A produce department is similar to a ship in this regard, isn’t it? A produce department has its many categories or destination areas — wet rack, multideck and other refrigerated cases, fruit tables, tomato tables, citrus, apples, berries, melons, corn, grapes, onions and potatoes — all at the ready. It’s not unlike an outfitted battleship, complete with the captain (produce manager) and of course, his lively crew.
Permission to come aboard!
The point of this is that our produce ship is rarely tested in the morning calm. Especially in the summer, the business shifts somewhat from winter business, being busiest from 3-9 p.m. In my neighborhood (and remembering all too clearly working those late-night shifts firsthand) the biggest summer business wave was closer to 6 p.m. Heavy shopping raged on until dark — which in the summer can extend past 9 p.m. or even 10 p.m.
This is the concentrated time of day, nearer to sunset, when customers’ hunger-induced internal clocks signal dinner time.
For savvy produce managers, the shift to a delayed dinner rush means retooling the late-night schedule. It dictates midshifts begin around 1 p.m. instead of 11 a.m. And the closing shift may start an hour or two later as well. Sometimes it means plugging in a four-hour shift to bolster the late schedule, say from 4-8 p.m.
Funny how often that modest, four-hour shift often morphs into eight hours too.
This strategic schedule move can accomplish two things: First is that extending shifts into the heavy evening rush puts clerks on the sales floor when the replenishment needs are greatest; the second is that because you have scheduled for later coverage, the need for paying overtime is reduced.
This also puts a little healthy pressure on the early shifts that may have otherwise (and for lack of a better term) “coasted” through the morning, with lower customer traffic, having unnecessary help on hand. This can cause clerks to become complacent and being lulled into a false sense of security. In the worst-case scenario, it means not properly preparing for the evening rush in the first place.
To be fair, there is plenty for the early produce crew to work on before a store opens. The wet rack needs to be set up. Items such as grapes, cut fruit, corn, cherries, berries all need a fresh set that requires more time than winter set-ups.
The challenge is to rearrange the schedule so that your evening department is in, well, shipshape.
Armand Lobato works for the Idaho Potato Commission. His 30 years of experience in the produce business span a range of foodservice and retail positions.
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