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9 Steps On How to Schedule Employees Effectively

9 Steps On How to Schedule Employees Effectively
Nick Darlington

By Nick Darlington

Spanish Version

Not sure how to schedule employees effectively? We got you covered.

Effective team scheduling is simple in theory: Create optimal work schedules, so you're never over or understaffed. But in practice, it's anything but.

With the many types of shifts to choose from like rotating, fixed, and on-call shifts, and over 500 shift patterns, creating a schedule that's right for your business can be a huge challenge. And even once you've created a schedule, there's no guarantee it'll remain optimal as you have to contend with last-minute shift changes and requests for time off.

Now for the good news. In this post, you'll learn what the keys to effective scheduling are and how to schedule employees effectively in 9 simple steps. View the keys to effective scheduling as the building blocks for creating a schedule.

What makes a great employee schedule?

A great employee schedule checks several boxes, and is:

  • Reflective of team availability, reducing the number of changes
  • Aligns with factors like sales numbers, the weather, and how busy you are currently
  • Is compliant with local laws
  • Easy to read and share
  • Is free of any and all errors such as mislabeled names

A great restaurant schedule avoids common mistakes like scheduling an employee for two positions at once (like a FOH and BOH position), scheduling team members for positions they're not trained for, or putting the wrong people at the wrong time, leading to no-call, no-shows. A great employee schedule is smart, and takes into account all factors both within and outside the four walls of your restaurant.

The Keys to Effective Employee Scheduling

Man scheduling restaurant staff at a table

Creating a strong schedule requires that you balance the needs of both your team and your business. If you focus on business needs like having a mix of the right shifts, without considering that some team members won't enjoy a particular shift, employee engagement and happiness will suffer.

Employee Needs

Your employee scheduling needs will differ depending on their job role. These include:

  • Wanting advance notice to manage their lives. Constant last-minute shift notices are unfair to hardworking team members and will cause resentment and unhappiness
  • Having shifts that match their lifestyle. For example, a night shift probably won't be suitable for an employee who has a family. On the other hand, a student may be happier with this shift type
  • Knowing what their job role is, so they understand what's expected of them
  • Being able to self manage time-off requests, something they can easily do with restaurant scheduling software
  • The ability to switch or acquire extra shifts on short notice

Business Requirements

Your business scheduling requirements will vary across different departments. These cover:

  • The right mix of shifts for your business. Some shift types are better suited to your business than others. Rotating shifts, for example, work well for 24/7 operations. Whereas, fixed schedules are ideal for businesses that mainly hire career staff
  • The desire for optimal work schedules ensures you always have the right amount of employees working. This helps you keep labor costs under control
  • Being able to better manage employee turnover rates, something especially important if you own a restaurant as turnover rates are notoriously high
  • Having access to scheduling software that seamlessly integrates with your POS system to reduce the time spent building and managing schedules

How to Schedule Employees Effectively

People sitting around a restaurant table outdoors

Now that you understand the importance of incorporating business and staff needs into your schedules, let's look at a simple 9-step process to schedule employees effectively (examples included).

Step 1: Establish What Your Team Needs to Do

This is a two-part process:

  1. Determine what an employee with a specific job is expected to complete within a certain number of hours. “How much work” can be measured in a variety of ways, depending on your business. For example, if you manage a restaurant, you can look at how many covers a server completes during service. Repeat this process for every job role across your business.
  2. Specify the tasks of every job role. Again, these tasks will differ depending on your business. Staying with the restaurant example, the kitchen staff will have to prep food, cook for guests, and clean and close down their station at the end of the shift.

Step 2: Look At When You're Busiest (and slowest)

It's time to examine your current activity—how busy you are on certain days and at specific times of the day. This will help you determine the right amount of staff to schedule throughout your operating hours. While you may be tempted to make staffing decisions based on your intuition—after all, you know your business better than anyone else—don't. Your intuition may be wrong and lead to less than optimal schedules that leave you over or understaffed.

The most effective approach is to look at business data from sales and labor reports to make smarter schedules. Sales reports, for instance, can tell restaurateurs how many covers they're doing on certain days, when the busy times happen, and which months are quieter than others. These data can help pinpoint precise shifts that require more staff and vice versa.

