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7 Productivity Hacks For Restaurateurs To Work Smarter, Not Harder


Chris de JongAuthor

From the outside looking in, a career in restaurant management can seem exciting, fun, and rewarding:

  • You spend your days chatting with customers, getting to know them.
  • You have the power to comp, change tickets, and create coupons.
  • You can delegate tough tasks.
  • You can build a strong team and keep staff engaged.
  • You might more benefits than most other restaurant positions, like paid time off.

If you’re a restaurant manager reading this, though, you know that rewarding as it may be, a restaurant manager’s role is demanding, stressful, and busy. In a given day, you’re not just a manager — you’re an accountant, a mediator, a firefighter, a host, and sometimes even a counsellor. You’re the first to arrive, the last to leave, and you can’t remember the last time you worked a 40-hour work week.

Restaurant managers are superheroes in their own right, but even Superman had his Achilles heel. What’s a restaurant manager’s kryptonite? Burnout.

Don't Try to Do it All

There’s a quantifiable tipping point when productivity and efficiency drop off (generally after you exceed 50 working hours in a week). Unfortunately, restaurant managers and owners tend to look the other way when physical, mental, and emotional signs of burnout surface.

There are countless reasons why: they may be unwilling to relinquish control of their business, they might lack the resources to keep up with operational demands, or they might work contantly to avoid the entrepreneurial guilt associated with taking a break.

But while it can be tempting to assume working more allows you to do more, it’s time restaurateurs everywhere flip the script on productivity and work smarter, not harder.

The Secret Sauce

Becoming a more productive restaurant manager lets you accomplish more in the same — or less — amount of time you were working before. Science also says you’ll feel 12% happier, too.

But be warned, if you think multitasking is what makes you the poster child of productivity, you’re in for a rude awakening: Researchers at MIT found multitasking actually reduces productivity by up to 40%. Instead, they suggest refining and optimizing your current processes to work for you, instead of the other way around.

Supercharge your productivity with these 7 simple strategies:

1. Attack Your Time Vampires

Time vampires are the tasks, people, or events that consistently drag down your overall productivity.

Before you can attack and vanquish your vampires, you must first give them a face and a name by analyzing your day to day activity with a productivity calculator. Diligently record how you’re spending your time — be honest about breaks and interruptions, that’s the only way this will work — for a few weeks. Then, you'll be able to see what's really eating up your time so you can make the most of your days.

For example, you might find you are consistently more productive in the morning — even if you never fancied yourself a morning person — and are regularly interrupted by staff at 5 p.m. mid-week when you’re sitting down to sort out next week’s schedule.

Armed with this knowledge, you could shift your priorities and tackle scheduling first thing when you get to work, or enforce a “Do Not Disturb” policy for an hour during the afternoon.

2. Turn Your Location Notifications ON

Most restaurant managers have never-ending to-do lists, whether they're kept on a phone app or a notepad or a whiteboard — or all three. 

Unfortunately, adding yet another item to that list doesn’t guarantee you’ll actually get around to it: 41 percent of to-do list items will never get done.

To-do lists aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but if they work for you, you’ll want to find a way to reduce that 41 percent as much as you can.

Matt from Mercy Lounge in Nashville let the 7shifts team in on a little-known iOS feature called location-based reminders. Apple — and Android — users can attach their to-dos to a physical location and receive a handy, helpful push notification whenever they’re in range or that location. If you set a reminder to call your supplier when you finish your shift, your phone will automatically remind you when you’ve clocked out for the day and walk to your car.

Here's how to turn on iPhone location-based reminders:

Step 1: Open the Reminders app on your iPhone.

Step 2: Click the blue icon to the right of the reminder you'd like to enable location on.

location based reminders iphone

Step 3: Click the toggle next to Remind Me At A Location so that it turns green.

location based reminders iphone

Step 4: Click Allow Reminders to Use Location (if you haven't already).

location based reminders iphone

Step 5: Type in the location you'd like to be associated with this reminder.

Step 6: Choose whether you'd like to be reminded when you arrive at or leave this location.

location based reminders iphone

Step 7: Click 'Details' in the top left corner of the screen, and you're done!

Another option is the app CommitTo3, recommended by The Restaurant Coach™, Donald Burns, best for those with a too long to-do list.

