The restaurant world is showing signs of a return to the old familiar.

In a number of states throughout the country, restaurant owners and operators are being given the green light to relax or even completely lift capacity restrictions on both outdoor and indoor dining.

For restauranteurs, increased capacity means a greater feeling of security for the longevity of their locations. It means more opportunities to delight loyal customers and the freedom to experiment and attract new patrons.

For restaurant facilities managers, a return to pre-pandemic capacity means more opportunities for facilities disruptions, increased spending, and a greater need for strategic thinking. Facilities managers know that they need to be fast and smart to avoid overspending or overlooking important details. 

After weathering more than a year of the uncertainty of the challenges that arose in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, a return to full capacity is a challenge—but it’s also an opportunity.

Your restaurant facilities can be leaner, smarter, and better than ever before.

Here’s our 10-step guide to maintaining a lean restaurant facilities program.

1. Know your numbers

By asking the big questions.

What do you typically spend on parts and materials?

What’s the combined value of your service providers’ salary and benefits?

What’s the combined value of personnel in procurement and accounting?

What do you typically spend on third-party maintenance work?

Get a clear sense of your facilities spending baseline. How does that compare to what you used to spend? Once you’ve marked the baseline, tracking spending becomes more straightforward.

With a reliable reference point, you’ll find it easier to know what kinds of work should take priority.

2. Make your technology work for you

A work order management system should keep you informed about what’s happening at each of your restaurant locations.

Two important things to keep in mind:

1. Your system isn’t helpful unless it’s accurate.

Create a detailed work history. Use your work order management system to record accurate check-in and checkout times, specific work process notes, asset information, parts and materials, and photo evidence of work performed.

Without this information, you miss out on the chance to build a database for work at each of your restaurant locations. And without this data, you leave performance metrics on the table.

2. Your system should reflect everything you know about your facilities.

Your restaurants are filled with revenue-generating equipment and other assets. To a modern-day facilities manager, every piece of restaurant equipment is an opportunity to track and manage data.

Where do you keep warranty and lease information for each of your locations? What about important contact information or process knowledge?

Without instant access to this information, you’ll risk wasting time and money.

Even today, companies store much of their facilities knowledge in analog sources. Printed guidebooks, three-ring binders, and sticky notes are popular places—and also in the heads of employees.

Prepare yourself for the day when those employees move on. Losing employees doesn’t have to mean losing what they know. Storing critical information in a centralized platform is a form of insurance against tribal knowledge.

3. Align your facilities plan with overall restaurant brand goals

Organize discussions with your heads of finance, legal, and brand strategy.

How are they responding to the current situation? What are their plans for moving forward with the general move toward full-capacity restaurants?

Your facilities plan should be streamlined with the higher-level strategy at your company. Why? The state of your facilities impacts nearly every aspect of your company.

Legal: A snow-and-ice management program could have an impact on the number of slip-and-fall claims at any number of your restaurants.

Finance: Installing energy-efficient devices at your locations will create long-term energy savings and reduce maintenance costs over the long term.

Brand: Whether they know it or not, customers have an emotional connection to your restaurant. And they even create a story about your business long before they even walk through the door. Your facilities help customers understand what you value—and that can solidify your restaurant’s reputation.

Your facilities strategy can generate enormous value for these other departments and their leaders. It influences how people think, feel, and behave in response to your brand.

For that reason, your facilities strategy belongs in conversations about your brand’s overall mission, strategy, and corporate values.

4. Prioritize specific restaurant locations

Especially as restaurant traffic starts to ramp up at your more popular locations, setting priorities is critical. You won’t be able to handle every location equally.

And with a good strategy, you won’t have to. Identify specific business goals, like operational efficiency and customer experience. Then budget time and attention as well as finances.

To begin, ask some key questions.

Which of your restaurants tend to have the most foot traffic?

Which restaurants consistently show the greatest maintenance needs?

Are there certain trades that should be prioritized at those locations?

