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How to make 24/7 shift schedule patterns work (with 5 examples)

Managing a 24-hour restaurant means the doors stay open and the lights stay on in the name of customer convenience. What your customers don’t see, however, is the amount of behind-the-scenes effort required to keep a service business staffed (and successful!) around the clock.

With more than 500 different patterns out there to choose from, it’s no surprise scheduling without shift pattern examples is a recurring struggle for managers. Choose the wrong one and night shifts can wreak havoc on otherwise contented team members–not to mention your business.

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to staff scheduling. Sure, restaurateurs may share similar goals — to maximize employee health, safety, and productivity while minimizing operational costs and risk—but the paths taken towards those goals often differ dramatically.

For instance, in an attempt to keep schedules as equitable as possible, many 24-hour businesses rely on shift rotation (sometimes referred to as ‘shift rota’), allotting each staff member a predetermined number of night shifts per month. But this leads to a new series of questions: Which rotation works best? How long should a scheduling cycle be? How many staff to a crew?

There’s a lot to consider. Here’s how to find the 24/7 schedule pattern that works best for your operation:

Do Your Homework

There’s no way you’ll be able to consider each of those 500 different 24/7 shift scheduling patterns, so narrow that list down by pinpointing the various shift factors specific to your operation. Consider the following:

  1. Weekly 24 hour Coverage Requirements

When considering 24/7 scheduling patterns, use sales forecasting to drill down on how many hours of coverage is needed throughout the day and night, how many people per hour, and the skills required at those times.

Keeping on top of customer activity using POS sales data and traffic patterns positions you to accurately divide your workday into shifts with appropriate staffing levels and skill mix. For example, if you know that throngs of hungry 20-somethings will be flooding your restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays, adding a few extra hands on deck will help you keep up with demand. Your operational needs and constraints are largely data-driven, and you’ll need to balance those needs against those on your team.

  1. Number of Employees

Some 24/7 scheduling patterns are better suited for larger staff, so make sure you focus on the patterns right-sized for your operation and available employees.

  1. Shift Length (8 hour vs 5 hour)

Take time to decide what the ideal shift length is for your employees as well as the operation. Typically, longer shifts mean employees can enjoy more days off in a row. (For example, on a 24/7 shift schedule with level coverage, 8-hour shifts will provide 91 days off per year, 10-hour shifts will provide 146 days off per year, and 12-hour shifts will provide 182 days off per year.) Also consider whether it’s a priority for shifts to overlap during say, the dinner rush.

  1. Fixed or Rotating

Consider the pros and cons of a fixed schedule pattern, where shifts are repeated week to week, or a rotating pattern, which cycles through shifts and days off. If you choose a rotating schedule, think about how long that cycle should be before starting over. This can affect how long your staff has to endure (and recover from) overnight shifts, and how often their days off fall on a coveted weekend day.

  1. Time Off

Although your restaurant is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, your staff most certainly is not. Second only to their pay, employees are very concerned with how and when they get time off work. When working night shifts, your team might want time off to catch up on their sleep or to take mini-vacations. Or they might prioritize having at least one of their days off overlap on a weekend day so that they can spend time with family and friends. And don’t forget to factor in any labor compliance requirements specific to your city or state.

Ultimately, there is a fine line between a reasonable ask—mandating all employees to work one weekend per month, for example—and putting staff in a position that risks burnout, fatigue, absenteeism, and departure. Stay mindful of the physical and emotional stresses involved in working when the rest of the world is sleeping, or expecting a quick turnaround between night shifts to day shifts (or vice versa).

Take Employees’ Lead

Now that you’ve mapped out the ideal factors you think are best suited for your operation and staff, you can start to consider the small pool of 24/7 shift scheduling patterns that match those preferences.

At this stage, it’s best to get your employees involved as studies have shown employee participation in the process of designing and implementing a new work schedule is just as important as the characteristics of the new work schedule itself. In fact, when employees are consulted during the scheduling selection process, there are fewer accidents, improved morale, decreased absenteeism and turnover, and increased employee performance.

When you’ve weighed management and employee input, and found a balance between operational constraints and people’s preferences, take a deep breath and select a scheduling pattern to try.

Once implemented, it’s important to keep communication lines open -- both in-person and/or using online team communication on the go -- to confirm that a schedule pattern is really working.

