Covid-19 Resources | Labor and Staff

How to Forecast Your Restaurant Sales to Help with Scheduling

Nov 16, 2020

How to Forecast Your Restaurant Sales to Help with Scheduling

Proper scheduling to maintain labor costs has always been essential to running a restaurant business. During the pandemic, restaurant operators have been struggling to deal with unpredictable business and pivoting business models, all while figuring out how to control costs and take care of employees. Though there is a lot of uncertainty right now, gathering sales data and forecasting for the weeks ahead will help mitigate some of that uncertainty. It will also help your team be more efficient and effective at their jobs.

In this post we’ll be talking about four steps to get started forecasting your restaurant’s sales to properly schedule your team.

The four steps are:

1. Forecast sales.
Pull reports from your point of sale (POS) or online ordering systems to retrieve sales data from the past eight weeks to predict what your sales might be in the future.

2. Create your labor guide.
If you don’t already have a goal percentage of labor costs to sales, it’s time to set one.

3. Create your schedules.
Use your sales forecasts and your labor guide to schedule your team at the times and in the departments that they’re needed most.

4. Track data and adjust.
Lastly, track the accuracy of your forecast, check other data points to ensure employee satisfaction, and adjust for future forecasts.

Let’s delve into each of these steps a little further.

1. Forecasting sales
Here are the different data sets you’ll want to gather through your POS or online ordering systems.

  • Monthly data year over year. Compare each month over the last couple years. How much does 2020 differ?
  • Look at the trends for 2020. Are your sales steadily increasing every month, staying flat, or going down?
  • Pay attention to special events. Did you have any special events or holidays in any month? What coronavirus policy changes might have happened or might be happening that you need to account for? Use last year’s data to determine how that affected holiday or event sales in the past.
  • Break it down into weeks. Look at the last eight weeks worth of sales data. Is it steadily increasing? Going down? Staying steady? Determine either a percentage trend or average sales to forecast the next few weeks.
  • Daily sales. Now look at the previous eight weeks daily sales as a percentage of the weekly sales. This will help you determine which days are your busiest.
  • Lastly, break your days down into time periods. One hour, 30 minute, or 15 minute increments (depending on how in-depth you’d like to get) to track daily spikes. Again, pay special attention to any holidays or events that would affect your sales. Take the average of the last eight weeks (not including outliers).

Some POS systems also have a forecasting system included, so check with them to get it set up. Otherwise, spreadsheets are a great tool to gather and track this data. It takes a lot of manual entry, but in the end it’s worth the time and effort put in on your end.

2. Create your labor guide
This refers to your goal labor cost as a percentage of sales, so it may be something you already have. Traditionally, this number was between 20%-30% depending on your business model. Quick or counter service is typically lower, while full-service and fine dining is higher. In more recent years, independent restaurateurs are looking to increase that goal to 35%-45% as they focus on employee retention by providing higher wages and more benefits. You will use this goal to construct your schedules.

3. Create your schedules
Using your sales forecasts and labor goal, you are now ready to start creating schedules. Here is the data you’ll need to do this.

  • Employee wage rate. Have a system where you can see how much your cost per time period is from your proposed schedule to compare against what your projected sales are. Some POS systems have this capability built in.
  • Labor cost per schedule period. In addition to looking at the costs for the periods of time during the day, look at the labor cost for the whole schedule period to make sure you’re still close to your labor guide percentage.
  • Product mix data. Use your product mix data from your POS to make sure you have the proper team members in the kitchen or at the bar when each station is busiest. Is the salad station busier for lunch but the grill is busier for dinner? Staff accordingly.

4. Track data and analyze
Now that you’ve forecasted and set your schedules, you need to track how the system is working and adjust accordingly. Here are some tips to do that:

  • Projections versus actuals. Spend some time entering your actual sales and labor hours into your system so you can see how accurate you have been. Use this data to adjust your projections in the future.
  • Get into a routine. Set some time consistently each week or each month to do your data collection and analysis. The more consistently you do this the better your projections will be in the future.
  • Track employee data. It’s important to check in with employees to see how they’re feeling about the schedule. Employee turnover can cost you a lot of money and time in recruiting, hiring, and training, not to mention team morale. Track your employee retention rate and check in with employees to see if they feel that their department is over or understaffed.

Restaurant sales can be unpredictable, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you should give up on using data sales forecasting to help with your labor. The more data you can gather, the better you’ll be able to spot trends in your sales and use that information to forecast. Plus, forecasting not only helps with labor costs, but inventory management and food costs. Though it’s a lot of work up front, it’s worth it to keep costs under control and help your team do their jobs better.