Here’s the gist: At the start of the day, plug in the three most important tasks you need to tackle by day's end. The platform also works well for teams who are focused on accomplishing joint tasks. As you and your team make progress on accomplishing your three of the day, the platform will track updates and distribute them to all involved, keeping everyone updated and on task.

3. "Eisenhower Box" Your Shifts

Getting torn away from a task is a known productivity killer. If you find yourself on the receiving end of frequent interruptions, we recommend giving the Eisenhower box strategy a go.

eisenhower box strategy

This framework, developed by the 34th U.S. President, prompts you to critically evaluate whether a task is worth switching to.

Let’s say you’re preparing for an important investor meeting when your bar manager drops by to ask about an inventory count. Using the Eisenhower box strategy, ask yourself: Is this something that is both urgent and important?

If the answer is no, politely let your bar manager know you’ll be looking into it tomorrow and return to the task at hand.

Unfortunately, restaurants are complex and wildly unpredictable so the Eisenhower box strategy isn’t a perfect science for those working in the industry. Systems like Calendly are great because they allow folks to schedule time in your calendar (a supplier meeting, for example) without the need to interrupt you.

4. Trust In Templates & Automation Tools

If you find you’re constantly bombarded with emails, phone calls, and texts from your team, you could benefit from integrating pre-written templates and scripts that minimize the time required to send out a reply.

If you are a Gmail user, you can create templates that automatically reply to emails on your behalf based on the subject, message, or sender. This can — and will — free you from hours of cumbersome administrative work.

Another major headache for managers is employee scheduling: Shift drops, switches, and changes in availability mean managers spend, on average, 4 hours or more each week making sure everything and everyone is accounted for. Investing in a restaurant staff scheduling app, like Toast Payroll or 7shifts, centralizes and streamlines the scheduling process, so you can build, send, and update the schedule with a few simple clicks.

5. Make Your Environment Work For You, Not Against You

A bit of feng shui for the workplace can have a transformative effect on productivity. For those of you who aren’t interior design gurus, no, you won’t need to call in a construction crew to rebuild your storefront. Simple acts like reducing physical clutter will help reduce mental clutter.

Increased exposure to natural light is shown to positively impact mood, energy, and productivity, so swap out the irksome fluorescent bulbs in your office for something with a more natural color temperature.

You could also invest in a light therapy box or sun lamp, which mimic sunlight and provide users with the recommended dose of 10,000 lux.

According to popular sun-lamp vendor and proponent, Verilux, “Studies have shown that sitting in front of a 10,000 lux light box for about 30 minutes is the 'dose' of light that has been found optimal to trigger biochemical changes in your brain. This provides the right amount of full-spectrum light needed to regulate that (sleepy) melatonin and boost that (happy) serotonin."

Try incorporating some foliage, too; even a couple of small plants can boost productivity levels by 15%.

6. Delegate, Delegate, Delegate

This one’s a no-brainer, right?

Wrong! Many restaurateurs — especially first-timers — struggle to delegate tasks to management and staff. This isn’t a question of trust, but rather one of control.

Regardless of whether you’ve opened a franchise or built a full-service restaurant from scratch, it’s likely you’ve had a hand in all facets of the business, from marketing to staffing, financials, and everything in between. It’s hard not to get attached, emotionally or otherwise.

If the thought of loosening the reins makes you queasy, start small and build your tolerance incrementally. On top of productivity gains, you’ll also give staff valuable opportunities to up skill — a practice that promotes employee engagement and retention.

7. Treat Yourself

The road to recovery after burnout is, in some ways, as long and hard as the road that led you there in the first place. If you don’t have your health, you’ll effectively void the systems and workflows you’ve worked hard to put in practice.

Researchers at Brigham Young University found that healthy eating habits improve job performance by as much as 25%. If you own a pizzeria, you might want to reconsider how often you’re eating your restaurant's food out of convenience.

Don’t discount the impact of power naps or a walk around the block, either; both siestas and physical activity are known brain (and mood) boosters. 

Improving Restaurant Productivity: A Win-Win

This list is in no way exhaustive, there are as many productivity hacks as there are people on the planet. Hopefully, we've got you started off on the right, productive foot, ready to reclaim your calendar and your balance.

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