That means that a few times a year, you should give the night shift staff a chance to share their thoughts about the schedule with a confidential survey. This is a great way to prevent one or two people who work the same shift repeatedly from growing resentful or burning out. You’ll also want to do periodic performance review checks to make sure that key metrics are being met in those midnight hours.

Finally, if you’ve gotten to the point where you’ve tried several different scheduling patterns and still can’t find the right one, bring in an expert! There are night-shift management consultants who specialize in helping companies with such issues.


24/7 Shift Pattern Examples

Again there’s no one-size-fits-all rotating shift schedule that works for all 24/7 restaurants. The one that works best for your location and staff will likely be as unique as the concept and individuals it serves. However, here are some popular 24/7 shift schedule templates that restaurants have found useful:

5-2, Eight Hour Schedule

Rotating-8-hour
4 crew, 8 hour shift schedules for 7 days a week are the most straight-forward and popular shift cycles for restaurant managers looking for 8 hour shift rotations. This pattern is designed for 4 teams, composed of as few or as many staff as you like. Every 28 days, it cycles 4 teams through a very balanced flow of 8 hour shifts: 7 day shifts on, 2 days off, 7 swing shifts on, 2 days off, and 7 night shifts on, then 3 days off.

Pattern perk: Staff rotates slowly from working daytime, to swings, to nighttime shifts.

DuPont Shift Schedule

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Over a 4-week cycle and using 12-hour shifts, every 24 hours, 4 crews each work 4 consecutive night shifts, followed by 3 days off, then work 3 consecutive day shifts, followed by 1 day off, then work 3 consecutive night shifts, followed by 3 days off, and then work 4 consecutive day shifts, before having 7 consecutive days off.

Pattern perk: Employees get a week off each cycle.

4-3, Ten Hour Schedule

24-hour-shift-patterns-4-3-ten-hour
Over a 3-week cycle, each team works 4 consecutive 10-hour first shifts, followed by 3 days off, then works 4 consecutive 10-hour third shifts, followed by 3 days off, and then works 4 consecutive 10-hour second shifts, followed by 3 days off duty. Employees in all six teams are scheduled to work on the same day, one day a week.

Pattern perk: This day can be manipulated to fall on any day of the week to cover high activity day or in-service training.

4-2 4-3 4-3, Ten Hour Schedule

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In this pattern, teams work 4 consecutive 10-hour first shifts, followed by 2 days off, then work 4 consecutive 10-hour third shifts, followed by 3 days off, then work 4 consecutive 10-hour second shifts, followed by another 3 days off. The overlapping shifts provide extra manpower during high activity periods, and cycles over 20 days.

Pattern perk: Workdays and off days are rotated so all employees get a chance to have some weekend days off.

6-4 6-4 6-4, Ten Hour Schedule

4-team-rotation-schedule-6-4-10-hour
In this pattern, teams work 6 consecutive 10-hour first shifts, followed by 4 days off, then work 6 consecutive 10-hour third shifts, followed by 4 days off, then work 6 consecutive 10-hour second shifts, followed by another 4 days off. The overlapping shifts provide extra manpower during high activity periods, and cycles over 30 days.

Pattern perks: Four days off duty after each shift rotation and there are five 4-day weekends off every 18 weeks.

Nick Magee oversees about a dozen Tim Horton's out on Canada's east cost, including a few 24/7 operations. Nick's managers, like many 24/7 restautant operators, struggled with scheduling. A lot. Running a 24/7 quick service restaurant requires managers to schedule a diverse mix of employees (with an equally diverse set of availability) including: part time, full time, single moms, people who work other jobs, university students, and seniors.

Since switching to 7shifts for employee scheduling, not only have Nick's managers saved more time than they thought possible, the improved shift coverage has increased their sales. For the specifics on Nick's journey from scheduling chaos to scheduling bliss check out the full story.

“I think the best thing for scheduling is to get a platform, like 7shifts, for you and your staff. It takes away the guesswork and provides clarity so you know exactly what’s happening and can track everything in one place.” –Nick Magee, Human Resources manager, Tim Hortons Fredericton & Minto Group

7shifts' restaurant scheduling software is purpose-built to accommodate each and every kind of schedule pattern a 24/7 restaurant might need. From one-off schedules to continuous staff scheduling, managers and staff can access and discuss schedules at the literal click of a button.