Labor costs account for one of the largest line items in a restaurant owner's budget — in most cases, the largest.
Unfortunately, problems like unauthorized overtime, employee time theft, and buddy punching can increase those already exorbitant payroll for restaurants costs by thousands of unnecessary dollars each month.
In fact, new research shows that buddy punching, or the act of one employee clocking in on another employee's behalf, costs business owners across the country more than $373 million each year alone.
In an independent survey of 1,000 employees, 16% admitted to clocking in for a coworker who was running late — adding 15 minutes or more to the coworker's actual work time — all in an effort to help their “buddy” avoid punishment for clocking in late to a scheduled shift or missing out on 15 minutes of hourly pay.
With more than 78 million hourly employees in the workforce, that's nearly 12.5 million active buddy punchers, making the odds of a buddy puncher working in your restaurant, well, pretty dang high.
Fortunately, there are a few solutions to help you curb buddy punching and keep your largest line item in check.
1. GPS-Enabled Mobile Time Tracking
Mobile time tracking is a viable solution on its own. For one, it makes it exponentially more difficult for employees to access their coworkers' accounts, and therefore more difficult to buddy punch — more often than not, employees will opt to avoid the hassle.
But pair mobile time tracking with GPS location tracking and you've got a nearly foolproof system to curb buddy punching in your restaurant.
With GPS pinpoints on your side (and attached to your employees' timesheets), you'll always know your employees are right where they say they are when they clock in or out for their shift: on the job site.
2. Kiosk Time Clocks With Photo Capture Capabilities
Despite the many advances of mobile time tracking, thousands of business owners still opt for a physical time clock located on site. And for those working in the restaurant industry, it makes sense. It's an easy way for employees to clock in or out, on site.
At least, that's the idea.
Unfortunately, physical time clocks (like wall punch clocks or computer kiosks) are easy prey for buddy punchers. To clock in a late coworker, employees need only know the location of the coworkers punch card or their user name and access code, which many employees are more than happy to share if it means avoiding a late clock in.
If you're still using one of these archaic machines, it's time to upgrade your hardware.
Invest in a modern employee punch clock that comes with photo capture capabilities. Each time an employee clocks in or out, the kiosk-style punch clock can snap a photo and attach it to the employee's digital timesheet — confirming the identity of the "puncher" and effectively curbing buddy punching.
3. Biometric Time Clocks
Your employees can share a punch card, and they can even share a password. But unless you've employed Ethan Hunt (or a pair of identical twins), they can't share fingerprints or a face.
With this in mind, it's no wonder biometric time tracking is taking the business world by storm.
This new technology allows employees to clock in using fingerprint or facial recognition software — essentially eliminating the ability to buddy punch (unless, of course, your employees are willing to go to some extreme Mission: Impossible-esque lengths).
However, it's important to keep in mind that biometric time tracking can run on the spendy side, and it usually requires the business owner to purchase some pretty expensive and high-tech hardware — not to mention, the cost of maintaining and updating that hardware.
4. Geofencing Software
Whether you know it or not, you might already be familiar with geofencing technology. It's how you receive those automated messages on your cell phone each time you walk past a Starbucks, offering you a free drink inside. When that happens, you've simply crossed the store's geofence.
But for some restaurant owners, geofencing is less a marketing tactic and more of a buddy punching prevention strategy. It's how they ensure their employees can't clock in until they've actually arrived at the job site.
A geofence acts as an invisible, virtual barrier that defines a geographical boundary (imagine an invisible fence surrounding your restaurant). The geofence interacts with your employees' mobile devices.
When an employee crosses the boundary, they are prompted to clock in (or in some cases, the geofence clocks them in automatically). When the employee exits the boundary, they are automatically clocked out.
It's a pretty foolproof system when it comes to eliminating buddy punching in your business. However, much like biometric time clocks, geofencing software and hardware can be expensive, and it requires consistent upkeep.
5. Create a Culture of Accountability
At this point, it's important to note that none of these solutions, no matter how technologically advanced, are unhackable. If an employee is determined to buddy punch, they'll find a way.
In the case of photo capture and facial recognition software, all it takes is a well-placed picture of the errant coworker to fool the time clock. And when it comes to GPS tracking and geofencing, employees can always blame a dead cell phone battery for their failure to clock in on time.
If you really want to put the kibosh on buddy punching once and for all, create a culture of accountability between you and your employees — a culture based on trust.
Expect accountability from your team members and exact consequences upon those who don't follow suit. Make accountability within your team everyone's responsibility — not just yours — and reward employees who take charge.
When you create a culture of accountability, employees won't ask their coworkers to clock in for them, and their coworkers won't agree to.
Remember: Friends Don't Let Friends Buddy Punch.
With these solutions in your arsenal, you can curb buddy punching in your business and take steps to closing the $373 million payroll gap.