific goals. This could include offering monetary bonuses, gift cards, or other non-monetary rewards such as time off or special recognition. Recognizing and celebrating individual and team accomplishments can lead to increased job satisfaction, loyalty, and overall productivity. When employees feel appreciated and valued, they are more likely to be engaged, motivated, and committed to delivering high-quality service, which in turn, contributes to reduced labor costs.

Embrace Restaurant Technology for Automation

1. Implementing POS and Inventory Management Systems

Point-of-sale (POS) and inventory management systems can significantly streamline restaurant operations and control labor costs. Modern POS systems offer features like automated order-taking, real-time sales tracking, and simplified reporting, allowing staff to focus on providing excellent customer service. Inventory management systems help monitor stock levels, track food waste, and generate purchase orders, reducing the time spent on manual inventory counts and minimizing the risk of costly errors. By implementing these technologies, restaurant owners can optimize their workforce and improve overall efficiency.

2. Using Self-Order Kiosks and Mobile Ordering

Self-order kiosks and mobile ordering apps can help minimize labor costs by automating the ordering process. These solutions allow customers to place orders directly, reducing the need for additional staff at the front counter or on the floor. Not only do these technologies provide a more convenient and efficient ordering experience for customers, but they also allow staff to focus on other tasks, such as food preparation and ensuring customer satisfaction. By embracing these technological advancements, restaurants can achieve higher efficiency levels while keeping labor costs in check.

3. Exploring Labor-Saving Kitchen Equipment

Investing in labor-saving kitchen equipment can significantly reduce the time and effort required for food preparation and cooking. Examples of such equipment include automated food processors, high-speed ovens, and programmable cooking equipment. These tools can help streamline kitchen operations, enabling your staff to work more efficiently and reducing the need for additional employees. While the initial investment in labor-saving equipment may be significant, the long-term benefits of reduced labor costs and increased productivity can outweigh the upfront expense.

4. Integration with Sales Forecasting Software

Integrating your restaurant's technology systems, such as POS, inventory management, and labor-saving equipment, with sales forecasting software like 5-Out can further optimize labor productivity and reduce costs. By analyzing data from these systems, sales forecasting software can provide valuable insights into restaurant future demand to help restaurant owners make informed decisions about staffing levels, menu adjustments, and promotional strategies to maximize operational efficiency and minimize labor costs.

Streamlining Menu Offerings

1. Assessing Menu Items for Profitability and Preparation Time

One effective way to reduce labor costs is to streamline your restaurant's menu offerings. Start by assessing each menu item based on its profitability and preparation time. Analyze sales data to identify which items are popular and generate the most profit, as well as those that require less time and effort to prepare. Conversely, take note of low-performing items that may be labor-intensive or result in food waste. By focusing on the most profitable and efficient menu items, you can reduce the amount of time and labor required in the kitchen, ultimately lowering labor costs.

2. Focusing on High-Margin, Easy-to-Prepare Items

After identifying the most profitable and efficient menu items, adjust your menu to focus on high-margin, easy-to-prepare dishes. These items typically require fewer ingredients and less preparation time, allowing your kitchen staff to work more efficiently. Additionally, high-margin items contribute to increased revenue, helping to offset labor costs. Simplifying your menu not only benefits your bottom line but can also lead to a more focused and cohesive dining experience for your customers.

3. Seasonal and Limited-Time Offerings

Incorporating seasonal and limited-time offerings into your menu can help maximize efficiency and reduce labor costs. Seasonal ingredients are often more readily available and affordable, allowing you to take advantage of lower food costs. Moreover, limited-time offerings can create a sense of urgency among customers, driving sales and increasing customer traffic. By rotating these offerings, you can continuously evaluate and refine your menu to ensure it remains profitable and efficient while providing your customers with a fresh and exciting dining experience.

