Much like a sinking ship, when productivity leaks go unplugged, it’s difficult for restaurant operators to keep afloat. For the unfortunate crew on the Titanic, hearing “Iceberg, right ahead!” was a pretty clear indication of where the leak was coming from. But for operators, finding the source of productivity leaks isn’t always as clear-cut. In multi-unit operations, there isn’t always an “iceberg right ahead” (though many would probably agree it’s felt that way since March 2020). 

So, how can operators find their, for lack of a better example, productivity iceberg? Pinpointing four problem areas is the first step:

Which tasks take longer than they should?

Recent research by Zenput found that, on average, daily operational and safety tasks in restaurants, supermarkets, and convenience stores take anywhere from 11–14 minutes each to complete. Some tasks, such as cleaning and sanitizing, get performed multiple times over the course of a regular workday, amounting to 7–9-plus hours a day to complete. That’s a significant chunk of time across the board. Yet, despite that, fewer than half of operators are very confident that these tasks are actually being executed correctly or on time.

There are dozens of repetitive and mundane tasks hampering productivity and sapping energy at each level of multi-unit operations. These tedious, time-consuming, and manual tasks could probably be done better or faster—and some probably don’t need to be done at all. Coincidentally, these are often the same tasks that workers dislike the most. Streamlining or automating these tasks or eliminating them altogether, makes everyone’s job easier while accomplishing more with fewer people and less effort. 

Which tasks are first to get back burner-ed when staff gets busy?

When tasks get put on the back burner, the risk of costly downstream mistakes increases (e.g., mislabeled ingredients, recording incorrect temperatures, preparing and serving past-date products to customers). Whether it’s digitizing paper checklists or automating food prep labeling or temperature monitoring, the right tools can help free up employees to tackle more meaningful tasks—like assisting “hangry” guests when the store is at its busiest.

When talking about doing more with less, customer satisfaction must be factored into the equation. Most operators have already cut back where they can— by necessity. They’ve eliminated menu offerings or switched to making items that require fewer ingredients and less prep time. They’ve also reduced hours of operation, trying to get by with fewer staff by simply relying on the patience of patrons. (Be warned: the latter is an increasingly risky strategy). Higher prices, longer wait times, fewer options, and subpar service are a recipe for disaster— especially in an industry with the word ‘service’ in the title.

Something’s got to give—and it can’t be quality, safety, service, or cleanliness. Asking more from staff isn’t an option, either. Tired workers are more likely to make mistakes, and in the end, overworked staff ultimately lead to unhappy customers and lost revenue. Now more than ever, employees are an operator’s most important asset and in this job market, they can’t afford to lose even one. 

Which tasks are the most error-prone?

Any tasks completed via pen and paper are inevitably the most error-prone. Face it, most people entering the workforce rarely—if ever—even pick up pen and paper outside of work. What can be a bigger turn-off than having to manually log a ton of information that way in their jobs? To attract and retain members of this younger workforce, meet them where they are with tools and apps that are as user-friendly and engaging as the ones they rely on for everything else.

Short-staffed, or not, operations teams still have the same amount of work—if not more—that must be done every day in every store, while maintaining quality standards every step of the way. Enabling every employee to be as productive as possible can help reduce the risk of burning out the most valuable and loyal members of the team, all while keeping the operation above water.

What happens when tasks aren’t performed properly or don’t get done at all?  

Operations teams need visibility into potential issues before they impact the business. Shuffling papers back and forth between store locations, field leaders, and HQ wastes valuable time. Field managers can’t physically be everywhere at once. Stores that are executing daily standards at a lower rate also tend to be understaffed or higher volume and benefit the most from a field leader’s support on any given day. Giving field teams the ability to oversee store performance and perform audits more efficiently, even when they’re not on-site, gives them time back to spend on employee coaching and training.

Reducing manual work for store employees ensures that critical tasks are performed correctly and on time, while allowing them to focus on higher-value work, like interacting with customers. Investing in digital tools and automation boosts productivity and helps everyone work safer, smarter, and more efficiently, while fostering a more secure and attractive workplace environment—one in which employees can see themselves staying longer, establishing roots, and even building a career.

Vlad Rikhter is the founder and CEO of Zenput, a top-ranked operations execution platform for multi-unit restaurants, convenience stores and grocers. Zenput is used in over 60,000 locations in more than 100 countries by top brands including Domino’s, Chipotle, P.F. Chang’s, Five Guys, KFC, Smart & Final and Global.

Outside Insights, Restaurant Operations, Story