The 11 Employee Scheduling Best Practices + Tips for Restaurants

The 11 Employee Scheduling Best Practices + Tips for Restaurants
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 up a 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, either FOH or BOH, at the worst times. And while it's difficult to make a perfect schedule, there are ways to make your schedule sharper and less of a burden on you.

Let's take a look at these 11 best practices for restaurant scheduling.

Top 11 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 your waiting area and increase customer satisfaction.

Cross-training restaurant employees can also be beneficial for their 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 is 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 (POS) 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 the 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. 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 helps boost 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 restaurant team management tool like 7shifts. Employees can submit their availability and time-off requests right to your phone or computer, where you can easily manage all requests.

Time off request software tab

Employee time off request software tools by 7shifts

4. 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.

5. Balance Out Your Staff

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.

Give Everyone the Opportunity to Work the “Best” Shifts

6. Schedule in advance

Sending out the schedule two weeks in advance is not only the best practice for your employees' lives, in many cities, it's also the law. The benefits of making sure the schedule is done ahead of time are twofold:

First, you'll give employees ample time to plan out their lives, which can have a huge impact on team morale. It gives them the ability to plan days off with family, friends, or even take a trip. Vacations are most beneficial when properly planned, and while you can't plan someone's day off for them, you can give them enough lead time to do it themselves.

Second, you'll have more time to adjust and make changes to the schedule. No one wants a last-minute change of shift that needs filling. By scheduling out in advance, you can decrease the likelihood of having to make game-time decisions.

7. Ditch the pen and paper or Excel schedules

If you're still using pen and paper, whiteboards, and excel scheduling templates and spreadsheets to make your schedule, it's time to start using scheduling software. It's a small change that can lead to massive results like hours back in your week, shaved labor costs, increased retention, and a more profitable business.

Scheduling software like 7shifts makes creating, managing, and sharing restaurant staff schedules a breeze with easy-to-use tools. Schedules are simple to create with a drag and drop tool and can be sent out to staff all at once. Still on the fence? Here are 5 signs you need to switch from excel to scheduling software.

drag and drop shifts scheduling

Drag and Drop Scheduling Software by 7shifts

8. Give staff two days off in a row

What's better than a day off? Another day off right after it. While many jobs outside of the restaurant industry follow a Monday through Friday schedule with weekends off, restaurant industry employees rarely see a Saturday or Sunday off. Two days off in a week is still most common, but restaurant workers may see those days split up during the workweek. When building your schedule, try to give employees consecutive days off to rest, recharge, and enjoy time with friends and family.

9. Use an auto-scheduler

Even the most attentive managers make mistakes when making schedules. And when labor costs are too high, they can make or break your margins. Don't leave profitability up to chance—use an AI-driven schedule builder to create staff schedules for your restaurant based on demand that is accurately forecast.

With an automated schedule creator, you can let the system do the heavy lifting of creating schedules that juggle labor costs, time off and availability, sales forecasts, overtime, labor compliance, and even staff preferences. With auto-scheduling tools like the one in 7shifts, everything is automatically taken into consideration to create schedules that work for the whole team—and your budget.

10. Watch for overtime and labor laws

The last thing you want is to eat a lot of overtime costs by scheduling an employee more than 40 hours or be forced to pay hefty fees when you accidentally break compliance laws. No matter how diligent you are in scheduling, mistakes can (and will) still be made. The best way to avoid overtime and compliance issues is by using scheduling software that automatically takes both into account. With 7shifts scheduling tools, labor law compliance is built-in. You'll get alerts when staff is scheduled into overtime, when breaks don't happen, and ensure staff is not scheduled for “clopen” shifts. Save the headaches—and the costs—by using smart scheduling software.

11. Schedule with empathy

Don't let a schedule become a list of names. Remember that everyone on your team has unique life circumstances that must be accounted for when building the schedule. College classes, kids at home, second jobs, and other responsibilities all factor into someone's availability. Mike Bausch of Andolini's in Tulsa calls this “scheduling with empathy,” and it's essential to remember to maintain a happy and healthy team.

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 more clearly and conveniently. 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, but you can also 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.

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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 manager at HubSpot, and previously as a blogger at Toast.