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TOPIC: Drive-in Staffing

Drive-in Staffing 23 Apr 2004 14:59 #24411

  • Dave31PA
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I have been warned that the the biggest mistake I could make at my drive-in would be blowing my budget by having way more staff than I actually need. The next biggest mistake would be in having too little staff. Having managed restaurants is little help. While the bulk of a restaurant's business is during lunch and dinner, they are still open all day and staffed all day. At a drive-in, we are only open a few hours a night, and all the business comes during the few spurts leading up to showtime and intermission. We are looking at 500 car capacity, two screens. Early season weekends, we hope to average 200 cars. I figure we will need one person at the gate, one in the booth, and two at concessions. Weekdays in the summer, if we do 100 cars we can probaly staff it with one, one, and one. But what about the big weekends in summer? If we are looking at a sellout, I figure we need two at the gate to keep the line fron blocking traffic, at least one in the lot to guide people to the remaining open spots and police proper parking between poles, one in the booth, and maybe a half dozen at concessions. Does 10 people on a 500 car Saturday night sound too high?
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Re: Drive-in Staffing 23 Apr 2004 18:08 #24412

  • outaframe
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Already told ya that drive-ins are NOT my area of experience, but 10 people for 500 cars seems awfully HIGH... I have handled 500 PEOPLE in a one screen indoor with 2 others, and myself (total 3) and that was with carbon arcs and 20 minute reels... I was manager/projectionist and made a lot of trips up and down from the booth, auditorium checks, restroom checks, helped a bit with concessions, and never sat down all night, but it CAN be done... ASSUMING your booth is common to both screens and upstairs above your concessions building, and that you are running something OTHER than carbon arcs and 20 minute reels, there is no reason the projectionist can't help out a bit in the concessions area, or at least do some of the policing of the restrooms and areas near the building... That would probably cover at least 2 jobs... And shortly after the movie starts, one of those gate people can move on to something else, and the other one as well, later on... I suspect that 7 to 8 people is probably a lot more in line with what you would need, and that means some would be doing double duty, and no one would be standing around looking for something to do... The plus is that time will FLY by... I would think a payroll of that size would eat you alive, with all the extras like unemployment contributions, FICA withholding matching, and the additional workmens comp insurance costs... All in all, you gotta be really efficient to make it work!...
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Re: Drive-in Staffing 24 Apr 2004 00:20 #24413

  • Dave31PA
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Thanks for the reply.
The drive-in is laid out like a capital letter 'I'.The screens are at either end and the concession building is in the center with the common projection booth on the roof of the concession stand. No carbon arcs here. Platters though, so you are correct that the projection person could assist in other ways once the movies are running. The entrance is two lanes but served by a single booth with windows on either side, so you are again correct that once the crush passes, one person could do the job alone. That would leave us at eight on a sellout night. I doubt we could do with less than 3 unless we had harldy any traffic: one gate, one concessions,and one in the booth. Of course 3 members of the staff are myself, my wife, and my high school daughter. This way, during the really slow times in the early and late season, or during the midweek in the summer, we could almost go it alone, or with only one or two hired hands. It is primarily the peak weekends when we would hope to be closer to a sellout that we would really count on the help.
Labor and attendance are, of course, the big variables in my business plan. Everything else is a quantifiable cost. I know exactly what the rent will be. I know exactly what the costs are for utilities, trash collection, and software licenses. I know what I will be paying for insurance and accounting.
The problem is, I am a numbers kind of guy, a statistical fanatic. And despite how much research I do, or how many questions I ask, there is absolutely no way to know how many people are going to show up or how many people need to be there to take care of them. I know there is some term for that exact anxiety, but it escapes me.
I have created a spreadsheet program using all the aspects of my business plan with the ability to change the variables. Attendance changes will have a cascade effect through box office, concession, labor, and insurance numbers. I have run more scenarios than I care to think.
They range from the worst case where we start and end the season at 10%, have almost nobody show up during midweek summer nights, and the peak summer weekends average 50%. Throw in a good streak of rainy Saturday nights somewhere in July. I call this the 'My God What Have I Done, I'm Ruined' scenario.
At the other end is not a best case scenario, but an estimate of what I consider to be the best we can reasonably expect the first year until we build up some word of mouth and reputation. In that scenario, we start and end the season doing around 25-30%, average a solid 50 cars a night during summer midweek, and have 75-80% on good weather peak weekends, which are plentiful.
Some of the worse case scenarios do end with me in the red for the season, but not even the worst case scenario would exceed the emergeny reserve I have set aside.
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Re: Drive-in Staffing 24 Apr 2004 03:01 #24414

