How to Schedule Employees Effectively in 9 Steps

How to Schedule Employees Effectively in 9 Steps
7shifts Staff

By 7shifts Staff

A restaurant’s schedule is its framework for success. It’s the key to creating a consistent experience every day, week, and month of the year — the essential structure for the restaurant’s operations.

Getting it right is critical for sustained success in the restaurant industry. But it isn’t simple.

Effective employee scheduling means finding the right mix of shifts and shift types for your business. It means understanding employee availability and managing employee requests for time off and even last-minute shift changes. And it means understanding the data and the trends so you can staff at the right levels — every time.

What makes a great employee schedule?

A great employee schedule doesn’t just happen. It takes effort, planning, and following scheduling best practices. A strong schedule should check each of these boxes.

Reflective of team availability

Don’t just schedule people blindly — take availability into account. Take the time to learn every employee’s preferences and non-negotiables, and then build a schedule that respects them as much as possible.

Why is this important? Considering team availability can significantly reduce scheduling conflicts and enhance overall efficiency. Ignoring it leads to no-call no-shows and frustrated employees.

Alignment with business metrics and external factors

Nearly all restaurants have their busy and slow times, so they don’t need the same number of employees at all times. Getting this “load balancing” right isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort because it makes operations more efficient, saves costs, and helps show employees that schedules are trustworthy.

Employees don’t have to worry about getting sent home due to an overscheduled slow shift or getting called in on short notice because of a planning failure.

Use prior sales data as a baseline for the typical ebbs and flows. Also, keep an eye out for things that could affect restaurant traffic, like sporting events, weather, or tourism-related factors.

Man scheduling restaurant staff at a table

Compliance with local laws

Compliance with the law is the most crucial factor of all (and certainly the most expensive for restaurants caught in violation).

A patchwork of federal, state, and local laws regarding labor, overtime, payment of tipped workers, and more are what govern restaurants. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) sets the national standard, and where local laws are more generous to workers, those local laws take precedence.

So how might a restaurant fail to comply with local laws related to scheduling? Child labor is a common one. The rules vary by state and depend on the employee’s age. This can make compliance when scheduling across multiple locations especially challenging, as multiple sets of state and even local ordinances may be in play.

The rules often vary depending on whether there’s school the next day as well. In many states, minors can’t work past a specific time (like 10 p.m.) if they have school the next day. So scheduling a junior in high school to close (or even allowing that employee to stay and help) violates the law in many states.

There are also restrictions on what kinds of commercial cooking equipment minors can use.

The penalties for breaking these laws can be devastating. One McDonald’s franchise group was recently fined over $200,000 for hundreds of child labor violations. And it’s not just the big chains — a local Cincinnati-area pizza joint paid out more than $30,000 for just two violations.

Easy to read and share

The most successful employee schedules are the ones that everyone can access, read, and even share with each other. That means eliminating handwritten schedules, since those are difficult to both read and share.

And if you only post the schedule on the office door, it’s also hard to access. Nobody wants to have to text around to see who’s working and can update them on the next week’s schedule.

A schedule that employees can access online — and that restaurant managers can easily change on the fly — works better for everyone.

Free of any errors

Last, schedule accuracy makes a big impact. Details matter here, like getting names right (especially if you have multiple employees with the same first name) and including accurate, clear shift timings.

Don’t let ambiguity and errors negate the work you put into building a great schedule.

The importance of balancing employee and business needs

Employee needs matter, but so do business needs, and it’s tricky to keep the two balanced. You can prioritize employee schedule preferences, but if you’re severely short-staffed, you’re still going to have to call someone in — even if it’s not convenient for them.

One restaurant group in Tulsa, Oklahoma, found 7shifts to be the ideal solution for balancing employee and business needs.

Andolini’s manages multiple unique concepts across the city, with employees who regularly work shifts at more than one concept — and at more than one pay rate.

Pulling from the same employee pool for multiple locations led to double-dipping, and they had a hard time tracking actual labor costs. But 7shifts helped Andolini’s managers schedule 300+ employees with greater accuracy, better data reporting, and consistent labor productivity.

Most importantly, 7shifts helped Andolini’s schedule with empathy, posting schedules 14 days in advance and improving their employee engagement and retention. Read about their specific methods for employee scheduling in our case study.

How to schedule employees effectively: 9 Steps to follow

People sitting around a restaurant table outdoors

Use this nine-step process and the included examples to rework your employee scheduling process and achieve better, more consistent results.

Step 1: Establish what your team needs to do

The first step starts with recognizing that roles and personnel aren’t always interchangeable, and the duties required from shift to shift can vary as well. So establishing what exactly team members need to do is the right place to start.

Here’s how this could look in a typical table-service establishment.

Start with one employee role and determine what an employee in that role should realistically complete within a certain number of hours. For example, you can look at how many covers a server typically completes during service.

Repeat this process across your business, specifying the tasks of every job role. For some roles, these tasks will vary, but others will be fairly consistent. For example, the kitchen staff will have to prep food, cook for guests, and clean and close down their stations at the end of their shift.

Step 2: Look at when you're busiest (and slowest)

Next, look closely at your current restaurant activity levels — how busy you are on certain days and at specific times of the day. This data is vital to understanding how many workers you need to schedule and when to schedule them.

While it’s tempting to make staffing decisions based on your intuition — after all, it’s easier than digging through data, and you know your business best — don't make this mistake. Your intuition may be wrong and lead to less-than-optimal schedules that leave you over- or understaffed.

The business data you’ve already collected from past sales and labor reports often holds the key to making smarter schedules. Sales reports, for instance, can tell restaurateurs:

  • How many covers they're doing each day
  • When busy times happen
  • Which months are quieter than others

This information can help you pinpoint which shifts require more staff and vice versa.

Bonus tip: Data rules supreme here, but make sure to cross-check it with reality! Prior year data doesn’t account for when local festivals or sporting events happen. It could hide other non-calendar-related issues, like a winter weather event that caused a huge drop in traffic for two days last December.

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. Pen and paper: 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. Google Sheets or Excel: Though more advanced than pen and paper, spreadsheets still require an investment of time to create schedules and you can't automate the scheduling process as you can with software.
  3. Employee scheduling software: This solution 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.

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. Your team will keep evolving, and team members’ needs change. Last year’s consistent problem might not be an issue next year, but a new challenge will likely pop up to replace it.

So schedule time (perhaps quarterly) to analyze your schedule and scheduling processes to identify problems and find solutions to improve.

Remember, no schedule (or scheduling system) is ever perfect. And life happens for your employees, turning what was a solid plan into something needing serious adjustments. But with the right tools, methods, and data, you can greatly reduce frustration, dropped balls, and rework.

Using 7shifts to make scheduling employees simple

The right tools make all the difference, and 7shifts simplifies effective team scheduling, keeping you out of the weeds and focused on making your restaurant thrive.

7shifts streamlines the process of creating an effective employee work schedule, one that meets both your staffing needs and your employees’ expectations. 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 your 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.

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

Closing thoughts on scheduling employees effectively

Building and managing shift schedules can be a headache. But by following our nine-step process for masterful scheduling, you’ll be on your way toward developing a schedule that’s resilient and effective.

If these changes don’t seem like enough, then it may also be time to change your process or find a new scheduling method.

7shifts is an employee scheduling tool specifically designed for restaurateurs that can help you spend 80% less time scheduling and reduce your labor costs by up to 3%.

Click here for the Spanish version.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best app for scheduling employees?

Trusted by tens of thousands of restaurants and more than 1.5 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.

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7shifts Staff
7shifts Staff

7shifts team of writers and experts in the hospitality industry.