How to Get Multi-Unit Employee Scheduling Right the First Time

How to Get Multi-Unit Employee Scheduling Right the First Time
AJ Beltis

By AJ Beltis

You pop by your flagship location to find staff scrambling, working two shifts at the same time. Understaffed, again. So you call up your downtown manager—and they have staff sitting around with no customers to serve them. Your drive-thru location? Perfectly staffed, and you're under target with productivity through the roof—a perfect schedule. You wish every location could be like that.

They can.

But without the right tools, it'll take long nights and countless cups of coffee to organize the moving pieces of multi-location employee scheduling for your restaurant. Between location overlap, region-specific laws, and a large staff size, checking all the boxes for labor compliance and matching employee availability with the restaurant's demand isn't easy.

Challenges of Scheduling Teams Across Locations

Labor Compliance Laws

For businesses that span regions and state lines, labor compliance becomes a crucial factor in scheduling. Because most jurisdictions have their own regulations, directors of operations have to ensure that locations in every region are adhering to local laws. Chipotle, for example, faced a $450 million lawsuit for allegedly failing to follow NYC's fair workweek laws. However, these laws don't necessarily apply to locations in New York State.

Everyone from directors of operation, to regional managers, to managers of specific locations need to be hyper-aware of these laws - or face damaging legal repercussions.

Incompatible Technology

If restaurants in the same region are using different labor and point-of-sale technology, you're simply making things harder on yourself. Ideally, all technologies in a restaurant group should use the same software - particularly when it comes to sales and scheduling. Otherwise, directors won't be able to gather compatible data, make region-wide changes, or schedule employees to work in multiple locations as easily.

Lack of Reporting

Without reporting, how can you accurately forecast sales in your restaurant by day, which then enables you to build out an ideal staff size for each shift?

Additionally, it's imperative for your restaurant's financial health to analyze labor metrics, such as scheduled vs. worked labor hours, overtime infractions, and labor cost percentage. GMs need access to these metrics clearly, while regional managers need these insights to report store-level performance to the business at large.

Inconsistent Communication Channels

Scheduling managers need to make it easy for team members to offer up and swap shifts with their colleagues. Otherwise, expect more no call, no shows. Text chains and last-minute phone calls simply don't cut it and leave you understaffed at the worst possible time.

Time Constraints

Restaurant managers are busy! Oftentimes, they're doubling as the scheduling managers themselves, while also being pulled in 14 different directions at any given time. With only so many hours in a day, communicating and managing the scheduling process can be a huge time vacuum.

How to Get Multi-Unit Employee Scheduling Right the First Time

Use Scheduling and Team Management Software

The easiest way to schedule restaurant employees is to automate the process.

Rather than spending hours hunched over a schedule on an Excel spreadsheet (which will likely change the second it's published), use restaurant employee scheduling software. Because software is cloud-based, it can be used to manage scheduling for any location, from any location. This feature reduces the need for multiple site visits in a day and centralizes scheduling into one hub.

7shifts Restaurant Scheduling Dashboard
7shifts Scheduling Dashboard

Scheduling software also does more than just save time when creating the schedule. Software like 7shifts comes with powerful reporting capabilities to display insights on scheduling. For example, regional directors can view total labor cost for their region and by location to see which units are under- and over-performing compared to the average. From there, they can focus their efforts on working with the individual restaurant managers to incorporate better scheduling solutions and keep costs low.

For restaurant managers, scheduling software means fewer hours spent scheduling and more time on creating a phenomenal guest experience.

Consistent Channels of Communication

Picture this: when coordinating scheduling information, the director of operations in a region is asking one location's general manager for information over email. The GM then follows up with the scheduling manager over text for specifics. From there, the scheduling manager has a series of phone calls with individual employees to get the information out.

And with multiple locations, the degrees of separation start to add up.

