The Gregorian calendar has been around since 1582. Even then, there was controversy. Some parts of the world waited four centuries to adopt the new calendar.
To Fiscal or Not to Fiscal
It now seems quite natural that we’d split our fiscal years into these same 12 months of the year. But this presents unique challenges for the hospitality industry. Over 99% of accounting is done by closing the books at the end of each month, then comparing this month against last month. Most who use monthly methods know to be cautious about seasonality. It’s obvious you can’t compare July to January. The results can be misleading. But the problems for restaurants go deeper than seasonality.
To illustrate the challenges, consider this puzzle. In 2022, July has four weekends. August has five. In two years (2024), this will flip! July will have five weekends. August will have four. Many, if not most, restaurants do wildly different business on weekends and weekdays. Some are much busier, while others (for example, a central business district lunch spot) may be almost empty on the weekends. Comparing July and August is like comparing apples and oranges. The variation means that even this June versus last June can be similarly misleading.
We can all imagine how difficult it was to shift the world calendars ten days back in 1582. This was before the advent of telegraphs, telephones, Internet and computers. Thankfully, modern accounting methods mean there are a couple of ways around this conundrum of extra weekends that comes up with monthly-based accounting. As with most solutions, there is a fast fix and a harder fix. The more difficult way is more accurate. The easier way is less precise.
Some accounting firms have done both. From experience, we in the accounting world know that both have merits. It just depends on your needs and circumstances.
Periods as a Solution
Let’s start with the most accurate way. Rather than dividing the year into months, we can divide it into thirteen periods. Each period has 28 days. Typically the periods would be Monday to Sunday. Now see what we did? Each period is directly comparable. Each period has four weekends. Each period has the same number of days. Sure, there are still other seasonal factors. And we also need to manage a 364 day year (the IRS is not going to move away from annual returns any time soon). But these are relatively easy problems to deal with. (Also, the 28 day period also greatly simplifies cash planning, but we’ll save that discussion for another time.)
The above method of thirteen periods with 28 days each is accurate, yes. But it involves some heavy lifting. For example, rent is typically paid monthly, but with the 28-day methodology, every so often, the period won’t include a month end. Just like you may receive a batch of ingredients that are a bit different from the norm, or factors such as humidity or oven temperature can affect products–accountants have to adjust for variations, too. This month’s-end issue requires that we adapt, otherwise our comparability will collapse like a mishandled souffle. So, we record rent daily to accommodate this.
There are a dozen other similar challenges. For many small businesses, this is overkill. If you need the simpler method, we’ve also done an adjusted month where we reduce or increase revenue and expense amounts to equalize the effect of the number of days and weekends. This has worked well when planning a new restaurant, because targets can be set and analyzed. (Note, these adjustments are purely for comparison purposes.) So, from a formal accounting perspective, we have a regular January and a regular February, and so on.
If you’ve ever wondered why the irregular calendar months have created problems for accounting and forecasting, you’re not wrong. Think about how hard it was to reconcile all the calendar problems in the 16th century, when scientists and leaders took 37 years to strategize a plan to create the Gregorian calendar–and then it still took years for adoption.
Tools to Overcome the Calendar Challenge
Modern accounting doesn’t have these same problems now. We have tools and tips to address variability. We have the cloud. We have software. When restaurants and the food service industry face the extra weekend problem, we have reliable solutions. If you’re a small restaurant and want to keep things simple, we generally recommend the quicker fix. If you do complex costing and calculations, often the more elaborate solution can provide you with precision and clarity on cash flow and other important data.
Getting to a Solution
Don’t get lost in the seasonality and calendar conundrum. Talk with an accountant today about how to manage the extra weekends and get a handle of variability.