Sandwich chain EAT gets a taste for workforce planning

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Workforce planning in a fast-moving sandwich chain is as much of a challenge as ensuring enough food is available at peak times. EAT decided to combine both by commissioning an innovative piece of software.

Sometimes, even though there’s an obvious gap in the market, you simply can’t find the right bit of software to help you do the job.

EAT wanted to ensure that it not only always had the right items available for customers, but that it had enough staff on shift at different times.

The company had already been working on integrating NimbleSchedule’s cloud-based employee scheduling and time-tracking system with BlueYonder’s Software-as-a-Service-based Forward Demand forecasting applications, which are used to order food ingredients.

It’s vital to have different areas optimally manned during big peaks as customers are in a rush, and if they have to queue for too long, they’ll go elsewhere.” – Strahan Wilson, chief financial officer, EAT

By plugging the two systems together, the objective was to link demand for food with workforce planning to ensure that enough employees were always available when required.

Because of the nature of the business though, which is busiest during lunchtimes and early in the morning for breakfast, EAT was keen to get its hands on a more granular workforce scheduling tool that could divide each day into hours rather than treat it as a whole.

Strahan Wilson, EAT’s chief financial officer, explains: “In the sandwich business, traditionally about 70% of your business is done between 12 and 2pm and about 10 to 20% at breakfast. So it’s vital to have different areas optimally manned during big peaks as customers are in a rush, and if they have to queue for too long, they’ll go elsewhere.”

Adding value

Wilson asked NimbleSchedule if it would be prepared to work with the company to jointly develop a new tool built to its specifications on a free-of-charge basis.

In return, the vendor would own the intellectual property at the end of the process and be able to sell it on to other customers. NimbleSchedule agreed.

“Not buying an off-the-shelf solution was a development challenge as the product needed to work for us, but in a way that would be saleable to others too,” says Wilson. “So it required a lot of thinking about to ensure it met that broader need.”

The system was initially piloted in a single store and the plan is to roll it out to a further 10 to 15 this autumn for further trials.

Wilson acknowledges though that a key success factor in any project of this type is winning over hearts and minds.

“The software has to work more simply and elegantly than our existing solution and managers have to see the benefit immediately or we’ll just be pushing water uphill,” he says. “So from a usability perspective, it’s important they say ‘this solution is easier to use than the old one so we love it’.”

Another consideration is making it clear that managers are not about to be automated out of a job.

Instead, rather than have to spend an average of an hour a week scheduling and five hours forecasting, the goal is to have them spend more time on the shop floor managing staff and improving customer service.

“Cutting manager store time would not be a good thing as they are the best people to run the business,” Wilson says. “A real concern would be if they said ‘that’s another thing being automated so what value am I adding?’ because managers add value to the bit that you can’t automate.”

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