By:  Armand D. Iaia, FCSI
Regional Manager – Chicago Office

One of the things that many architects and interior designers don’t consider when they are planning foodservice facilities is the staff count and associated cost of labor that will be needed to run the facility they are designing.  While large cafeteria facilities typically generate enough cash flow that they can afford operating staff as required, smaller facilities are a different issue. 

If smaller facilities have stations too spread out or situated out of the way so that it requires one or more dedicated person to run each station, it can doom a facility before it even has a chance to get on its feet.    Smaller facilities need to have stations that are connected so that when the operation is not running at full tilt, the whole place can be run by a single person.   This is especially true for small cafeteria serveries and coffee and snack bars usually found in healthcare, universities, offices and hotel lobbies. 

But it’s not just about the size of the facility.  Even larger facilities have slower periods.  The desire to provide customer service and convenience in the slower evening and weekend periods has to be balanced with the need to keep operational costs low.  Consider stations with flexibility in mind, not just stations in a row.  For example….a grill that doubles as a deli or maybe an international (Made To Order) station, or a deli that doubles as a grab & go by using convertible   sneeze guards.  This way, the overall footprint can be kept smaller and labor costs can be minimized during slow periods.

Cashiering is another important factor to consider in small facilities or large facilities with slow periods.  A separate remote cashier station staffed by a cashier is great for peak traffic flows but the labor cost cannot be justified when traffic count is low.  A separate cash register should be on the primary counter so the staff person there can serve and handle the cashiering function.  If there is no room there, a separate mobile cashier stand should be available to be wheeled into place next to the primary counter.  This secondary cash register needs to be located in a position with a good sight line to the entire facility, especially the entrance.  This allows a single person to run the operation while facilitating good customer service and proper security protocols that reduce the potential for theft.

While labor costs can and do vary quite a bit from place to place in North America, U.S. minimum wages (currently $7.25/hr and above, depending on state) plus any benefits that may be required make it important that small facilities keep labor to 33-35% of total sales (depending on sector).  Too high a labor cost or too much theft will sink a small facility that would otherwise be a great convenience to patrons.

Consider also the labor costs associated with cleaning.  More space means more space to clean and typically higher labor costs.  Along those same lines, china and flatware means a dishroom and the labor costs associated with that.  Consider whether disposable wares make financial sense for small facilities or during slow periods.  Balance this with how it fits with your facility’s mission of environmental responsibility.

Regardless of size, all facilities should be designed with the peaks and valleys of customer demand in mind.   The design can either allow or constrain the operation’s flexibility, and in turn its ability to provide good customer service within acceptable operating costs.

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