Time management for restaurateurs

  • Posted on August 11, 2021 by John Jones

When we think of resources and costs in our businesses, we usually think of the obvious: software, cash, epos systems, staff, suppliers, inventory, water, gas and advertising to name but a few. All of these things and more play primary roles in determining the efficiency of restaurants, while acting as critical contributing factors to the success of the business.

One resource which is often overlooked, however, is time. At worst, time is seen as a rather woolly intangible over which we have no control. It is just an invisible factor which either works for us or against us, depending on various scientific factors which we can only attempt to understand by delving into Einstein's The Theory of Relativity. And let's face it, owners of restaurants, café bars and pubs really are too busy to do that.

Time is a commodity

You may not be able to see, touch, smell or hear time, but it is as much a commodity as water, electricity or anything else because it is finite. As the saying goes, it waits for nobody and in a business sense – when mapped to a working day – it gets used up. Sure, we can extend the working day to claw some time back, but that is a slippery slope into 18 hour days and sleeping in the kitchen store room. As with things like energy, time needs to be used sparingly and carefully – think of it as an electricity supply running on a pre-paid credit meter – when it is gone, it is gone until you get some more.

Time is a cost

Your involvement with the business costs the business, even if the restaurant is run on a shoe-string budget and you are working for free. That's because you have to deal with the paid-for stuff, so if time stops you doing that, sooner or later you have to make up for it by deploying other resources in order to catch up. That may mean paying someone else to do the job intended, or squeezing in the task ahead of your tax return and getting a fine for late payment. Both of these examples have now generated extra cost which wasn't there to begin with, meaning that woolly thing - time - has cost you actual, real, tangible money.

We also need to consider that, as the business owner or manager, you have a market value - your time and expertise don't come for free and if you're attending to low level tasks due to mismanagement of time, the business is wasting money.

Time needs prioritising

Given that time is such a valuable commodity, it is amazing how much can be wasted by attending to low level tasks which have little or no impact on the business, leading to time running out for those proper meaty jobs, like creating sales. If that happens, it's back to the store room to bed down for another early start and a very long day.

Appropriately mapping time to tasks is absolutely vital, if the business is to run like clockwork. There are so many distractions however that even the best planned schedule can seemingly go out of the window before the day has even started, robbing us of the opportunity to stay in control of what's important. But does time really rob us? We think so.

Time is an enigma: it is constant, it is always there to be used as we see fit yet as we have already stated, it is finite. It really isn't time's fault if we drop our number one priority due to an interruption and veer off into some other, less important job. Let's be honest, that's our fault because we make the decisions around how we map time, period. Even if someone else is the obvious target for blame when it comes to distractions, we have to accept that we can choose whether to veer off or not. It is all about taking a measured approach and evaluating priorities, coupled with summoning the strength to say “no” occasionally.

Teaching ourselves to be disciplined with our time versus distractions takes a certain amount of counter-thinking. Some people are just naturally great at judging priorities, whereas others find it hard to do without embedding certain personal rules and structures into the way they work. It can be really difficult to be a great time manager if you're not naturally gifted in this area, but restaurant owners have a responsibility to their business to be personally efficient and so discipline is the key here.

Strategies and tactics

Rather like starting a new exercise regime, the hardest part of effective time management is starting and that begins with accepting what we're good at and where we're weak. Here are some practical ideas which are easy to implement (with some personal discipline) and will ultimately save money by organising tasks against time, with a focus on priorities:

Start with the little things. Switch off all online notifications, like new incoming emails so that you don't veer off into reading about special offers, the weather, or what your Facebook friends had for dinner. You owe it to the business not to be distracted by what is, in absolute reality, garbage.

Think of it like this: if the mail delivery person were to bring you a pile of junk mail each day, would you drop writing your sales plan to open those envelopes? Further, would you then read each one? Worse, would you then act on each one (perhaps drifting off to look at the sender's website of catering products, for example)? We think you wouldn't, so don't do the email equivalent.

Check your inbox three times a day, and leave it at that. If there's a terribly urgent but unread message in there you'll find it within a few hours and if it is really urgent the sender will call you.

Learn to decide what is genuinely urgent and important, among the inbox clutter. This about getting granular in your time management and being even more disciplined. There are two factors which should determine whether or not to immediately act: importance and urgency. Every interruption seemingly requiring you to segway should be mapped against these criteria, before you make your decision: 

Urgent & important - do it!

Urgent & unimportant - do it later

Non-urgent & important - do it later

Non-urgent & non-important - Delegate, or better still, eliminate

Be careful about defining importance and urgency, as it is easy to confuse the two in the heat of the moment. Here's an example: your Front Of House Manager bursts in to your office and tells you with how your best customer has written a terrible online review of your restaurant and it all needs sorting out immediately. The manager is clearly very anxious and emotionally charged right when you are at a critical point in writing your business plan. Should you jump-ship, task-wise, and get writing an immediate response?

Sure, it is extremely important to do so, but in the context of YOUR time, is it urgent? Well, that depends. If the customer is storming towards your restaurant right now and hammering on your door, then yes, it is an urgent matter. If there will be zero detrimental effects on the business by you attending to it in, say, two hours' time, then it can wait. In the grand scheme of things the bigger impact on your business is not getting your business plan finished, especially if it is needed for a specific deadline or purpose (let's say, a grant application). Don't fall into the trap of converging a highly emotive situation with importance and/or urgency.

Apply the above test to each situation and you will quickly become adept at filtering what really needs doing now, and what doesn't.

Empower and delegate

Restaurant owners and managers work in very dynamic, vibrant and busy environments, with multiple demands on their time. Sometimes it can feel like they literally have to do everything. But this mindset is unhealthy for managers, because in adopting it they are effectively not in full control – rather, they are at the behest of other forces and/or people.

Tasks which don't need doing immediately can often be delegated to others, if you're willing to let go. You really don't have to do everything: staff will often be more than willing to take things from your plate and deal with them effectively on your behalf, although they will need to be empowered to do so and appropriately trained or coached. There's a fine line between delegation and abdication, but taking the “I'll just have to do it myself” route is once again robbing you of your costly time and not what you pay yourself for.

Tools and systems

Hospitality is one of those businesses which ultimately succeeds or fails on reputation, governed by factors like the quality of service, food, drink, ambience and overall experience. An overly digital approach to running a restaurant can be seen as counter to these values, but there are some seriously good productivity apps and tools available to make life so much easier, without the business looking like a silicone-valley multi-national.

A little bit of technology goes a long way, so restaurant owners in the know are introducing systems which help with the day to day things, like staff rostering and task management. Further, the very act of introducing simple systems to a staff-base of smartphone natives usually enriches teams by improving cohesion and productivity. And that brings us full circle, in that if the staff take more responsibility without bringing every problem to you, you can do your tax return or business plan as you intended and won't have to bed down among the pak choi.

Wrapping Up

Time is a precious and valuable commodity which costs money, either directly or indirectly, and therefore needs careful management. Ultimately, business owners have (and do!) take responsibility for how they utilise their time, remembering that even as owners they have an obligation to the business for efficiency. 

A manager's knee-jerk approach to incoming tasks or a lack of prioritisation ability needs to be changed from within, and that comes from self-discipline, the ability to empower and delegate, and not being afraid to embrace impactful tools.

And finally...remember, nobody has the right to monopolise your time and make you less effective.


favouritetable is the leading provider of easy to install, easy to use restaurant management software, designed to make owners' lives easier and more efficient. For over a decade, favouritetable has provided world-class and commission-free systems to enable restaurants, pubs, bars and other businesses to maximise their revenue and create seamless workflows which make owners, staff and customers happy.

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