Management Advice: Best Practices for Restaurant Scheduling

Management Advice: Best Practices for Restaurant Scheduling
AJ Beltis

By AJ Beltis

Employee scheduling for your restaurant can be the most stressful part of your job. After tracking sales, calculating inventory, and just trying to keep your head above water, restaurant scheduling can take a time-consuming and arduous chunk out of your week. Plus, that schedule almost rarely ends up going as planned.

Problems often arise in your schedule, from your head chef calling out sick to the unexpected influx of customers on a Tuesday afternoon. It seems you’re always either understaffed or overstaffed at the worst times, and unless you are a master of handling on-call employees, it’s usually tough to schedule perfectly. Having said that, there are ways to make your restaurant scheduling more accurate and less of a burden on you.

Let’s take a look at these five best practices for restaurant scheduling.

5 Management Best Practices for Restaurant Scheduling

1. Cross-Train Your Employees

If you’re one busser down on your busiest night of the week, this can have a huge impact on your table turn times. This leaves your guests waiting longer for a table that should have been cleared 10 minutes ago. To avoid a backlog like this, have your food runners, servers, or even front-of-house managers familiar and comfortable with bussing. This way, they can pitch in where needed so you can empty out your waiting area and increase customer satisfaction.

Cross-training restaurant employees can also be beneficial for their own career advancement. Having a busser or food runner check in with a table if the server is busy can give them experience with customer interaction. If one of your guests asks the hostess what the drink specials are for the night, they won’t have to call over a server because they’ll know it already. This a great way to keep your staff productive and prepare them for career changes in your restaurant.

2. Schedule Based on Data

If your plan for every single shift is to have one hostess, three cooks, one bartender, and two servers, you may have noticed you’re frequently over- or under-staffed. Instead of guessing or implementing a “one size fits all” plan for your schedule, try making a concrete and data-based decision.

Check your sales reports from your point of sale to see when your restaurant is at its busiest. That way, you can plan for the variation at different points of the day, week, and year.

With the data your system gathers, you can now start to (dis)prove your managerial hunches. For example, even though Saturday has always been your busiest day of the week, you may find the bulk of business comes from the lunch rush, not dinner. Based on that, you can switch your employee scheduling around so you won’t be understaffed at lunch or overstaffed at dinner. This is a particularly helpful strategy for restaurants that are accustomed to fluctuation in business due to seasonality.

3. Always Have On-Call Employees

While restaurant data helps you predict your sales, out-of-the-ordinary scenarios like weather or special events can result in your restaurant being busier or slower than you had expected. Not to mention the headaches that come with unexpected situations like sick relatives, flat tires, or the dreaded and impromptu “I quit!”

To account for this, schedule with on-call employees in mind. This way if you need to call in an extra cook and server when things pick up on your busiest shift, they won’t be caught off guard when they hear from you.

For the shifts that you predict to be your slowest, it might be smart to under-schedule and then have one employee on-call just to be safe. This way you won’t have employees slacking off from a lack of work. On-call employees can also save your shift when someone cancels at the last minute.

4. Encourage Time Off Requests as Soon as Possible

Your employees are human beings – they’ll need vacations, time off, and time to see their kid’s dance recital. This time off is helpful in boosting overall productivity and engagement. In your time running your restaurant, you’ve come to accept this reality – but it’s better to have your employees alert you of these requests earlier rather than later.

Instead of dealing with employees asking you for a day off at the last minute, ask them to bring up scheduling conflicts and time off requests as soon as possible. This way, you can avoid changing the schedule after you’ve set it – a decision that can frustrate other members of your staff and throw off the balance of your restaurant scheduling. If you’re too busy in your restaurant to deal with every time off request personally, try implementing a sign-up sheet in the back, a shared Google Doc or a shared app like 7shifts.

5. Balance Out Your Staff

Obviously, you know the mix of front-of-house and back-of-house roles you require for every shift. However, we suggest taking the mix of staff roles a step further and schedule based on staff experience.

Restaurant scheduling planned around experience means you have a more well-rounded staff for any given shift. After all, would you leave your restaurant in the hands of employees who have all been in their respective roles for under three months? If you hired two new servers last week, would you want both of them working during the same Friday evening shift? Is putting your two best chefs in the kitchen together on the same night worth it if it means that you’ll be without them on another night?

Take some time to consider the hierarchy and experience of your staff, and make the proper adjustments. This way, your team will always have a similar level of experience, which adds consistency to your restaurant at all times.

Becoming an Expert on Restaurant Scheduling

The days of scribbling employee names on a whiteboard in the backroom are at an end. Now thanks to advanced employee scheduling software, you can plan restaurant scheduling in a more clear and convenient way. However, there are still plenty of human issues you need to address in your restaurant scheduling.

Recognizing that staffing is based not only on data-based predicting, you can see a more balanced staff for each shift when it comes to size and experience. Stick to these tips and your nightmares surrounding restaurant scheduling will soon come to an end.


AJ Beltis is a blogger and content marketer for Toast, Inc. Built exclusively for restaurants, Toast is a modern and cloud-based point of sale system that helps restaurants run more smoothly and obtain insightful data. Toast is also integrated with well-known software companies – including 7Shifts! You can schedule your free demo of Toast POS here.

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AJ Beltis
AJ Beltis

AJ Beltis is a freelance writer with almost a decade of experience in the restaurant industry. He currently works as a content specialist at HubSpot, and previously as a blogger at Toast.