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Shifting Gears: 8 Tips for Less Chaotic Shift Changes

One of the more challenging times to navigate in the restaurant business, a shift change is the transition period when one shift ends and the other begins. To lessen the chaos of this potentially hectic period, we’ve put together this guide to help de-stress the craziness.

Picture this: The crew that opened the restaurant and worked the busy lunch shift has finished all of their side work and is about to cash out. Meanwhile, the night crew is in the kitchen getting the details about the evening’s dinner specials and getting ready to take over. At the same time, the back-of-house staff is prepping the ingredients for the dinner menu.

It’s a lot of separate tasks and moving parts happening at once.

As the owner/manager,  you’re like the conductor of the orchestra. And a well-executed shift change, when food arrives on time,  tables are set and cleared quickly, and guests leave full and satisfied, is a sign that everything is working in perfect harmony. 

Benefits of a Smooth Transition 

  • Prevents confusion, delays, or mistakes that negatively impact the customer experience. 

  • Ensures that nothing falls through the cracks 

  • Staff understands their roles and responsibilities 

  • Prevents delays, overtime, and potential labor cost issues

  • Fosters respect among staff for each other's time and efforts

  • Promotes a collaborative environment where everyone is working towards a common goal

  • Contributes to new team members’ professional development

  • Increased customer satisfaction, employee retention, and overall productivity 

8 Tip for a Successful Shift Change

1. Coordination is Key

Proper coordination during hand-off  is critical to ensure  a smooth transition, avoid service disruptions, and maintain efficiency, requiring teamwork among all of the parties involved. 

For many restaurants, especially fine dining, lunch to dinner isn’t simply a shift in the menu; it’s a complete change of ambiance, clientele, and staff as well. And there’s always overlap, with lunch guests wrapping up their visit as dinner guests arrive. Back-of-house must begin changing gears in the midst of a complete shift in staff as servers are doing their best to wrap-up their customers’ mid-day meals as the night shift serving crew prepares for the dinner guests to arrive.  

For more casual restaurants with mainly counter service, take-out and delivery, the shift switch also involves a lot of moving parts.  

It’s a juggling act, making it absolutely crucial to keep staff communicating with management, back of house, and each other. Solid communication and coordination is the key to a seamless transition time. 

2. Strategic Scheduling

It all begins with the work schedule. Proper employee scheduling can help make the shift change process smoother and more efficient. Here’s how to make the best schedule changes:

  • Stagger in times: Instead of having all employees start their shifts at the same time, consider staggering  in-times. Rather than a sudden influx of the new crew all at once, some staff might start at 5pm, for example, while others start at 5:30 pm or 6 pm.  

  • Overlap start times: Overlapping shifts allows for a gradual transition by scheduling some employees to start their shifts slightly earlier or later than others. This allows for better communication between shifts, ensuring that important information (ie; special requests, last minute menu changes, or staffing issues) is properly relayed.

  • Maintain service: During busier periods, consider switching it up and scheduling more employees to start their shifts earlier to ensure that service levels are maintained even during the shift change. This prevents a lull in service or long wait times for customers during hand-off. 

 For more about scheduling, see our blog posts, Mastering the Art of Restaurant Employee Scheduling.

3. Offer a Limited Menu

Offering a limited menu during shift changes can help restaurants maintain quality, consistency, and efficiency.   During a shift change, there is typically a brief period when the kitchen staff is also transitioning. Having a limited menu during this time can prevent inaccuracies or delays and ensure that food quality is maintained. A limited menu means there are less dishes to prepare, allowing the kitchen to focus on executing those orders well.

To avoid disappointing customers during the period between shifts, communicate the limited menu to each guest. and post it on your website and social media. Since about one-third of diners check restaurant websites before visiting, this is a great way to keep your customers informed.  

4. Create an In-Between “Happy” Hour

Instead of stressing out over the shift change, have fun with it by creating an “In Between Happy Hour” menu that features a Minimal Viable Menu. Consider offering a free dessert or beverage or a set discount for customers who visit during this period as well. And be sure to post it both physically in your restaurant and on your website and social media.  

5. Implement Hand-Off Checklists

A checklist can help hold your staff accountable and set the entire team  up for success. Consider implementing both front-of-house and back-of-house checklists. Below are two examples:

Lunch front-of-house tasks:

  • Clean and restock server stations

  • Sweep section

  • Refill water bottles

  • Take out the trash

  • Restock condiments, napkins, and utensils

  • Prepare 100 silverware roll ups for the night shift

  • Communicate any issues to the incoming dinner manager

Dinner front-of-house tasks:

  • Review any notes or issues from the previous shift

  • Conduct a walk-through of your section to make sure it’s clean and ready

  • Confirm all server stations are properly stocked

  • Review reservations 

  • Confirm any specials or menu changes 

6. Host Pre-Shift Meetings

One universal trait of a successful restaurant is the ability for staff and management to run consistently smooth shift changes. Pre-shift meetings are an integral part of ensuring steady success. Having your team focused, informed, and pumped up for their shift invites great things to happen. This is what a great pre-shift meeting can do.

During a pre-shift meeting, which normally occurs before meal service, the manager on duty huddles up the team to relay important updates, gives the cover count for the shift, and gets the team motivated for the upcoming shift.  

The pre-shift meeting can be an effective tool for managers to direct the team toward a singular mission: creating memorable dining experiences for guests.

7. Connect With Staff

Many managers only have one-on-one chats with employees when something is wrong or someone’s being fired. But quick, regular chats with employees when things are running smoothly  can work wonders to boost morale, increase employee motivation, and improve communication. That way if someone on your team isn’t pulling their own weight, setting up a private one-on-one meeting to see what’s going on won’t seem so uncomfortable or frightening.

8. Welcome and Provide Feedback

Working towards a smooth transition can take time. Giving constructive feedback so the team can learn from their mistakes and grow is essential. Feedback can highlight areas where additional development may be needed for staff members to better understand and execute the shift change process.

As important as it is to offer feedback, it is equally important to seek your staff’s feedback. Listening to your staff and hearing how they think shift change is going can make them feel valued and engaged, creating a more positive work environment.

Take Away

A smooth, efficient, and successful shift change process is crucial for maintaining a high level of service and customer satisfaction. Implementing a well-structured system that prioritizes communication and accountability helps to ensure a seamless transition between shifts. 

By fostering an environment that encourages open communication, you can more easily identify and address any inefficiencies, enhance staff engagement, and provide an amazing dining experience for your customers.  

By Eileen Strauss


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