Restaurant Productivity and the age of Social Distraction

I recently did a productivity audit on a restaurant, and found some interesting observations that I thought it would be worth it to share. The restauranteur in question was having an issue with prep not getting done in time for service in the kitchen, and sidework not being completed in the front of the house and the bar.

A productivity audit has a lot to do with observation. Visiting as a customer multiple times and being brought in on the context of doing an inventory audit, gives a great opportunity to observe both the back of the house and the front.

What I found was many of the staff was spending an inordinate amount of time on their mobile devices, texting, playing games or chatting with friends.

Some examples from the audit:

  • The bartender was apparently addicted to Angry Birds.
  • The Sous Chef was spending a lot of time in the produce walk-in s-e-xting his new girlfriend.
  • A waitress was spending quite a bit of time on-shift texting one of the female prep cooks about the cute guys at the bar, apparently the prep cook was on the hunt for a boyfriend. A double whammy there.

When I added up all the shift time that was wasted just in one day, by online distractions, it came to over 6 and half hours of time per day, on an average, that should have been spent doing shift work. While I did not get to see everyone all at the same time, and did not get a chance to evaluate all the staff of 15+, this is a fairly serious time waster for just being to observe the staff I could.

When I brought my findings to the owner, he admitted he knew he had a problem with staff spending time on their phone, but didn’t know what to do about it. He had tried to enforce having staff leave their mobile devices in their lockers during shift, as well as trying to dock pay time if staff was caught chatting/texting/playing on shift while they should have been working, but nothing to date had worked.

What we came up was as a solution, was to have a cubbyhole setup placed in the FOTH manager’s cubby in full view of all the staff right next to the time clock. When people clocked in they were required to put their cell phones in the cubby, they could use their mobiles on their paid breaks but had to replace them afterwards. Cell Phones that were caught, if being used while on shift, were confiscated and returned at the end of the night.

When this system was put into place, there was a lot of pushback and complaints by the staff. What I said to the owner was he needs to play hardball with this, it’s his restaurant and he makes the rules. If staff doesn’t like it they should go elsewhere.

One of the major complaints made by staff was, “What if it’s an emergency, and someone can’t reach me? The solution? Have emergency calls be made to the restaurant directly.

The owner at first was not in favor of this solution, but when I pointed out to him (he as an owner of over 25 years) before the age of cell phones, realistically how many times did an employee emergency issue every come up where family/other had to call the restaurant? Very very few.

If an employee does have something going on, a relative in the hospital or an another issue that is very very important, an exemption can be made. But the issue of mobile time abuse will continue unless dealt with.

Since the restaurant has instituted this practice, they have seen an enormous jump in productivity and several staff have mentioned that it’s actually nice to be separated from their mobile devices, so they are not “on” all the time.

As a result of implementing this, he had only one staff person leave his place of employment. The prep cook who was looking for love. As a result of her leaving, a new prep cook was hired and complaints from the Chef about prep work not being done were seriously reduced, as both the new prep and the sous chef were actually spending time on their stations instead of distracted by being “online”. (The issue of the Chef not cracking down on his own kitchen staff was another issue in itself).

While this solution is not the solution for everyone, restaurant owners and managers do need to be aware of and take steps to, monitor staffs usage of time spent online, when they should be working.

It’s not just shift work that’s being affected by this, but also customer service as well.

When a customer walks into a restaurant (as happened recently to my husband and myself) and the hostess is on the phone with her BFF (as evinced by the conversation), and we are told with one finger to wait for a minute while she finishes her “chat”, that’s the point where we go elsewhere to eat or if we do stay, it’s an automatic 50% deduction chance that we will ever return (and we have not even eaten yet.)

Mobile distraction is not just prevalent in the restaurant industry, its across all industries, the age of being “on” all the time is not necessarily a good thing, for business, for profits and for customer service.


About Chef Forfeng

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