Because labor costs pizzeria operators about 25 percent of gross sales, controlling it efficiently and calculating it accurately is paramount to profitability.
But even in the best-managed shops, to err is human, and to do so when it comes to handling payroll is common. Time cards can be miscalculated when pay checks are due, especially when the time tally is tabulated by hand. Additionally, employees sometimes lie about their hours worked or lose their punch cards altogether.
Operators using modern point-of-sale systems, however, claim they can turn over the labor logs to the computer itself. Punching in and out, totaling hours and pay rates -- even when one employee has multiple pay rates -- and scheduling are tasks handled by a shop's POS more often than ever.
"POS streamlines payroll by 100 percent," said Debbie Taranto Antoun, owner of Taranto's Pizzeria in Columbus, Ohio. "At the click of a button you have total hours and labor percentages. Because there's no sitting down and manually calculating hours and labor, there's less chance for human error."
Micros 3700 POS terminal
Most POS systems have the time clock feature built in. Instead of using a wall-mounted time clock and punch-card system, employees clock in at a POS terminal, either via keyboard or touch screen.
As that information is entered into the system, it's tracked and tabulated in real time, not when a bookkeeper or manager is free to add it up.
"Using your POS system's employee time clock provides exact clock-in and out times," said Tom Bronson, president of Lewisville, Texas-based Rockland Technology Group. "Some operators using a manual system will round off to the nearest five or 10 minutes to save time when calculating payroll. A few extra minutes here and there can add up to big dollar losses over time."
The payroll function also assists with labor scheduling, which is a real benefit according to Robert Poitras, co-owner of The Carolina Brewery in Greenville, S.C.
With 65 employees, Poitras values his POS system's ability to show him projected versus actual costs from day to day, shift to shift, even hour to hour.
With a POS, "when costing out a schedule, you can see where you need people and where you don't," said Poitras. "When I used to hand-cost my schedule, it was basically a guessing game."
Now the guessing is over, said Poitras, who believes his POS's scheduling feature cuts two to three hours of work from his own weekly schedule.
"You should let the technology do the work for you," said Poitras. "It's living by the principle, 'Work smarter, not harder.' "
Over time, a good POS system will collect detailed labor and sales data to form a baseline from which an operator can project labor needs. History largely repeats itself, and that tool, said Bronson, allows the past to lend a hand in managing the future.
"The system can compare the labor used each hour with the sales for that hour to see where the operator (was) under- or over-staffed," said Bronson.
Regardless of where sales were a year ago, Antoun uses her POS to make labor cost assessments on the fly.
"I'm able to check sales and labor at any given time at the click of a button," said Antoun. "This allows me to make necessary changes to current labor, immediately saving money. In fact, we're able to save thousands of dollars a year by the quickness and convenience a POS provides."
Because every day is a new one in the pizza business, and because even the best POS systems can only estimate labor needs, Paul Rosati thinks operators still should rely on their instincts as much as the machine's data. As the owner of Rosati's Pizza 2 in Chicago, he said he depends on the staffing projection function only as a guide.
Good managers, Rosati continued, know that each shift's sales have unique peaks and troughs, and understanding how many people are needed to navigate those periods -- be they on the make line, prepping food or cleaning the store -- is something the machine really can't do.
"There are a zillion factors in managing payroll," said Rosati. "Doing payroll and scheduling through POS is helpful, but it's a tool, not a rule."
Assal POS terminal
The labor-tracking function of a POS system also allows employees to move to different jobs at any given time, regardless of the switch in pay. For example, if deliveries are slow on a particular shift, the manager can move a driver from his tipped-rate position to another that pays a higher hourly rate, merely by telling the POS that the change has been made.
On a manual system, an employee has to clock out, clock back in, and likely have the manager handwrite the pay rate change on the time card.
Poitras said not having to hand-alter manual-punch time cards saves him between $300 and $400 each month.
Truth in numbers
POS systems also have security safeguards that ensure the person punching in really is that person, not a friend covering for another who's late. Employee-specific codes, such as social security numbers, do well here, but employees still can share those numbers in order to breach that security barrier.
To hurdle that challenge, some POS manufacturers are employing biometric systems, such as fingerprint identification.
"A good system with sound security can eliminate 'buddy punching,' " said Bronson. "It would be awfully hard, impossible really, to fake out (a fingerprint I.D.) system."
Overall, a POS system used to track labor -- and an operator who tracks and applies the data it gives him -- sends a strong message to employees: The boss is watching because labor controls weigh heavily on profits. Padding the clock, therefore, said Poitras, has been all but eliminated at his store.
"If you start looking hard at your store's labor, analyzing reports from your POS and finding inefficiencies, it gives employees a disincentive to slack off," he said. "Most employees are scared of technology a little, especially if it means there's a chance they may get caught. In their minds, you know more than they do, which is true when it's computerized and at your fingertips."