How Workforce Analytics in Restaurants Can Help You React to Forecast Inaccuracy

Having a plan is great, but a plan is never perfect. Sticking to a pre-determined plan even when your assumptions prove to be wrong, or unforeseen external factors enter the picture, can result in operational challenges and unsatisfied internal and external customers. Planning and forecasting is not a discrete task that is ever really complete, but an ongoing process that requires constant feedback and intelligence.  For restaurant managers, poor forecasting and planning can cause over or under staffing, which can in turn lead to service breakdowns, unsatisfied guests, disengaged employees and inconsistent profitability.

Identifying Forecast Inaccuracy

In creating a hotel restaurant forecast, many factors could be considered – including occupancy, arrivals, departures, banquet events, available guests, local guests, day of the week, seasonality and even weather.  Some or all of these can be used to predict guest volume for the day, however doing this scientifically is beyond the capability of most existing systems.  Shorter interval planning by meal period or hour can prove to be even more challenging.  Because having an accurate forecast can be so difficult in the first place, having a plan to react to inaccuracy becomes even more critical in managing the guest experience and the operating performance.

Most restaurant managers have methods for identifying forecast inaccuracy but often this is done by observing a queue of guests out the door or an empty dining room.  When forecast inaccuracy is this extreme, a manager’s visual gauge can be enough to make a determination on directionally how to react.  But what happens when the forecast is off by only 10% in either direction?  Without data to measure small variances, managers may not be prompted to make staffing adjustments.

Reacting to Forecast Inaccuracy

On any given day, staff may have seemed engaged and productive and guests were satisfied, but there may not be a clear understanding on the manager’s part as to how that translated to hours worked in relation volume in the restaurant. While staffing adjustments are often made throughout the day, the absence of specific metrics can lead to missing further opportunities to improve guest satisfaction and profitability.  Small daily adjustments can have substantial, cumulative effects over time.

When managers make decisions to cut the floor, they often do this by informally determining how many people to send home and when, or by soliciting volunteers.  It’s very rare that a restaurant manager knows that he or she needs to shed a specific number of hours to get back on track to their required productivity, given their forecast trend for the meal period.  And even if they have that data, managers can be risk averse to make adjustments out of fear that a sudden rush of guests will arrive.  This can mean that many labor hours are paid over the course of the year just in case unlikely events occur – this can be very expensive.

If managers can explore more creative contingencies for the infrequent times that unexpected demand does occur, the impact on operating performance could be significant.  In the long-run, this would be more effective than not reacting for fear of sudden demand increase.