Step 3: Predict future activity levels

Use current activity levels to forecast future activity levels. Consider daily, monthly, quarterly, and yearly sales cycles. If, for example, your data tells you that specific times of the day or year are always busier than others, you can predict with some certainty that this pattern will repeat itself, and plan accordingly.

With this information in hand, you can get a clearer understanding of the amount of staff you need. Divide the production standards by the number of customers. For example, if you manage a restaurant that regularly does 150 covers on a Tuesday and a server can do 30 covers in an 8-hour shift, then you'll likely need 5 servers.

Bear in mind that some employees are more productive than others. While you don't want to overwork these employees, you may be able to schedule fewer shifts when they are on a shift. Finally, check your results with your intuition and make any final adjustments that feel right.

Step 4: Consider Your Staff Needs

The next step is to balance the need for an optimized schedule against employee needs. This means that you need to ensure that you:

  • Give staff advance notice of schedule changes
  • Match shifts with the right staff
  • Allocate a fair amount of shifts per employee
  • Clearly define roles to avoid confusion
  • Provide employees with the option to switch shifts easily
  • Allow employees to self manage time-off requests

Don't forget to have contingencies in place: Plan for absenteeism and expect last-minute shift swaps. And finally, either work closely with your HR department to ensure you're not breaking any labor laws, or read up on the laws in your area to ensure you remain compliant.

Step 5: Select Your Shift Scheduling Method

It's now time to create your schedule. When creating your schedule, there are three methods to choose from: pen and paper, Google or Excel spreadsheets, and employee scheduling software. To select a method that's right for your business, analyze both the pros and cons of each:

  1. Using a pen and paper to create schedules on noticeboards is the most cost-effective, but also the most time-consuming and prone to mistakes.
  2. Employee scheduling software saves you time in creating and managing schedules—not to mention money, in the long run. It's also easier to make changes and share with your team.
  3. Excel, though more advanced than pen and paper, still requires an investment of time to create schedules and you can't automate the scheduling process as you can with software.

How to Schedule Employees Using 7shifts

Scheduling your team has never been easier, faster, or more efficient. Get out of the weeds and improve your restaurants’ performance. 7shifts makes it easy to make team schedules: here’s how

A) Log in to the 7shifts app and edit your company profile

To begin using 7shifts, you must first add your restaurant and edit your company profile. This will include the name and location, as well as information about local labor laws, overtime settings, and more.

Your company profile is also where departments at your restaurant can be set. This could be Front of House, Back of House, Management, or any other departments that fit your restaurant. This is also where you’ll add roles like runner, line cook, busser, or manager.

Company settings panel in 7shifts scheduling software

B) Add You Team Members

Once your restaurant is set up, you can begin to add employees. All you need to do is add their name along with their email. Once an employee is added into 7shifts, they’ll get an invite to the app so they can log into the mobile app and set up their own profile. This includes contact information as well as availability and time off, so you always know when someone can work. You can add employees at any time and at no extra cost.

Software to schedule employees screenshot by 7shifts.

C) Create a Shift and Assign Staff

Once your team is set up, you can start to build schedules easily.vYou can add shifts, set their time parameters, and assign employees to put them on the schedule. Employee scheduling is easy with 7shifts’ intuitive drag-and-drop builder that factors in staff availability, time-off, and regional labor compliance. If you want to keep this schedule for next week? Copy, paste, done. 7shifts enables you to create templates for your schedules that you can replicate and edit in seconds.

D) Publish and notify your team

When all of your shifts have been assigned and you’re good to go, sharing the schedule is easy. Just go to publish, and choose whether you want employees to be notified. We recommend you do—the complete schedule will go right to their app and they’ll be able to see when they work next. They’ll also be able to easily swap shifts with teammates or reach out if there’s an error with 7shifts built-in communication tools.

