Restaurant Overstaffing

Perhaps it is a sign of the times that I’m complaining again about restaurant management strategies. Remember my diatribes about Cover Counts? When the money gets tight, people (including me) start to look for something to blame. When business gets slow, every little detail gets more attention. I remember a wise manager back in the ’90s telling me, ‘Sales covers everything.’ I’m sure it was not original, even then.

My own precious mantra, ‘Be patient, things will even out,’ is hard for even myself to accept these days.

Today, yet again, the day manager at Michael’s utilized the on-call server – and, in addition, added an extra server! Okay, sure. That staff of four waiters was the scheduled minimum three years ago. But it’s different now. What it meant today was that there were 22 reservations on the books. Statistics show that at Michael’s covers quite often double the number of reservations.

***Background. Michael’s has strict policy that dinner servers have no more than 3 table stations. Lunch servers, because of the faster pace and less required ‘service overhead,’ are allowed 4 table stations.***

So back to today. Business is down. Shifts are down. Floor staffing is down. But as I said here, about the hidden ‘benefits’ of Restaurant Industry Contraction, when it is slow, at least the natural cutting of staff generally allows those working to continue to make the average $$ per shift. You know: 30% less sales, 30% fewer servers, servers still make about the same money per shift.

Unfortunately, if you’ve been doing the math in your head, the current manager seems dead set on staffing so servers get about 10 covers per shift. Our check average is in the $40-50 range – though it’s probably dipped from that during the last six months. The result of this is that we’re being allowed to sell between $300-500 a shift, translating to walk-home money of $40-70. We used to make average walk-home $100.

My problem here is this: As servers, our workload is nowhere near full-capacity. When we’re getting our 10 covers each – whether it be two on the floor or five on the floor – we’re in no higher than second gear. We go overboard helping to run food and keep up on running sidework (teamwork stuff), but those are the only things keeping us from standing around for long stretches. We could be busy and productive all the time. If we had full stations.

The difference we’re talking about, on a day like today, was just for the manager not to panic and bring in the ‘bonus’ server. As it turned out, we each had nine covers. I sold about $380 and walked with $57. And, again, none of us were remotely busy. If you just remove that ‘bonus’ server, each waiter sells about $125 more, makes about $20 more . . . and we’re still not that busy.

The final point I have to make refers back to the standards of station sizes I mentioned. Michael’s posts daily tabulations of cover counts in Excel spreadsheet format. The spreadsheet even calculates the average covers per server. The pages stack up on the bulletin board for a couple weeks before being thrown away.

Because of my frustration, I took a look at these cover count pages. There are separate sheets for dinner and lunch. Going back two weeks, the general average cover count for dinner was 13 per server; for lunch it was 9-10. That’s pretty bad. Never mind that us lunch servers accept the dinner shift makes more money per cover – that’s just the way it is. But the lunch shift is getting 30% fewer covers per waiter than the dinner shift. That’s not fair, is it?

But wait. Remember the station-size standards? At lunch we’re allowed 33% bigger stations. Hey, all things being equal, we should be allowed 33% more covers. So if dinner waiters are serving 13 covers a night, we should be serving 17 or more at lunch.

What the F’ is going on here?

If I may extrapolate those 17 phantom covers I should have: x40x.085(tax)x.20(tip) means I should be grossing about $148 a day. And remember – we’re not busy – it can easily be done.

I am a firm believer in not challenging management. They have a lot to do, and dealing with griping waiters generally just makes it harder to do their jobs. I believe they are trying to make the restaurant run best it can and be profitable. But this issue gets into fairness.

It seems to me that our day manager is too scared for her shift to be busy, thereby exposing her to risk of bad service and complaints. (I won’t even go there regarding possible fear that she won’t be able to handle average to heavy business.) In doing so, she is sacrificing the income of her waiters. She feels comfortable at all times. We make bad money and are never working as hard as we can handle.

I am this close to asking for a sit-down with management . . .


One thought on “Restaurant Overstaffing

  1. waiterextraordinaire Wed, June 10, 2009 / 6:10 am

    The restaurant where I am is really really slow compared to last year. It is the economy for one thing here in Ontario and people are tipping and ordering less and since our check average is even lower that yours’ I am making far less than normal. The couple of good things though where I work is during the weekdays especially, management starts to cut people real quick like at 7PM so that allows usually me the closer more tables.Second is they are not scheduling a bunch of us either so we are not standing around with nothing to do. Actually too I am getting about the most shifts per week than most others so I cannot complain. But the gratuities well it’s all on how many tables you do these days. Turnover is the word.

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