9 Steps On How to Schedule Employees Effectively

9 Steps On How to Schedule Employees Effectively
Nick Darlington

By Nick Darlington

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

Effective employee 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.

Thankfully, there’s 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.

The Keys to Effective Scheduling

Creating a strong schedule requires that you carefully balance both staff and business needs. If, for example, you focus mainly on business needs like having a mix of the right shifts, without considering that some employees won’t enjoy a particular shift, employee morale and performance 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 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, someone who’s single or fresh out of college 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 employee 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 that 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

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 Your Work Production Standards

This is a two-part process:

  1. Determine how much work 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 and place settings a waiter completes in a specific time frame. 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, kitchen staff will have to prep food, make food for customers, and clean down their station at the end of the shift.

Step 2: Plot the Current Activity Levels

Once you have an understanding of the work production standards, it’s time to examine your current activity levels—how busy you on certain days and at specific times of the day.

This analysis will help you determine the optimal 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—try not to. Your intuition may be wrong and lead to less than optimal schedules that leave you over or understaffed.

The more effective approach is to analyze business data from sales and labor reports to inform your scheduling process. 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.

Step 4: Determine the Exact Number of Employees You Need

Again, avoid the urge to blindly follow your gut and try to determine the exact 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 waiter 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 less staff when they are on a shift. Finally, check your results with your intuition and make any final adjustments that feel right.

Step 5: Incorporate Staff Needs (And Other Considerations)

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 6: 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.
  2. Employee scheduling software requires the most significant monetary investment but saves you time in creating and managing schedules—not to mention money, in the long run. See out how one restaurant used employee scheduling software to save up to $2,000/month on labor.
  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.

If you’re a restaurateur who uses or plans to use Excel to schedule employees, below is an example of how to schedule employees with a restaurant employee shift schedule template.

Example: Creating A Restaurant Shift Schedule In Excel

Follow this 6-step process to create a restaurant schedule using Excel:

A) Download Your Excel Template

Microsoft does provide Excel templates to create work schedules, but they are often generic and not designed for restaurants. Luckily, if you manage a restaurant you can download one tailored to your needs:

Get The Template

B) Open the Excel file
C) Choose the day you want your schedule to begin
D) Input staff names

Select the cell “Employee 1” and type in their name. Do the same for all the remaining employees.


Delete rows you don’t require and add ones you do. Just right-click on the applicable cell and select “Delete” or “Insert.”


E) Edit shifts and roles

Click the “Shifts” tab, found at the bottom of the spreadsheet.


Then, add a shift or role:

For shifts, change the start and end times and the shift column updates automatically. Include additional shifts after the first line-item (9 am to 5 pm) and before the final one (7 pm to BD - Business Decline)
For roles, include a new role after the first item and before the final one

F) Build your work schedule

Access the ‘Schedule” spreadsheet. Choose a cell (under a specific day) next to an employee’s name. Select a suitable role and shift. Keep in mind that each cell consists of two drop-down menus: One for roles and one for shifts.





Replicate this process for all employees and days, until you’re finished. You can also make further customizations to your schedule by inputting the “name of establishment” and “week of.”

Once you're complete, click “save as,” choose a schedule name, and save it to an easily accessible folder. If you make changes to the schedule from one week to the next, ensure you save the Excel sheet as a different file name (consider naming it by date).

Step 7: Obtain Top Management Approval If You Need It

You may or may not need approval from top management. In either case ensure that you scrutinize the schedule based on criteria like labor costs, employee needs, and business requirements. Make adjustments as needed.

Step 8: 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 noticeboards 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 less in-person meetings and reduced manager input.

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.


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 shifts 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. Learn how to move from casual to innovative scheduling and master the art of shift scheduling in Shift Schedules: The Ultimate How-To Guide.

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 (www.nickdarlington.com) is a B2B writer who conceives, writes and produces engaging website copy, blog posts and lead magnets for technology companies.