Window to publish the schedule for employees

Step 6: Be aware of events and factors that influence a schedule

Once you have a fleshed-out schedule, take some time to consider all factors before stamping it final. Here are a few things to double-check:

  • Team availability. Check when your employees are available to work and make sure no changes will need to be made. The last thing you want is to schedule someone when they're in class or with their children and having the team pick up the burden of your mistake.
  • Local compliance laws. Every state and country has different local labor laws. Make sure your schedule is legally sound and not in violation, which could lead to hefty fines.
  • Sales forecasts. Use your predictive analysis to your advantage, so you have the right amount of staff when you need them.
  • Labor budget. Check your scheduled hours against the labor budget to make you don't run too high and impact profit margins

You'll also want to get a good understanding of what's going on around you and your restaurant. Check the weather forecasts and make adjustments accordingly so you don't have servers hanging around during a rainstorm while food goes to waste. If you're near a stadium or local attraction, consult team schedules or see if there are any events going on in your area that you should staff up for.

Lastly, you may or may not need approval from top management. If you do, now is the time to have it checked.

Step 7: Distribute the Schedule to Employees

Once you're happy with the final schedule, send it to your employees so that they know when they're working, what's expected of them and remain accountable. If you're using Excel, you can distribute it via email or provide cloud access.

If you're using notice boards or whiteboards, inform employees when the new schedule is ready and ensure employees know they have to check it regularly for any changes. You may even consider having regular meetings where you discuss schedule changes.

And if you're using scheduling software, publish the schedule on the platform, and staff will instantly receive a notification on their mobile device of the new schedule plus any future changes. This distribution method means fewer in-person meetings and reduced manager input.

Step 8: Establish a Team Communication Strategy

Despite all of your careful prep and consideration, there will always be at least one change that has to be made after the schedule is “final.” The best way to make sure it doesn't trickle down into more problems is to establish a team communication strategy for shift trades and changes. Will your team be empowered to make certain shift swaps on their own, or will they need manager approval? Whatever works for your restaurant, just make sure those policies are set and communicated to your team to avoid confusion and headaches.

If you haven't already, set up a dedicated channel for your team to chat about work and only work. This can be on services like Slack or Microsoft Teams, or simply a group WhatsApp or iMessage. 7shifts has team communication built in along with scheduling for a seamless experience, along with tools for trading shifts and shift pool, where employees can offer up shifts to whoever wants to take them.

Learn more about shift trading and 7shifts team communication tools.

Step 9: Periodically Evaluate Your Schedule and Process

Your work doesn't stop after you've created your schedule. You need to regularly analyze your schedule and scheduling processes to identify problems and find solutions to improve. Scheduling is a skill that requires diligence to become great at, and no schedule is ever perfect. But with the right tools and methods combined with great resources and solid data, you can come pretty darn close.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best app for scheduling employees?

Trusted by tens of thousands of restaurants and more than 1 million hard-working restaurant team members, 7shifts offers best-in-class scheduling tools for the restaurant industry. No matter what app you choose, scheduling software is the best option when compared to pen and paper or spreadsheets.

How can I make a work schedule for free?

You can spend less time making schedules with one of our free restaurant staff schedule templates, for both monthly schedules and weekly schedules.

Why is effective employee scheduling Important?

Your team is the heartbeat of your restaurant. By making sure your schedule teams with their availability, compliance, and the needs of the business in mind, your team can operate at their highest possible level. Effective scheduling creates effective teams.

Closing thoughts on scheduling employees effectively

Effective employee scheduling can be a tricky process that never really ends. You have to cope with selecting the right shift types for your business and managing employee requests for time-off and even last minute shift changes.

Fortunately, employee scheduling doesn't have to be challenging as long as you incorporate employee and business needs into your schedules and follow a nine-step process for masterful scheduling.

If after doing the above, scheduling remains a taxing process, with you wasting time creating, maintaining, and distributing schedules, it may be time to change your process or find a new scheduling method.

7shifts is one such method. The employee scheduling tool is specifically designed for restaurateurs and will help you spend 80% less time scheduling and reduce your labor costs by up to 3%.

It can be a challenge to build and manage staff shift schedules. Following this guide and using the right software, it doesn't have to be a challenge anymore.

Source: Brown, Douglas Robert. The Restaurant Manager's Handbook: How to Set Up, Operate and Manage a Financially Successful Food Service Operation

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Nick Darlington
Nick Darlington

Nick Darlington ( is a B2B writer who conceives, writes and produces engaging website copy, blog posts and lead magnets for technology companies.