Why Balancing Restaurant Staffing & Staff Scheduling Needs = Win-Win

Why Balancing Restaurant Staffing & Staff Scheduling Needs = Win-Win
Laurie Mega

By Laurie Mega

Are you trying to figure out that golden ratio of staff that will boost your revenue, ensure your operations run smoothly, and keep your employees smiling?

Guessing and trial-and-error might work, but focusing on and balancing your restaurant's staffing needs with your staff's individual needs will connect you to a more sustainable, effective scheduling strategy.

This post will help you understand and balance two distinct and important sets of needs:

  1. Your restaurant's business needs: What can you afford to spend on labor? What kind of service (dinner, coffee, cocktails, etc) do you need to provide? How many staff do you need and when?
  2. Your staff's scheduling needs: What do your staff need from a schedule to thrive?

Restaurant labor costs account for about 20 to 30 percent of your total revenue. Staffing your shifts effectively can directly affect your bottom line. Over-staff and you spend too much money on labor. Under-staff and you’re left with burned-out employees and unhappy customers.

Nestlé Professional food service company provides the following guidelines (How many people do you need to run your restaurant?)[1]:

  • Self-service restaurant: One server, per shift, for every 12 tables and four back-of-house staff for every 50 customers
  • Casual dining: One server for every five to six tables per shift and four back-of-house staff per 50 tables
  • Fine dining: One server for every three to four tables per shift and six to seven back-of-house staff per 50 customers

Of course, these are just general guidelines. A close study of your restaurant’s analytics will help you place the right staff at the right times.

What do we mean by analytics? We mean the data that tells you how busy you are shift by shift, day by day, week by week, and so on (8 Innovative Ways to Use Your Restaurant Analytics Platform)[2].

Using a restaurant data platform will give you details on how much you sold and when to help you determine whether or not you have enough staff on hand. You can even look at what kinds of food is selling well to staff your kitchen appropriately.

For example, you may see that hamburgers are selling really well across the board. It may make sense, then, to add another line cook at the grill during busy times.

But before you do any of this, you first need to understand what your staffing needs truly are.

You need to ask yourself:

  • Who do I need in the front and back of the house and why?
  • What do staff in each of these roles do and what needs to get done?
  • What are my staff’s scheduling needs?

What Staffing Needs Does Your Restaurant Have?

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The size and service of your restaurant will determine exactly what your staffing needs are. You may need a pastry chef for your extensive dessert menu, while another restaurant may need a bar manager to handle a larger bar staff.

The kind of tech you implement will also have an affect on the amount of staff you hire. For instance, a single server may be able to cover more tables if they have mobile credit card readers that save time processing checks right at the table.

All that said, there is a basic staff setup up that nearly every restaurant has. Here’s a quick rundown of the minimum amount of staff you’ll need.

Front of House

Your front-of-house staff are on the front lines of your business. They are team players. They have the interpersonal skills to handle customers of all kinds, the energy to work long hours on their feet, and the flexibility to handle many tasks at once.

They are your servers, hosts and hostesses, bartenders, bussers, and managers.

Servers

Servers do more than take orders, serve food, and refill drinks. They are an extension of your PR and marketing. They can upsell by recommending dishes on the menu. They can turn one-time customers into regulars by providing quick, friendly, and quality service.

And they can provide valuable feedback to you on everything from restaurant layout to new menu items.

Host/Hostess

Hosts and hostesses may have a steady stream of parties to seat or it may be sporadic. They could see no one come through the door for an hour and suddenly get a rush of people as a local concert or sports event gets out.

They answer phones to take reservations and field questions, and they must learn how to distribute diners evenly among servers’ tables.
They have to give accurate wait times and deal with impatient customers.

Your host or hostess is also responsible for the appearance of the dining area. If a table needs cleaning before guests can be seated, they may instruct someone to do it or they might do it themselves.

Bartender

Bartenders are a lot like waitstaff. They take drink orders, and may even take food orders, if you serve food at your bar. They make recommendations and keep an eye on customers to make sure they have everything they need.

