How to Make An Employee Time Off Request Policy In 5 Steps

How to Make An Employee Time Off Request Policy In 5 Steps
Amanda McCorquodale

By Amanda McCorquodale

No matter the size of your restaurant, you likely spend a large part of your day as manager dealing with employees’ time-off requests. Everyone gets sick, has family obligations and frankly, can benefit from time away from the job. In fact, Harvard Business Review found that to be truly engaged at work, our brains need to take a break from the everyday grind in order to gain fresh perspective and energy.

Procedure So Clear, It’s Transparent

Instead of seeing time-off requests as a nuisance, consider them an essential and expected part of maintaining a happy and productive workplace. Streamlining the time-off request process, using a standard time-off request form and having a clear time-off policy can prevent headaches for both you and employees who need to take time away.

More often than not, restaurant employees are left wondering how, where, and when to request time-off from their managers. They’ll likely ask a fellow staff member who may pass along inaccurate information or else they will avoid a formal request altogether and simply call in the morning they need to be away.

Having a set, documented procedure for day off requests and ensuring all staff understand it can prevent understaffed shifts and contribute to the job satisfaction of employees, and you.

How to make a time off request policy

Establish some rules for requesting time off:

  1. Create submission guidelines
    Will you accept verbal and text message requests, require employees to fill out a time-off request form, or use an app (more on that below)? Make sure your staff know the exact communication method to use when asking for time off and forms of requests won’t be accepted.
  2. Define Advanced Notice
    Find parameters about how much of a heads-up employees are required to give before their requested time-off. Some operations are concerned about having enough time to find coverage while others don’t want requests made too early to give all staff a chance.
  3. Show What’s Off Limits
    Take a look at the business and make sure to schedule ‘blackout’ dates when you will need to limit time-off requests such as during peak times and high season. You may also want to establish rules so that two vacations in one department (kitchen, wait staff, bar) aren’t taken at the same time. Also, consider whether your employees are contracted to work a certain number of hours each month.
  4. Track Absentee Frequency
    Have a system to track how much time-off each employee requests so that you can discover any imbalances that are putting too much strain on other staff members and prevent bad habits from forming.
  5. Prevent Overlapping Requests
    Despite your best plans and procedures, more than one restaurant employee is likely to ask for the same time-off, particularly around the holidays and peak vacation time. To avoid conflict, make a clear policy about who gets first dibs. You may want to leave it as “first come, first served” but don’t neglect other factors. Consider the reason for the request as medical needs should get higher priority. You can also factor in employees’ seniority and whether they are able to reschedule their time-off for another week. Use your managerial discretion but be consistent so that the policy is seen as fair.

Employee Time Off Request Form Template

A restaurant manager’s job is harried enough without fielding time-off requests from every form of communication imaginable – texts, emails, casual conversation, phone calls and handwritten notes. Streamline the request process and make sure you’re collecting the same information from all employees requesting time away from the job by using a standard time-off form.

Generate and customize your own standard time-off request form for your restaurant or simply download our readymade employee time off request form here. In order to have the information needed to fairly evaluate and accurately schedule the time-off request, make sure the form collects the following:

  • Employee name
  • Date of request
  • Employee department
  • Vacation days available
  • End and start date of day off request
  • Total days requested
  • Date when they will return to work
  • Reason for time off
  • Employee’s signature with date
  • Manager’s signature with date
  • Approval/denial confirmation

Now that your restaurant’s employees are submitting requests via a standardized form, you’ll need to make sure there’s an easy, trusted submission process that doesn’t create extra work for you.


Get the template

Some operations use a collections box (similar to those that collect comment cards) that managers check once a week. Make sure checking that box is ingrained in your schedule so you don’t lose track of time-sensitive requests.

Once the request forms are collected, keep approved, pending and denied requests accessible by organizing them in a folder or index card box for easy review.

Always know who’s available–and when

Even a well-organized paper-based time-off request process still introduces plenty of room for error into your restaurant’s operation. The next level of effeciency–should you choose to adopt it–is a digital solution like 7shifts, an easy to use app that you can use to manage, coordinate, and approve or deny staff leave requests from any device.

With a cloud-based scheduling software, employees use the “Time Off” link in the menu of their 7shifts app and fill out the form with the reason and date for their requested time off. As manager, you then receive a notification of the submitted time-off request and can approve or deny it on your smartphone or desktop computer with a personalized comment. (After all a simple “Have fun!” or “Hope everything goes okay!” can go a long way towards building morale.)

A restaurant employee scheduing app distributes the responsibiliy for finding shift coverage from one manager, to each individual employee on staff saving everyone time and headaches.

When you log into 7shifts to make the restaurant schedule for that week, you’ll see a notification that the employee is not available to work due to their approved time-off. As a further fail safe, 7shifts flags any availability conflicts in the schedule, and all approved or pending requests for your restaurant are easy to view at any time with just a few clicks.

Software like 7shifts also includes communication features that let you easily remind all staff of your restaurant’s time-off policies. What’s more, restaurant employees can use the chat function in a platform like 7shifts to initiate shift trades with co-workers based on their posted availability, which is incredibly helpful if they find they need to take time off on short notice.

While those trades are still subject to a manager’s approval, the software allows employees to take over the time-consuming task of finding coverage. If you have staff hoping to pick up extra shifts to make extra income, they can also use 7shifts to see open shifts in a “shift pool” and then bid on them.
In restaurants with multiple locations, managers can use 7shifts’ Enterprise Dashboard for a snapshot of the total workforce to see if any employees are willing and available to help out at another location in need of shift coverage.

Manage Your Staff, Not Their Emotions

Being a great restaurant manager means having a heart when it comes to your staff’s needs while balancing your responsibility to keep the business running smoothly and profitably.

You may find yourself having to make some tough calls when considering whether to approve or deny an employee’s time-off requests.
Employees may be upset if any of their requests are denied. That’s why you want to make sure your restaurant’s time off request procedure and policy are as straightforward, transparent and fair as possible.

If you are denying the same employee’s time-off requests again and again because you just can’t imagine how the restaurant would fare without them. In that case, it’s a sure sign that you need to train an alternate staff member on those tasks before your VIP burns out and jumps ship for another restaurant.

Managing Employee Time Off Requests

Regardless of how much of a handle you have on your restaurant employees’ time-off requests, the inevitable will happen: Flu season will coincide with holiday vacations and inclement weather and you’ll find the business suddenly very understaffed.

Keep a plan on the backburner in such staffing emergencies by amassing a group of trusted and reliable part-time or seasonal workers ready and willing to pick up shifts. You may even develop a relationship with a nearby restaurant to share employees in times of need.

Another tactic is to anticipate when time-off requests will pour in and offer incentives such as additional time off, paid holidays or preferred schedules for working on prime days, weekends or holidays.

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Amanda McCorquodale
Amanda McCorquodale

Amanda McCorquodale is freelance writer based in White Plains, NY.