  • outaframe
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OK, you've got the IDEAL physical arrangement, AND you have your head on straight!... FAMILY run IS the way to go: THEY care, and that's important!... Even if the projectionsist is someone you hire, be certain BEFORE you even open that YOU and either your wife or daughter (or both, is better) are capable of operating the booth, in a pinch... 'Cause like the bumper sticker says "Sh_t Happens," and the show MUST go on!...
I understand your obsession to keep crunching those numbers, and frustration that there are some things you can't determine, no matter what... Well, the answer is that you're in uncharted territory, and you are just gonna hafta wing some of it... Go with your best estimate, and hope for the best... Plan for the best, but be willing to accept the worst IF that's how it works out!...
When I bought my indoor (a LONG time ago) I had a very realistic estimate in mind, and didn't gild the lilly... I ALSO determined to keep a whip hand over the expenses, because this is the ONE area where you CAN either control things, or they will control you...
Took over on a Sunday (change of picture) which was only fair... Next night (Monday) I had 2 customers!... I could see all those dollars go swirling down the drain!... Very SOBERING, and leaves you wondering what kind of tiger you have by the tail... Wednesday of that week we changed pictures, and THAT night we sold out: had 'em standing behind the last row and sitting in the aisles!... The first year I netted MORE than DOUBLE what my realistic (and conservative) expectations predicted!...
IF your expectations are based on reality, and you can back up most of your data, go for it!... Columbus took a chance, and didn't fall off the world!... If you don't wet a line, you're never gonna catch any fish!... Good Luck, Voyager!... ;-}
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Re: Drive-in Staffing 24 Apr 2004 17:25 #24415

  • rodeojack
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I don't think you'll blow anything just by over (or under)estimating your staff count (on the short term). You'll blow it if you don't step back and observe how efficiently your staff runs your business, then taylor your numbers & staff talents to fit. After all, you'll need to watch how your business is supported by the local community. That relationship will change and develop over time, so there's no hard-and-fast formula here. You have to keep your eye on the situation.

We have a triplex drive-in, with a car count of about 850. Our booth is also on top of the concession building. My daughter or I run the projectors, and I find that because of our increased popularity over the past few years, I don't tend to wander far from the booth. After all, that's why people are there... everything else you do supports the experience.

We have two boxoffice booths and 4 lanes. We can run with as few as one seller, or as many as 4. In past years, we've had to have a couple of people at the street to help keep cars from overflowing and blocking up the highway. The new boxoffices we built this year and our new computer ticketing systems will (hopefully) help us get people in here faster.

We can have as many as 15 people on staff, though that would only be on a Friday or Saturday, in the middle of our peak months, with a good stock of the Summer's hottest pictures on the break! Otherwise, our staff numbers will be lower... down to a minimum of 3 (box, kitchen & front-counter)... 4, if you include the projectionist. While our max numbers might seem a lot of staff, remember that you differ from an indoor house in that you're stuffing a full day's operation in 4 or 5 hours or so. An indoor can have a longer day and will sometimes have a couple of staff shifts, resulting in a lower body count at any one time, but more total throughout the day.

I can't overemphasize the family factor, as we have run our place over the past 17 years with various combinations of our whole clan... Unfortunately, I sent my oldest off to a nearby town to run my indoor house, and our next-oldest is graduating from high school this year & heading across the water to college at the end of our season. Don't make the mistake of thinking that family involvement should lower your payroll. It's the fastest way to destroy the self esteem of your kids as they compare their situation to their co-workers. Ours are paid right along with the rest, which has resulted in a very close-knit crew that has learned a great work ethic. They've saved up a lot of their college money, too! On my side, though I'll miss having them around as they grow up & move. At least I'm already used to paying for the total body count in the building!

We start our evening with a full crew... whatever that is for the day in question. We go in about an hour early & turn on the stuff that takes time to warm up... the pizza ovens, grill, chip & bun warmers & popcorn machine. That lets the staff show up 15 minutes before opening & get right to it.

Except for any supplies my wife or I might have to go get, I expect our concessions to be fully prepared for the next business day. This means that things like nacho chips, french fry, chicken strip & mozarella stick portions and pizza topping containers are filled during the slower period during the first feature. At most, there's some touch-up after intermission, but everything should be stocked up before we close the concession for the night... so there's not a lot to do but shut things off & clean the equipment. That eliminates any need to bring staff in any earlier, just to get things ready to open up.

If we overstaffed on a particular night, we'll start by offering to let someone(s) leave early, beginning with the more senior staff. If we can't get it pared down enough, we'll send someone home, generally from the bottom-up. It doesn't happen all that often, and we give them a 2-hour minimum for the call. Usually, the kids don't have a problem with this, because it gives them an occasional extra weekend night to spend with their friends.

We shut our projectors down at intermission... nothing on the screen at all (I leave my xenons on all night, though).
Some drive-ins run previews through the break, others splice in a bunch of old concessions strips, others mix a combination.
There are justifiable reasons on all sides of this practice, and what works for me may not fit what another owner does... so don't take this as being the way I think you should do it. I shut my screens down because I sense that keeping content up there keeps some people in their cars... not wanting to miss anything. Shutting it down gives them time to head for the heads & stock back up at the snack bar without having to worry about missing something.
I've seen those long intermission bathroom lines, even in drive-ins with lots of stalls. People around here seem to get more antsy if they think the show might start while they're still in line.
It seems to me that shutting down helps generate the very strong intermissions we have here. Still, it's a personal thing that you'll decide, based on what's best for you.

We shut our concession down about 20 to 30 minutes after the last co-feature starts. We also close our box office at this time... we leave the box open through the evening because we frequently have people come in and pay full price just for the second show. It also helps secure the entrance throughout the night. With everything closed & the inside doors locked, we can have everything shut down & the staff clocked out within 15-20 minutes or so.

[This message has been edited by rodeojack (edited April 24, 2004).]

[This message has been edited by rodeojack (edited April 24, 2004).]
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Re: Drive-in Staffing 28 May 2004 00:57 #24416

I've spent time working at a drive-in with about a 600-car capacity and with 4-5 people in the concession stand (2 cashiers, 2-3 runners), we still couldn't keep the line from backing out the doors.
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