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Time Management Skills for Restaurant Operators That Actually Work


Donald BurnsAuthor

A question for the ages: Can you ever really have enough time?

They say with the help of technology we were supposed to have more time added back to our days, but it surely doesn’t seem that way— especially if you run a restaurant.

1440 minutes a day - that’s all you have to work with and it’s left the masses in a panic. People are constantly searching for ways to make the most of the minutes they’re given. Seriously, type “time management” into Google: You will get 251,000,000 results.

Let’s get this straight: you either learn to master time, or time will master you. Retire those “time is working against me” or “time has it out for me” excuses; it’s easy to make time the villain and the reason why you can’t seem to get ahead, but we all know who’s really to blame.

The real reason (after you drop the excuses) is you’re in need of some effective time management strategies.


Tackle the Challenges Facing Restaurant People

Toast and Fast Casual teamed up to share tips on tackling restaurant challenges such as increasing competition, food costs, hiring and training staff, and more.


The Cold, Hard, Truth About Time Management Skills

Why is it so difficult to follow time management strategies?

If you’re a member of the restaurant industry and can’t seem to crack why popular, time management skills aren’t working for you, there may be one key detail you’re overlooking: Most (if not all) time management strategies were designed for those who work traditional 9 to 5 office jobs.

The daily grind in a restaurant looks very different than that people with desk jobs in the private sector experience each day; your hours are quite the stretch from the normal cubicle worker.

Before you even begin implementing a new time management strategy into your daily life, take these seven steps first to make sure your efforts will not be in vain.

1. Ditch The "I’m Busy" Story

Okay, we know your busy. I am too. News flash: EVERYONE IS.

Please👏 stop👏 telling 👏everyone👏 how 👏busy 👏you 👏are.

Restaurant life may, at times, seem like a spectator sport. Your days likely don’t differ much from one to the next, making it all the more easy to lose track of time and likewise lose the opportunity to make progress on your goals.

The thing is, life isn’t a spectator sport — you have to play the game.

Living life in the fast lane shouldn’t deter you from adopting or abiding by time management strategies; in fact, it should motivate you more to seize the full potential of the time you’re given.

2. Drop The "I Don’t Have Time" Mentality

This one is almost as damaging as throwing around the "I'm busy" story.

Let’s be clear on the concept of time ownership. You never really own time. You use time.

People who use the excuse of not having enough time basically just don’t have their priorities straight. How could people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk & Danny Meyers accomplish so much given that they have the same 1440 minutes each day?

They prioritize their tasks with highest priority given to what is most important to them and the brand, then they take action. A lot of action.

If you're interested in boosting your daily productivity, check out Toast's new Restaurant Productivity Calculator. Created specifically for restaurant owners and managers, simply plug in how many hours per week you spend on tasks like inventory tracking, accounting & reporting, and menu work, and the tool will calculate how long you spend in the restaurant each week.

time management skills

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You will then be able to see your time per task compared to the time it takes an average restaurateur to accomplish the same task; this will help you identify areas where you can become more productive and areas where you're already excelling.

3. Break it Down

Traditional to-do lists are the worst thing you can use if you’re looking for effective time management skills to use when working in a restaurant. To do lists really do nothing to further a project along, they are simply reminders of all the things we intend to do (that most of the time just stay on our to-do list).

In fact, according to Janet Choi and Walter Chen of iDoneThis, 41% of to-do list items are never done.

So if traditional to-do lists are pretty much nothing more than a collection of good intentions, should they be a part of your time management strategy? Yes, and no.

A to-do list can be advantageous if:

  1. It’s organized appropriately, and
  2. Every list item has a deadline.

Organizing your restaurant to-do list by category — like kitchen, bar, or office — will help you have a holistic view of everything that needs to be done in all areas of your restaurant; giving yourself deadlines to complete each task will hold you accountable.

4. The Power of Three

If you’re going the to-do list route, when compiling your list you will probably see a couple to-do's that really stand out and know they need your attention.

Pick out three. Just three.

Humans tend to overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate how long it takes to do a particular task (it called The Planning Fallacy). You think you can knock off a dozen items on your to-do list today, yet when you sit down to actually do a task (like writing a blog post on restaurant time management skills), you find that time just got away from you.

Don’t feel bad. It happens to us all.

Three is a beautiful number, because it’s manageable. It’s also memorable. Did you know, when asked to pick a number one to 10, statistically people choose three the most?

If you’re the kind who likes an app to keep you dialed in, check out Commit To 3 (yes, I know, very original). CommitTo3 is a daily task management system that increases productivity through focused tasks and peer accountability. Accomplish more and achieve success — all with the help and support of your team.

Here’s how it works: Create teams with co-workers, friends, or family. Begin each day by committing to the three most important tasks you plan to complete that day. Check off your commits as you complete them and view your team’s progress throughout the day. Automated emails alert you when anyone completes their three commits, which motivates other team members to complete theirs.

Take a look at this feature in action below.

5. Manage Your Calendar

When you think about something, it’s a possibility.

When you put on your calendar, it’s a commitment.

If you truly want to master time, become a black belt at scheduling. People who really get a lot done schedule everything on their calendar and use it as a compass throughout the day.

Your calendar says a lot about your success: Socio-Economist Randall Bell says that people who are consistent with using a calendar AND to-do list are about three times more likely to become millionaires than those that don’t keep a set schedule.

These people also take advantage of focus blocks. These are short blocks of time that you place in your calendar where you are totally focused on the task at hand. No cell phone, no email, no Facebook. Focus blocks are generally more effective in 20 to 30 minute increments.

You won’t need a lot of time to make progress on a task to move it forward, but you will need focus. That’s the real secret of time management: Controlling your focus for short periods of time is the key to success.

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Restaurant Scheduling Template

Use the Restaurant Scheduling Template to easily schedule your restaurant staff's shifts.


6. Set Yourself Up for Tomorrow

Peter Drucker once said, “If you want to predict the future, create it.”

If you want to master time management skills, you have to plan for them. The best time to do this is not on your way to work in the morning, but instead the night before.

After services die down, you probably find a little solitude in the calmness of the restaurant. This is the perfect time to put your focus on those three things you want to tackle tomorrow.

Here’s a great opportunity for you to put steps three through five into action. Look at the categories on your list, pick your three, think about what action you have to take to move one task forward, and make a commitment by scheduling time on your calendar.

Remember: Your calendar only works when you take it seriously and don’t just fill it in to appear “busy”. Use it wisely, young Jedi.

Of course, restaurants are far from "predictable," and every day brings along a little excitement or adventure. The best way to ensure the three things get done is to schedule two focus blocks first thing in the morning. This way, you can designate sometime in the day for yourself before the demands of others (ie, the staff, the vendors, the guests) take up your focus and attention.

7) Get an Accountability Partner

If you’re serious about getting your time management skills into shape, find someone to hold you accountable.

Having a workout partner makes it harder to skip the gym, right? Same thing applies to time management. Getting someone to hold you accountable can give you that push you need to follow through and make things happen. Find yourself the Merry to your Pippin.

That’s one reason that apps like Slack, Basecamp, and CommitTo3 are valuable for restaurant teams who want to become masters of time. Peer pressure can be a good thing if it moves you into taking positive action that will move your business to new levels.

525,600 Minutes

Every restaurant in the world has the same number of hours each day. How you use those hours determines if your restaurant thrives or just survives. Respect time and value each second of the day. Time is truly non-judgmental; it doesn’t care what you do with it. It just keeps going.

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