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Mastering the Art of Restaurant Employee Scheduling

Creating a successful restaurant staff schedule fosters employee satisfaction while keeping  your operation running smoothly. Though it can be tremendously time-consuming, staff scheduling comes down to balancing the needs, wants, and priorities of the individuals on your team with those of your business.

Food service work can be physically and emotionally demanding, so it’s critical that your staff’s schedules include well-deserved time off. If a shift is understaffed, however, those who are scheduled could be overextended and inattentive to guests, which can have a negative impact on the customer experience. On the other hand, because restaurants operate on  slim margins, overstaffing is also an issue. To put it simply, scheduling your staff is  a balancing act.

While servers prefer being scheduled during the busiest shifts, BOH staff would rather work when the load is lighter. Because many restaurant employees are part-time workers, they require flexible schedules that allow them to juggle the  demands of multiple jobs, school, and families.  

A skill required by restaurant managers and owners over time,  the art of  employee scheduling involves making sure your crew is engaged, satisfied, and sticking around, while keeping operations running like a well-oiled machine.

Mastering restaurant scheduling entails  perfectly matching the number of staff needed to accommodate the number of guests expected in any one shift. And getting it right takes experience, painstaking  planning, and communication.

The good news is that there are a variety of scheduling software platforms with POS integrations that make everything from building a schedule to time management easier than ever.

Restaurant Scheduling Software 

By integrating your POS system with an employee scheduling software, you’ll gain access to scheduling and sales data that can help you staff strategically and accurately,freeing you up to spend more time on the human-to-human side of employee management. 

Ideal Scheduling Software Capabilities

  • Drag-and-drop scheduling abilities

  • Real-time scheduling updates

  • In-app team communications and announcements

  • Access from all devices 

  • Messaging within the app

  • Quick-change  features, like shift swap requests

  • Time-off requests and approvals

  • Integration with time clocks 

  • Automatic timesheet creation

  • Time-tracking that sends alerts for overtime 

How to Build a Staff Schedule

1. Determine Frequency of Schedule Creation

Some restaurants schedule week-to-week, while others reach further into the future.  Week-to-week scheduling keeps your  team on short notice, which can wreak havoc on their work-life balance, and keeps managers scrambling to accommodate time-off requests. Put simply, last-minute scheduling means  last-minute updates.

These days, most employees prefer schedules that go beyond the current week, though reaching too far out into the future might not be possible, especially with so many restaurant workers holding down multiple jobs. Therefore, a two-week-at-a-time schedule  is generally the most ideal time frame. 

Remember, however, that when you post the schedule matters. Even a bi-weekly schedule can feel last-minute if Monday’s shifts aren’t posted until Sunday night. Keep your staff’s need to know in mind to avoid call-outs. 

 2. Communicate Time-off Request Policies

Designate a regular time for staff to submit or update their availability and time-off requests. This can be on a monthly or bi-weekly basis. This gives managers time to provide a timely approval or denial. Be sure to create a system that offers staff access to their most up-to-date scheduling requests and approvals as well. 

3. Gather Moving Parts

When you sit down to build a schedule, have all of the schedule’s moving parts in front of you, including previous schedules, employee availability, time off requests, sales and weather forecasts, and holiday and event calendars.  Using this data, create the schedule using a spreadsheet template.

4. Post the Schedule

If you’re using a restaurant scheduling app or software, your team will automatically be alerted on their phones when a new schedule is posted.

If you’re using and printing a schedule from a restaurant scheduling template, post it in a high-visibility space in the restaurant.  

Either way,  always post or publish the schedule at the same time every two weeks so employees aren’t left wondering. Aside from payday, the time your schedule is announced is the most important moment for your team members. Remember, when you are last-minute, you create more havoc for your staff and yourself, so consistency is key.

5. Turn to Tech

No matter how well-planned your schedule may be, be prepared for the unexpected. People get sick,  transportation issues occur, and school closures happen. 

Though calling in a temporary  teammate requires fast onboarding and trust in your core team, it can relieve some of the pressure around no-shows and last-minute call-outs. This can also be an excellent solution during the busy holiday season when many crew members will be requesting time off. .

Sites like Pared or Instawork are great for finding  last-minute and temporary restaurant staff. 

