How to Reduce Your Stewarding Costs

Stewards are typically a forgotten group of hospitality workers; that is, until you get a negative kitchen inspection or your silver inventory suddenly shows wide variances. As long as the kitchen remains clean and breakage is within norms, we don't focus too much on this back-of-the-house cleaning crew. Because they're mostly low wage workers who primarily deal with cleaning things, motivating them to improve their performance isn't very interesting.

But these workers have an impact on a wide range of operations and can have a very significant impact on what guests think of their hotel experience. By improving the performance of the stewarding operation, you can have a positive effect on the departments it works with, as well as your bottom line.

Let's first take a look at what we expect from stewards. In the simplest terms, they're a little manufacturing plant that processes dirty items (raw materials) into clean ones (finished goods). That goes for dishes, pots, walk-ins, the back dock and a whole slew of kitchen equipment, to name a few. When the finished goods are not up to spec, a hotel spends more money than necessary to correct the problems: banquet staff come in early to wipe silverware, restaurant staff must wipe glassware, cooks wipe dishes, and so on. And that doesn't include the additional work the stewards have to do in re-wash.

The question is how to improve and maintain the performance of this group of associates. First, all work and expectations need to be clearly defined. This includes frequency and the amount of time necessary to clean various areas and equipment in the kitchen. Secondarily, realistic standards need to be set for all activities, including the dishwashing function. The standards relate to the number of covers served by primary service type (restaurant breakfast, lunch, dinner; banquet breakfast, lunch, dinner, meetings, breaks). To give perspective, I was told a couple of years ago by a chief steward that for every 100 covers in banquets, he added eight hours to his schedule. On close examination, 100 additional banquet covers actually yielded about 2.5 hour of extra work. It's obvious, then, that standards of production are critical.

SCHEDULING IS KEY

Once you set your standards, staff scheduling is critical. To start, you need a forecast of covers, preferably by each key area by meal period and day of the week. For simplicity, you may want to determine a total cover count; but to schedule properly you need numbers by day of the week. This forecast, combined with your standards, will yield a schedule requirement that then needs names applied to it. It is important you don't think of stewards as dishwashers distinct from the kitchen cleaning team distinct from the pot washers. Even in union operations, you can frequently achieve cross-utilization by adjusting pay scales when an individual is working in a different labor category. A key fallacy in staffing dishwashers often arises from how their work is distributed, especially at the beginning and end of a meal period.

To understand this phenomenon, one must understand the difference between busy and productive. Assume for a moment that the dishwash standard for restaurant breakfast is 80 covers per hour (this is actually a production rate that is frequently used). Now, between 9 and 10 a.m. there are 20 covers to be washed. But those covers trickle in over the entire hour. If you watch the dishwasher, he/she will appear busy scraping and washing, but at the end of one hour, only 15 minutes of work will have been done. (20/80) Not the problem of the dishwasher, it's management that needs to stop the dishwash function at 9 a.m. and allow the 20 covers to stack up while assigning the dishwasher to other kitchen functions for 45 minutes to an hour. Then at 10, the dishwasher can go back to cleaning the dishes. The added benefit of this improvement in productivity is that the dish machine will be turned off, saving electricity and soap. Furthermore, the time the dish staff spent cleaning the kitchen or performing other steward-related work reduces the need for other staff doing these functions.

It is important to understand the flow of business to know when the dishwash area can be shut down and other activities accomplished.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

Besides staffing and staff utilization, there are other things that can be done with this group of associates to increase staff motivation and improve your bottom line:

  • Mark the gauges on the dish machine with small triangles that highlight the proper temperature range for each of the cycles in the washing process. It's hard to remember that the rinse agent needs to be between 160 and 170, but a green triangle where the needle needs to be makes it easy to monitor. And, using the rinse as a good example, at the right temperature, you will get measurably less spotting and a reduction in pre-meal wiping activities.

  • Teach and remind the staff that the more frequently you clean the dishwasher screens the less soap you need to use. A system that we have found useful is to date the soap container each time a new one is put on the dishwasher. Then, count the number of covers the soap container processed. The cleaner the screens, the more covers per container. Post the results so they are in clear sight to keep everyone focused. Not only will costs be reduced in cleaning supplies, but the glassware and silverware will come out cleaner and spot-free.

  • Focus on turning the dishmachine off and only operate it when production matches the time it's running. Stacking dishes is acceptable until there are enough to make the machine productive. I'm amazed by the number of operations that operate machines with little throughput. Carousel-type machines need full racks circulating, not ones with two items. It's a waste of electricity and cleaning supplies. A dishmachine draws the same amount of soap whether the rack is full or half-full.

  • Consider inter-department contracts, such as between stewarding and the restaurant staff. The restaurant staff commits to certain handling requirements and the stewards commit to specifics about the finished goods they deliver to the restaurant. The same approach can be taken for each group of associates the stewards interact with. This contracting process clarifies expectations of each group, outlines responsibilities and helps to resolve issues arise when they arise and get everyone headed in the right direction.

When reviewing overall productivity, the stewarding operation is a combination of semi-fixed and pure variable work. Therefore, when depicting results you should see productivity per cover improve as volume increases, but not necessarily in a one-to-one relationship, as you would see with room attendants. For example: Assume you have fixed hours of 48 per day for cleaning activities and your combined pot wash and dish wash standard is 65 covers per hour. At 780 covers, your standard would be 42 hours or 4.6 minutes per cover. At 1,300 covers, your standard is now 68 hours, or 3.1 minutes per cover. Productivity, when applying accurate standards, will show improvements as volume increases, but it is important to ensure that those increases are in relation to your established standards so that you are also ensuring the quality of your operation.

In summary, stewarding productivity can be improved with proper standards, scheduling to a forecast and managing with an eye toward being productive, not just busy.

Mark Heymann is CEO of Dallas-based UniFocus, a performance improvement company offering full-service operational analysis, management and staff training, and process re-engineering coupled with market leading financial and labor management software applications, as well as staff, meeting planner and guest satisfaction measurement programs. He can reached at 972-512-5105 or mheymann@unifocus.com

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