10 Common Employee Scheduling Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

10 Common Employee Scheduling Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)
D. J. Costantino

By D. J. Costantino

Watch the video version of the 10 common employee scheduling mistakes

Employee shift scheduling for your restaurant can be much more complex than it seems. From managing overtime hours, to employee time off and availability, to making the right calls when it comes to who and when, scheduling takes a lot of time and mental energy. Not to mention, that's before you send it out to your team (a process unto itself) and have to make those always-present adjustments.

With a task that involves so many moving parts, it can be easy for even the best managers to make mistakes. These errors can easily affect your bottom line, increase stress levels, and impact employee morale. But they can also be avoided if you know what the common errors are, and give yourself the tools to turn them into a rarity.

Here are 10 common scheduling errors and how to solve and prevent them

1. Using Excel or Pen and Paper to Schedule Employees

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.

software versus spreadsheet schedule
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2. Forgetting employee availability and time off

It can be hard to keep track of a dozen or more employees' availability, especially if you employ a lot of students. If you just keep track of this on paper or in a staff availability spreadsheet, it can be easy to forget and misread when making a schedule. Add in those one-off time-off and vacation requests, and it can be impossible to keep track. You don't want to schedule someone all week and forget they're on vacation, forcing you to cover five shifts.

Eliminate the possibility of forgetting with tools like 7shifts, where employees can submit their availability and time-off requests right to your phone or desktop. That way, you can easily manage all requests from anywhere, and be reminded of them automatically when making the week's schedule.

3. Making and sending the schedule last minute

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

Employees can plan

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.

Time to make schedule adjustments

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. Give yourself a deadline like two weeks out, and make sure you stick to it when making schedules.

4. Unequal shift distribution

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 on the floor at any given time. 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 the same Friday 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.

5. Manually tracking employee shift swaps

As much as we'd like for it to be true, there's no such thing as a perfect schedule. There are always instances where an employee needs a shift covered or swapped. And that's normal—people have lives and obligations beyond their job. These changes, though, can throw the schedule off if not properly tracked and accounted for. Not to mention take up a lot of time and headspace.

“I had one email [account] just for time off,” says Kim Jackson, District Manager and Franchise Trainer for The Human Bean. “We used to just not do shift changes,” Jackson added.

7shifts makes it easy to manage swift swaps and coverage. Employees are empowered to make changes within the app, and all managers have to do is approve or not with the tap of a button.

6. Not making data-driven decisions

If your plan for every single shift is to have one host, three cooks, one bartender, and two servers, you may have noticed you're frequently over-or under-staffed. Instead of going with your gut every time, 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 see how accurate your intuition is. 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 schedule 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.

This all made easier with a tool like 7shifts, which can pull sales data right into your scheduling, making data-backed decisions all that much simpleir to pull off, even for the most spreadsheet averse.

7. Unclear communication

“I didn't get the schedule,” are words a restaurant manager never wants to hear. But when you're working with many siloed systems, email threads, and group chats, it's easy for things to fall through the cracks. Add changes and shift swaps into the mix, and you have to worry about everyone having the right schedule at all times.

Scheduling software allows for easy publishing to your team that updates to ensure they always have the most up-to-date version. You can also send team-wide announcements or add events to remind the team.

8. Not scheduling with empathy

When you make it week over week, the staff schedule can devolve into a list of names that need to be added. But there are real humans behind those names, each with their own life circumstances. 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. That happy team is also much more likely to stay engaged and stick around longer, reducing your turnover and making your business run better.

9. Too much overtime scheduling

The last thing you want is to eat a lot of overtime costs by scheduling an employee more than 40 hours. Overtime is sometimes necessary, but when you're making schedules manually, you have to check to make sure the hours add up. It's just too easy to make a miscalculation and wind up paying too much overtime—spiking your labor cost percentages way higher than planned.

Scheduling software makes it easy to make sure you're not putting employees on for longer than 40 hours, saving you costly overtime payroll and keeping you on track.

10. Too many “clopens”—and neglecting other labor 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.

The Solution: Scheduling Software

Let's face it: scheduling can be hard. There are so many points in which errors can be made, from availability to, But advanced employee scheduling software can help automate and eliminate many of the places where it goes wrong. Using best-in-class scheduling software and recognizing some other common problems outlined in this guide will enable restaurant managers to eliminate easy-to-make errors. Not to mention, save a ton of time and brain space that you can use to grow your business.

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D. J. Costantino
D. J. Costantino

Hi! I'm D.J., 7shifts' resident Content Writer. I come from a family of chefs and have a background in food journalism. I'm always looking for ways to help make the restaurant industry better!