How to Measure Server Productivity & Performance

how to measure server productivityA highly skilled waitstaff team is an integral part of any successful restaurant. But how do you know how good your servers are? What particular skills does each server excel at? How do you measure server productivity and performance? Having the tools to measure their productivity gives a manager a matrix by which to evaluate the strengths & weaknesses  of individual crew members. And being able to quantify the individual talents of your waitstaff provides you with valuable insight into how to help them improve their skills, which will of course help improve your operation and bottom line.

It’s important to note however that the “number crunching” on productivity is worthless without clearly defined expectations on the standards of service which you require. Successful productivity evaluation & measurement therefore starts with management clearly defining and teaching what the expectations are. You cannot hold your crew accountable to a productivity standard if you haven’t defined & taught the service standard and timeline.

The service standard and the productivity ratio are in direct opposition to each other. The higher the service standard…the lower (worse) the productivity you will be able to achieve, because better service requires more time.

And of course, the service standard needs to match your restaurant concept. A highly skilled waiter from Thomas Keller’s French Laundry will not meet the standards at Denny’s because they will be too slow…providing too much service and not enough speed. But a highly skilled server from Denny’s will have huge learning curve if they expect to work for Thomas Keller.

Having well defined SOPs (standard operating procedures) will make the evaluations much more accurate and fair. And it’s important to remember that for the SOPs to work they must be achievable by most of the crew most of the time. If only a small number of your crew can achieve the standard then the error is with you the manager for either not properly training them, or for setting standards/timelines which are for some reason not attainable.
Read How to Improve Server Performance (coming soon) for an example of a good SOP.

How to Measure Server Productivity

Here are some common metrics which can be used to evaluate server productivity & performance. Note that while some or all of these stats may be used on your P&L as a general summary of your FOH team performance, for the purposes of understanding and improving server productivity they should be calculated for each server individually.

  • Number of guests (not tables) served per server per hour
    • Formula: Total number of guests served/number of service hours worked
      • So if Susan worked 8 hours from 4 – 12 but you don’t open for service until 5 then you would use 7 hours for this calculation.
    • Compare this matrix with customer comments about each server. If they serve a lot of guests and have great comments then they are a high-performing server.
    • But if they serve a lot of guests and have above average guest complaints then they are receiving more guests than they can effectively handle and you need to cut back on the number of guests they serve, or give them better training.
  • Guest check average per person
    • Formula: total server sales/total number of guests served by that server
    • Note that the highest guest check average per person may not necessarily reflect what is best for your business. A high guest check average with a low table turn average or low number of guests served per hour may result in a lower than average total sales revenue per hour.
  • Number and/or dollar amount of “upsells”
    • Appetizers/soups/salad
    • Desserts
    • Alcoholic drinks
    • Wine
    • Note on upselling desserts. It is good to upsell dessert when you have no guests waiting to get into the restaurant. But if you have a wait list, and people are leaving to go elsewhere rather than wait, then perhaps turning the table is more beneficial than upselling dessert in that circumstance.
  • Table turn time
    • POS systems such as MICROS will give you this info, assuming that you have a host who tracks when guests arrive and depart from each table.
    • Recognize that if the kitchen is slammed, under-staffed, or just plain inefficient that it will directly impact table turn time
    • Recognize also that if the servers are slammed or over-sat due to a rush that it will directly impact table turn time
  • Customer pro/con comments per server
    • A great server should consistently receive great comments from their guests.
    • Any server who consistently, repeatedly receives poor comments needs:
      • a. to be re-trained
      • b. to be terminated if re-training does not improve their guest relations.
    • Every server will receive some bad comments. Everyone makes mistakes or has an “off day”. And sometimes patrons are just plain dicks looking to take it out on someone or trying to scam the system for a free meal. The goal isn’t to eliminate bad comments, but to minimize them.
    • Learn to read between the lines. If you have a server who is very popular with your customers and who also has a low guest check average it is possible that they are giving away food or discounts in exchange for a better tip. A simple visual inspection of their tickets and actual food delivered can resolve any concern
  • Server errors per guest
    • Formula: total number of server errors/total number of items (food or beverage) wrung in
    • Server errors can be miss-keyed items into the POS, misunderstanding what the guest ordered, or other refires based upon server error. Server item errors (and kitchen item errors) hurt productivity, communication, the bottom line, and team morale. The focus should be on getting the order correct the first time, keying it into the POS correctly, and the kitchen properly producing it all the first time.
    • Again, if a server has more than the average number errors then perhaps they are managing more guests than they are capable of effectively serving.
  • Sales per server hour
    • Formula: Total server sales/number of service hours worked
      • It the ratio is too high then perhaps the guest isn’t receiving the customer service you desire. If the ratio is too low then perhaps the server is less productive than you desire.
  • Team Moral
    • This one is on management. A team with a high moral is fundamentally better equipped to perform better than a demoralized crew. And the moral of your crew is very closely tied to the way you and your supervisors interact with the team.
    • How do you measure team moral?
      • Turn-over: is your staff comprised of mostly long term team members, or are they mostly newer recruits? The majority of your crew should be long-term employees. (note: I mean long term in the sense that they want to stay and you want to keep them. It does not include long term employees who are grandfathered in due to company politics, seniority, or union rules.)
      • Call-ins: although it’s not uncommon to have a small portion of your team members regularly call in sick (when you suspect that they actually aren’t!), if a lot of your staff routinely call-in then the problem may well be with your management team’s treatment of the crew.
      • Apathy: read their faces! Listen to the tone of their voice. If many of your crew are apathetic then you need to seek to understand why. And to fix it will probably require a change in the way some or all of your management team interacts with the crew.

Other Important Considerations in Measuring Productivity

A friend in the business asked a very poignant question: “How do you gauge employee productivity by also considering the human element in the equation?” Some servers are faster, others are more organized, some excel at guest service while others are fantastic at upselling, and perhaps a slower server has the least amount of comps & server errors which means that the overall revenue they generate may be more than a top seller who also has a lot of comps & errors. These variables make it clear that while the straight productivity numbers provide some basic information, they require the insight of a wise manager to interpret them correctly.

You do not have a grasp of the numbers until you understand WHY they are what they are, and understand what specific training needs to be done to improve the skills of any particular server. Do not make the mistake of sitting at your desk, reading your numbers, and thinking that you have an accurate picture of the productivity of your staff. Seeing the numbers and understanding the numbers are two very different things. You need to understand WHY the numbers show that a particular server is under performing or out performing when compared to others. Understanding WHY will give you the most insight into how to improve your entire team and your operation. But the numbers just by themselves could lead to incorrect assumptions and poor decisions.

For instance, if a server only works on the slowest (or busiest) shifts or days then it’s possible that their numbers are a result of the shift and not a result of their service skills

Efficient scheduling also plays a big role in in managing your FOH productivity numbers. If you need 7 servers to get through the rush, what time do you actually need them scheduled at? If you have all of them start at 4:00 but you don’t get your push until 7:00 then perhaps a staggered schedule with 4 on at 4:00, 1 on at 5:00, and the last 2 on at 6:00 would work better for your business needs.


Leave a comment!

What additions would you make to measure server productivity? How can these numbers be manipulated? How do you apply productivity standards without “sucking the blood” out of your staff? Tell me your thoughts!


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