Rethink Front and Back-of-House Operations

1. Implementing a Fast-Casual or Counter-Service Model

Transitioning to a fast-casual or counter-service model can help decrease labor costs by streamlining front-of-house operations. In these models, customers order at a counter and collect their food when it's ready, eliminating the need for traditional table service. This approach reduces the number of servers required and can lead to quicker table turnover rates, allowing you to serve more customers with fewer employees. Additionally, these models can create a more relaxed atmosphere, which may appeal to a wider range of customers.

2. Outsourcing Non-Core Functions

Outsourcing non-core functions, such as cleaning, accounting, and payroll, can help you focus on your restaurant's main operations while reducing labor costs. By hiring specialized third-party providers to handle these tasks, you can ensure they are performed efficiently and cost-effectively, without adding to your staff's workload. This approach allows you to concentrate your resources and labor on delivering exceptional food and service to your customers, while still maintaining a well-managed business.

3. Exploring Shared Kitchen Spaces or Commissary Kitchens

Shared kitchen spaces, also known as commissary kitchens or ghost kitchens, can provide a cost-effective solution for reducing labor costs in the restaurant industry. These facilities offer fully equipped commercial kitchen spaces that can be rented by multiple food businesses, enabling you to share the cost of rent, utilities, and equipment with other operators. By utilizing a shared kitchen space, you can lower your overhead costs and operate with a leaner staff, focusing on food preparation and delivery rather than managing a full-service restaurant. This option is particularly beneficial for restaurants that primarily offer takeout or delivery services, as it allows you to streamline your operations and minimize labor costs.

Hiring and Retention Strategies

1. Hiring Versatile and Multi-Skilled Employees

When looking to reduce labor costs, hiring versatile and multi-skilled employees is a key strategy. These individuals can efficiently perform multiple tasks and adapt to various roles within the restaurant, allowing you to maximize their productivity and minimize the need for additional staff members. During the hiring process, look for candidates with diverse skill sets, relevant experience, and a willingness to learn and take on new responsibilities. By investing in versatile employees, you can create a more agile workforce that is better equipped to handle fluctuations in demand and deliver exceptional customer service.

2. Fostering a Positive Work Environment

Creating and maintaining a positive work environment is crucial for employee retention and productivity. A supportive and inclusive atmosphere can lead to higher job satisfaction, which in turn, reduces turnover and associated hiring costs. Foster open communication, encourage teamwork, and provide opportunities for employee input and feedback. Recognize and celebrate achievements, both individually and as a team, to ensure employees feel valued and motivated. By prioritizing a positive work environment, you can improve employee morale, reduce turnover, and ultimately, lower labor costs.

3. Offering Competitive Wages and Benefits

Providing competitive wages and benefits can help attract and retain skilled employees, ultimately contributing to reduced labor costs. Research industry standards and local market rates to ensure your compensation packages are in line with or above your competitors. Offer additional benefits, such as flexible scheduling, opportunities for advancement, or access to training programs, to set your restaurant business apart as an employer of choice. By investing in competitive wages and benefits, you can minimize employee turnover, reduce the expenses associated with hiring and training new staff members, and maintain a highly skilled and motivated workforce.

Bringing It All Together to Reduce Labor Costs

Whether you are managing fine dining restaurants or fast food chains, effectively reducing labor costs in a restaurant business requires a combination of strategies, including efficient staff scheduling, optimizing labor productivity, embracing technology and automation, streamlining menu offerings, rethinking front and back-of-house operations, and implementing effective hiring and retention practices. By incorporating these tactics into your restaurant operations, you can create a more efficient and profitable business without sacrificing the quality of food or service.

As a key component of reducing labor costs, utilizing sales forecasting software like 5-Out can provide invaluable insights into your restaurant's demand patterns, enabling you to make data-driven decisions about staffing levels, inventory purchasing adjustments, and more.

Request a demo to utilize a sales forecasting tool to streamline your operations and minimize labor costs.

You may be interested in reading:

Restaurant Labor Costs: How to Calculate and Optimize Your Staffing Expense

The 6 Best Labor Management Software for Restaurants

Restaurant Employee Engagement and Retention

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