How much time is left on your leases? Will locations close, remodel, or continue as-is?

With fewer hands on deck, merely reacting to needs will work against you. But once you know what to work on as well as where, you can plan ahead and avoid surprises.

5. Tap into a strong provider network

You know your budget. You’re making use of a work order management platform. You’re setting smart priorities. Things are going smoothly.

And then they’re not.

Maybe one of your long-time providers fell ill, or even tested positive for COVID-19. Maybe one of your restaurant locations was damaged by severe weather.

Sometimes, even the best planning just isn’t enough. Sometimes, you need more help.

When unexpected needs arise, get in touch with a third-party service provider network. Think of it like a pressure release valve—when surprises happen, you’ll have time to regroup and get unstuck.

With a third-party provider network, you’ll always have someone around.

6. Educate providers on safety procedures

Even if your city or state is already at full capacity, it’s still important to remain vigilant. The COVID-19 pandemic is still an active and evolving circumstance.

Stay tuned to the newest information and keep your providers informed of any important updates and requirements.

Setting up Google Alerts for “COVID-19” and “coronavirus” and the name of your city or state, and you’ll receive a daily rundown of the latest news via email.

Create checklists based on the latest information from health authorities. And keep up information about healthy habits throughout your locations.

Wash your hands frequently. In a restaurant setting, this is especially critical.

For similar reasons, avoid touching your eyes and face.

Cough into a cloth covering or into your sleeve.

If your city or state still requires it, provide personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N-95 face masks, latex gloves, eye protection, and hand sanitizer.

7. Bundle work orders together

Sending one service provider for each work order will quickly dent your maintenance productivity—as well as your budget.

So bundle work orders, instead.

Maybe an overhead light at one of your locations has been out for days. Yesterday, one of several toilets in the customer restroom stopped flushing.

Today, a lock on one of the doors isn’t working.

Rather than sending three providers for three work orders at the same location, schedule one provider to address all three. You’ll save time and money, and your providers will accomplish more in fewer trips.

8. Consolidate invoices by consolidating service providers

You’ve chosen a handful of different third-party service providers for good reasons. But for every provider, there’s a different invoice.

And for every invoice, there’s a different set of payment terms, submission guidelines, and other particulars.

Managing third-party invoices can quickly become time-consuming. You can lessen the extent of this issue by consolidating providers and managing fewer invoices.

Take a look at your highest-performing third-party providers. Do they show expertise where you’re showing a need?

If so, consider expanding their presence across your portfolio, and in different trades.

9. Get a handle on deferred work

It can be tempting to hit Pause on certain work orders.

Maybe this or that maintenance request poses such a small issue that it’s not worth addressing just yet—or perhaps you’re waiting to bundle related work orders together.

Whatever your reason for deferring work, it’ll benefit you to take a data-driven approach to deferments.

How does deferment impact your high-traffic restaurant locations?

When should deferred work orders be addressed?

What’s the true cost of any given deferred work order?

How you prioritize deferred work will vary according to location and severity. But strategies for tackling older work orders tend to fall within the same themes.

Use your work order management system to track deferments. Take a look at your budget. Think about your current goals. In light of average time to completion and budgetary impact, some things will just have to wait.

10. Identify opportunities for investment

You likely know of assets across your restaurant portfolio that could use a reboot.

Traditional light bulbs could be converted to high-performance LEDs. Touch-operated restroom facilities could be converted to more sanitary touchless models.

To get through the initial install, you might need a capital investment.

But over time, modern facilities upgrades pay for themselves. Not only are they much more efficient—they’re more reliable, too.

To help shoulder the initial costs, consider working with an energy services company, or ESCO. They’ll cover the initial funds, normally settled over a long-term payment plan.

Meanwhile, you’re saving on energy and maintenance costs.

Rethinking your restaurant facilities program isn’t easy. But how your brand adapts to uncertainty today could say a lot about its ability to thrive long into the future.

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