How do I cut back on staff but still offer great customer service in my restaurant?



It's no secret that wages are the biggest cost for any restaurant or cafe, particularly those of us that provide table service. Its a constant battle of ‘how do I reduce my wage cost but still provide the same level of customer service with fewer people?’


While there is no magical formula, as each venue is unique and has different requirements, there are steps you can take to ensure you get the best balance for your business.


As a Restaurateur I face this challenge every day. There is a sequence of service in my restaurants that must be followed to ensure customers have the best experience, but there are also bills that need to be paid therefore I have to budget my wages carefully. As a customer there is nothing worse than bad service and this is the primary reason people won’t return to a restaurant, in my view.


A visit to a restaurant over the weekend further highlighted this to me. I saw the lost opportunity of revenue and repeat custom, for a Restaurateur because the venue was understaffed. As a Restaurant Owner I could see this was the problem immediately, however the people I was with just saw poor customer service and vowed to never return. The problem was not the staff themselves but just that there was not enough of them. When you go to a restaurant and have to ask for everything from the menu at the beginning, to the bill at the end and everything in between, it leaves a really bad taste regardless of the efforts made on the night.


Here are my top tips to getting the right balance between wage costs and having enough staff:

  1. Hire the right people. Too often we hire out of desperation because we can’t keep people or we just need bodies on the night. A quick hire with no process, no training and without the right experience will result in poor service. Its a terrible cycle that should be avoided at all costs.

  2. Train your staff. Have a clear sequence of service so staff know what you expect and what steps need to be followed for every single table. This is from the initial greeting right through to presenting the bill at the end of the night. Train your staff well and they will be able to manage a busy service better, and do more, than if they are not trained.

  3. Create a high performance culture. Don’t accept second best. If people are not up to the standard you expect, replace them with people who want to, and are capable of, working to a high standard.

  4. Be an employer of choice. Pay your staff the right wage. Reward those who do a better job and who live up to your standards and expectations. Like attracts like. If you are known as a fair employer and you have a team of high performers, that will attract others who will behave and work the same way.

  5. Lead from the front. Whether its you the Owner, or a Manager/Supervisor make sure that you lead from the front. Direct the traffic and control the service every time. Don’t get stuck in a station or take your eye off the floor. The minute you do, things will go wrong.

  6. Staff up during your busiest times. You know when your restaurant is going to do the most covers and highest revenue. This is the time to staff up to ensure that people are served promptly and service is quick (not pushy), so that tables can be turned over and you can take advantage of the times when you have people waiting to dine in your venue.

  7. Cut back during quiet times. The quiet times are when you need to cut back. I balance less people by ensuring I have my experienced staff working during the quieter times. If your most experienced, fastest and competent staff are on when its quiet they will be able to manage more than someone who is not as good.

Hospitality is defined as ‘the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.’ Customer service is defined as ‘the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or services.’ Both are equally important to the success of a restaurant and your staff need to be both. Its not good enough to just have a friendly team who are not trained to up-sell or provide efficient and knowledgeable service, nor is it good enough to have a team who will follow a sequence of service but who are not friendly and don’t have a personality.

Great customer service and hospitality is not hard but is rarely done well. Its a great way to stand out and get customers returning time and time again. Its up to us the Restaurant Owners to get our staff operating at a high standard so we can manage our wage costs better and be strategic about who, and when, we have people on our rosters.

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