7. Ask for Feedback

No schedule is perfect, especially when computers are doing all the work. So it’s important to be open to criticism and rely on your staff to provide their human insights. Regularly asking your team members for feedback can be an excellent tool for determining whether the schedule has been working out. 

Your staff’s  perspectives can be very different from yours, and this information can be a great complement to the hard data you gather  from restaurant scheduling software. 

Staff Scheduling Tips

Below are a few tips to optimize your staff scheduling strategy.

1. Honor Time-off Requests Whenever Possible

When you hire a new team member, make sure they understand your expectations of how much they’ll typically work and when, and review your time off policy.

To show you care about your staff’s wellbeing, do your best to honor their requests for time off. If they’re reliable, hard workers with a good attitude, the hassle of managing without them for a shift or two is well worth it if it keeps them sticking around.  

To minimize last-minute time-off requests, check in with your staff well in advance of the holidays.

2. Open vs. Set Shifts

If you’re getting feedback from staff that they don’t like the shifts they’ve been scheduled, try changing things up by using the following approaches.   

Open Shifts: Every two weeks, publish your schedule with a few unassigned slots. Give your staff a time frame for when  they can sign up for the extra hours. This is a great way to accommodate the needs of staff who want to get in as many hours as possible while keeping your less-flexible staff happy.

Set Shifts: Set shifts mean all your employees have a firm schedule that rarely changes. Though set shifts aren’t flexible, they're stable. This  type of schedule is great for employees who crave a little bit of stability in an otherwise unpredictable industry. This works well for employees with second and third jobs or small children. 

While working the exact same shift every week might sound boring, it can also be a great way of maintaining a positive relationship with your employees who prefer stability in their schedule and paychecks.  

3. Schedule Sidework

There is always something to do that can be done by any team member, so have side work tasks listed and ready to assign.

Instead of adding housekeeping items to the end of an already long closing shift, consider booking certain employees for shorter shifts devoted to side work, administrative work, or chores. Assigning behind-the-scenes work in smaller chunks could be the perfect scheduling solution for those with limited availability who still want to pick up hours when possible. 

4. Cross-Train

Cross-training is crucial in restaurants. If you can invest the time in training your line cooks to work every station, you’ll be prepared for days when you’re understaffed, and you’ll be able to schedule any cook whenever there’s a timeslot or station open.

This works in front-of-house as well, with servers and bartenders able to mix-it-up when need be.  

You don’t have to take on the task of cross-training alone. If you have a cook who has been shining lately, ask them to mentor a newer cook who could learn a new station or two. Mentorship can be extremely rewarding for both parties and encourages collaboration among the whole team.

5. Incorporate Team Member Assets 

Scheduling isn’t always just about time management. Take stock (and advantage) of your team members' best assets when creating your schedule as well. 

Using a staffing platform can be a useful tool when it comes to determining which of your servers are top performers at lunch versus dinner, for example, and  schedule accordingly. 

If your lunch superstar is great with kids, scheduling them during the after-school or early dinner rush could be a bonus for customer experience.

If you know a certain line cook is quick with the knife, adding that person during the busy lunch shift makes great sense. Incorporating insights about your staff’s assets is a great strategy for optimal scheduling. 

6. Plan for Holidays

Create a holiday time-off policy and stick to it across the board. Because no one will always have their holidy yrequests met, consider offering time-and-a-half pay, for especially sought-after days off like Christmas and New Years Day or provide a small gift to employees who work the big holidays. As a bonus, consider offering time off with pay shortly after the holiday rush to team memebrs who put in their time and efforts when you need them the most.

Ask your staff to submit their holiday availability at least a month in advance to help with your holiday scheduling, and communicate to your staff that last-minute holiday day off requests will NOT be accommodated.

7. Lead by Example

The restaurant industry is notorious for its long hours and physically demanding work,  making time off non-negotiable to prevent burnout. This goes for you too! Stress the importance of  taking time off by doing so yourself. If your team sees you working to the point of exhaustion, they’ll feel the need to do the same, so lead by example. 

Take Away

Mastering the art of restaurant scheduling is a skill that comes with time, experience, and careful planning. By incorporating data, technology,  and personal insights, while also recognizing the importance of timely and fair scheduling, you can foster an atmosphere that keeps employees happy and customers coming back. 

By Eileen Strauss


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