Bartenders are also expected to listen to people talk, join in on conversations, and keep the alcohol flowing — but they also know when someone has had too much. They are fast, efficient, and good at anticipating needs. They know your bar menu front and back so they can recommend drinks. And they can make drinks that are off the menu, as well.

They are the face of the restaurant for bar patrons, and they may be the first staff member a customer encounters, if a patron decides to bypass the hostess and head straight for the bar.

Busser/Barback

Bussers and barback support the bartenders and waitstaff. They clear dirty dishes and glasses, keep liquor and condiments stocked, supply clean glasses and tools, and jump in to refill drinks or bar snacks as needed.

In recent years, some restaurants, like Red Robin, have eliminated the busser position to save on labor costs (Red Robin lays off some field, corporate-level staff)[3].

But if you’re considering not having bussers, make sure your servers have the bandwidth to clear and ready tables between customers.

Restaurant Manager

According to Toast, “The best managers are motivators, trainers, bussers, food runners, bartenders, servers, controllers, customer service representatives, enforcers, and conflict mediators." (4 Restaurant Hiring Tips to Hire the Perfect Manager)[4]

Restaurant managers are overseeing your front-of-house staff, but they’re also pitching in where they can. If the bussers are slammed, they’ll pick up a tub and clear a table. If a customer needs a refill, the manager is there to get it done.

They also take inventory and close out shifts, take care of customer complaints, and solve staff disputes.

Bar Manager

If your bar staff is big enough, you may need a bar manager to coordinate shifts, keep inventory and generally make sure the bar is running smoothly.

Like your restaurant manager, bar managers should be prepared to pitch in during your busy times, stocking shelves, changing tapped kegs, or delivering food orders.

They will also handle customer complaints and customers who have gotten unruly.

Back of House

Your back-of-house staff is the engine of your restaurant. They design and execute the menu, take special orders, and keep the food coming.

They are your chefs, cooks, and dishwashers.

Head Chef/Kitchen Manager

Your head chef is the hub of your kitchen, and even your restaurant. Unless you’re a chain, the head chef will be responsible for the food on your menu.

They will set the rhythm and standards of your kitchen. Their hands will be in every step of food preparation, from recipe to plating and presentation at the table.

Most likely, they’ll also have a heavy hand in selecting the rest of the back-of-house staff.

Your head chef will work long hours on their feet, in the heat and pressure of a fast-moving kitchen. They will need an even temperament and a steady hand.

They should be able to manage a staff while preparing food.

Sous Chef

Your sous chef is your second in command. They will help the head chef design the menu and prepare the food. They will directly supervise kitchen staff to make sure everything is running smoothly, and step in when issues arise.

A sous chef should be present during all restaurant shifts where the kitchen is open.

Line Cooks

Line cooks are responsible for everything that happens at their assigned station. They must keep their station stocked and sanitary, and move food orders through as efficiently as possible.

For example, if you’re a line cook at the grill station, you make sure your grill is clean and working property, that you have all the tools you need to prepare grill orders. You’re cooking hamburgers, steaks, and other grill orders to the correct specifications before plating and sending on to, for example, the fry station.

Dishwashers

Dishwashers are primarily responsible for making sure all front-of-house and back-of-house dishware, as well as all kitchen utensils, are clean. But dishwashers will also clean stations, kitchen floors and bathrooms.

Finding the Right Staffing Balance

Understanding your staffing needs can help you determine your shift needs, as well as the kinds of employees you should be looking for.

According to a 2015 report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the restaurant turnover rate rose to 72.1%, up from 66.7% in 2014. The largest contributing factor being the quit rate, according to Touchbistro (Restaurant Staffing Best Practices: How to Staff a Restaurant)[5].

High turnovers means a lot of time and money spent on rehiring and retraining employees. One way you can avoid a high turnover rate is to hire the right people for your jobs in the first place.

Employees who are energetic team players focused on customer service and who thrive in busy environments do well in a restaurant setting and are less likely to quit.

