Outsourcing Can Be a Busy Restaurant's Best Choice

How external experts can lower costs, boost morale and improve operations.

The difference between a decent and a robust profit is often finding efficient ways to tackle non-food matters that eat up so much time and energy.

If your staff is constantly pulled away from their stations to handle busy work—whether it’s managing payroll and preparing tax returns or cleaning the restaurant and managing social media—it’s worth considering outsourcing.

“Outsourcing frees up time to focus our attention on our core business: making great food and providing great service,” says Chip Ladigo, owner of a Tacos 4 Life Grill franchise in Concord, North Carolina. “If there is a cost-effective option to outsource things that are outside that focus, it makes good business sense.”

Hiring external companies is not a magic bullet for cutting labor, but it offers significant advantages.

LET SOMEONE ELSE WORRY ABOUT LIABILITIES ➜
Hiring professional cleaning crews at his Tacos 4 Life franchise offered the bonus of reduced liabilities, says Ladigo. “Yes, we could clean our own windows, but from a safety standpoint, do I want staff climbing 12-foot ladders? It’s smarter to outsource the job to someone who is bonded and insured,” he says.

The peace of mind also led Ladigo to hire an outside company to handle his human resources needs. “Someone who knows their stuff is managing our paperwork and monitoring (Affordable Care Act) laws to make sure we’re in compliance,” he says. “We’re not in the HR business; their expertise gives us checks and balances, so we stay in compliance with the continual changing of laws and regulations.”

SHARE DIGITAL MARKETING ➜
When Ivan Iricanin opened Ambar in Washington, D.C. in 2012, he hired an in-house social media coordinator to shoot photos and craft posts for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The results were positive, but pricey. “The decision to outsource was simple math,” he says. “As we grow, we might take (social media and marketing) in-house, but for now, we’re a small company, and it makes more financial sense to outsource.”

Outsourcing social media and other marketing duties, however, don’t negate all of an owner’s marketing responsibilities. The agency that’s hired can only promote what it knows, so you’ll need to devote time and effort to sharing information, such as events and promotions.

It’s also important that you are in control of the voice of your business. That tone and voice must be consistent to what the outsourcing produces.

Oftentimes it’s worthwhile to pair staff with your outsourcing.

Determine which up-and-coming manager or servers are adept at Instagram, Facebook or Twitter and develop a plan to work with the outsourcing firm. Management still needs to direct the plan but setting expectations is paramount.

If managers enjoy handling social media but may not be the savviest marketers, it might be worthwhile to bring in a marketing coach to keep you up to date on trends and best practices.

HAPPY STAFF, HAPPY CUSTOMERS ➜
Kevin Jennings credits outsourcing his cleaning crew for low turnover at his Denver restaurant, Avelina.

“Servers don’t want to do that kind of work,” he says. “It would be way more work for me to talk servers into dusting, vacuuming or mopping the floor—and making sure it was done right—than hiring a cleaning crew. It makes our servers happier.”

Beyond the hard sell on unsavory busy work, asking servers to take on cleaning duties can dig into their take-home pay. In Colorado, servers must clock out and clock back in when roles change, earning the state minimum wage instead of the more profitable combination of an hourly wage plus tips.

ACCESS EXPERT KNOWLEDGE ➜
Some outsourcing needs are more obvious than others, says Doug Roth, founder and president of Playground Hospitality in Chicago. An accountant who understands the tax code, for example, can help reduce tax liabilities or offer support during an audit, while HR companies ensure paperwork is compliant with federal and state guidelines and provide access to comprehensive training programs.

Roth worked with a national hotel chain that wanted to reduce average ticket times in one of its restaurants from 35 minutes to 10 minutes. Boosting efficiency required investing in new kitchen equipment— and an expert who could make the right recommendations.

“When you want to operate at a high level of efficiency, you need to outsource other tasks,” says Roth. “You have to understand your strengths and weaknesses and where you can benefit from outside expertise.”