Making sure employees are well trained and understand their responsibilities is also key to retention.

Another way to retain employees is to offer competitive rates and benefits.

Finally, creating a fair staffing schedule that keeps in mind the needs of your staff as well as the needs of your restaurant is a great way to keep staff happy and unlikely to leave.

The 3 Biggest Retaurant Staff Scheduling Needs

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In a previous post, we outlined the seven types of work schedule you can use in your restaurant and what are the best situations for each.

Those seven shifts are fixed shifts, rotating shifts, split shifts, on-call shifts, no-schedule shifts, swing shifts, and overtime shifts.

Choosing the best shift schedule for your restaurant is a combination of understanding your labor costs, your needs based on your busy and down times, and on the needs of your staff.

There are three basic elements restaurant employees look for in their shift schedule.

1. Lead Time

Your staff needs enough time to plan their life around their work schedules. They need more than a few days’ lead time to plan appointments, childcare, and school schedules.

Giving your employees enough notice about their shifts will make for happier employees who experience less stress.

In fact, some cities and states regulate the amount of lead time restaurant employees and other shift workers must get from their managers.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) San Francisco passed the Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights in 2014 (Is 'On-Call' Scheduling on the Way Out?)[6]. Now, businesses that don’t give employees enough notice of their schedule face penalties.

In 2018, Oregon passed a law that requires employers of 500 workers to post schedules a week in advance, and in 2021, that will extend to two weeks.

2. Flexibility

Although employees are looking for some consistency in their schedules and enough of a heads up about their shifts, they also appreciate some flexibility.

If they need to request time off or swap shifts, they want to be able to do that.

On the flip side, employees also appreciate picking up the occasional extra shift to make some more money.

Letting employees have some wiggle room in their scheduling gives them some piece of mind about taking care of personal issues, and it shows them you care about them and see them as responsible individuals who can manager their time.

3. Shift Variation

Different restaurant positions have different shift needs. Your bartender may need to work a swing shift, while your line cooks may work more of a fixed shift, for example.

Individual employees may also have different shift needs. A parent who has to pick up their child in the afternoon may appreciate a split shift, while a student may be okay with on-call weekend shifts.

Talking to your employees and trying to accommodate them as best you can will foster a sense of team.

You may also need to balance full-time and part-time staff. It probably makes more sense that your head chef is a full-time employee while your bussers are part-time.

How Do You Keep Your Shift Schedules Straight?

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Of course, you could try to keep this all straight with pen and paper, or with an Excel spreadsheet, but you’ll only be causing yourself a lot of undue stress.

The best way to keep all of your shifts and employees on track is with a scheduling software like 7shifts.

Scheduling templates help you create shift schedules easily, and the mobile app notifies employees of their shifts as soon as you publish them.

Employees can request time off via the tool and you can immediately approve or decline those requests, and fill gaps in the schedule.

You can even get instant alerts on employee overtime to keep costs down.

Understanding the needs of your restaurant and of your employees can help you create the best shift schedule for everyone.

Building and managing your shift work schedules can be a challenge. For all the basics and some advanced techniques to master the art of scheduling, check out: Shift Schedules: The Ultimate How-To Guide.


  1. https://www.nestleprofessional.com/news/how-many-people-do-you-need-run-your-restaurant ↩︎

  2. https://pos.toasttab.com/blog/restaurant-analytics-platform ↩︎

  3. https://www.nrn.com/workforce/red-robin-lays-some-field-corporate-level-staff ↩︎

  4. https://pos.toasttab.com/blog/restaurant-management-hiring-tips ↩︎

  5. https://www.touchbistro.com/gb/starting-a-restaurant/restaurant-staffing/ ↩︎

  6. https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/1117/pages/is-on-call-scheduling-on-the-way-out.aspx ↩︎

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Laurie Mega
Laurie Mega

Laurie is a writer with family in the restaurant industry. She lives near Boston with her husband and two boys and has been published in HomeandGarden.com, The Economist, and more.