For this reason, you may benefit from restaurant team communication software - one for all employees across all locations. Rather than go through the grapevine, restaurant leaders can communicate region-wide announcements on scheduling changes, shift availability, and important business updates directly. These updates can be sent to individuals, specific locations, or the entire staff. This presents a time-saving alternative to the back-and-forth scheduling discussions that never seem to amount to anything productive.

Track Earned vs Actual Labor Hours

Chances are, you're scheduling based on demand - and that's the right approach. But demand fluctuates. A Thursday in July is very different from a Thursday in December, and your staffing model needs to adapt.

The solution: Adjust your demand-based scheduling throughout the year. Particularly, restaurant managers should take note of when they are notably under- or over-staffed and revisit the forecasting models that resulted in the mismatch. You may find, for example, that seasonality plays a bigger role than you realized, and your scheduling should be adjusted monthly instead of quarterly.

Through this approach, you'll cut back on labor costs and reduce customer wait times. You can also use an auto-scheduler for a more intuitive scheduling forecast. It takes weather, sales, and other data into consideration and builds a schedule that breaks labor down by 15-minute increments for an optimal schedule. Over time, this can save your restaurant group thousands of dollars and countless hours.

Allow Employees to Work Multiple Locations

Consider tapping into your regional cohort of employees and having them work at other units. This practice allows your restaurants to increase their pool of eligible workers if one location is ever short-staffed, as well as rely on successful employees to train staff across the region.

Another key benefit of sharing staff is the pool of coworkers to trade and cover shifts with—ensuring that you can get coverage when you need it most.

If you're not careful, though, this can cause more problems than it solves. Accidental double-ups, unplanned overtime, and employee burnout can all be side effects. Employee scheduling software paired with clear management and scheduling policies can help prevent these issues from happening.

It's important, too, to make this practice voluntary for employees. To make it easier, all restaurants should follow a shared set of standard operating procedures around cooking, cleaning, and serving. That way, no matter which location they're at, employees will be able to do excellent and consistent work without any hiccups.

Don't Forget About Local Labor Laws

Lastly, one major area to focus on is compliance laws. Every state (and sometimes city) has specific rules and repercussions. It pays—literally—to get this one right. Units in different locations add more complexity—the scheduling strategy of one location might not fit the compliance laws in another.

With that in mind, it's important to use compliant scheduling software that flags any violations as they come up. That way, scheduling managers will be able to make compliant schedules every time, and regional directors can rest assured knowing each location is following local laws. Labor compliance software reduces the threat of regional lawsuits that impact multi-location restaurants operating in cities with fair workweek laws, like Seattle and New York.

Get Proper Projections

Kaldi's Coffee—a 13 location coffee chain based in St. Louis, implemented schedules based on forecasting (using 7shifts) and saw amazing results across all locations.

“The projection tool down at the bottom of the schedules is very, very convenient, and it's just gotten better and better over the years,” says Keith Kildron, Kaldi's VP of Operations.

The team has been able to keep an average labor cost percentage between 20-26%. Even when some locations shut down in early 2020, the numbers have stayed consistent. Kaldi's has also been able to keep sales per labor hour in the $43-55 range, with no drop off throughout the pandemic.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I manage teams across multiple locations?

Team management across locations requires organization, standard operating procedures, and technology. Organization keeps your team records in one place, standard operating procedures ensure all team members are using the methods to maintain consistency, and technology centralizes the training and communication between teams regardless of where they are. Check out this guide for more information on managing teams across locations.

How do I hire for multiple locations?

Hiring in the restaurant industry takes time, which is why you should use a restaurant hiring tool to proactively source and process candidates for open roles. Restaurant hiring software streamlines the application process, which is particularly helpful for restaurants with multiple locations. You can use this tool to quickly create job postings, easily share open roles, communicate with applicants, and track candidates by their stage. This technology helps you hire fast and smart and put the right people in the right locations.

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AJ Beltis
AJ Beltis

AJ Beltis is a freelance writer with almost a decade of experience in the restaurant industry. He currently works as a content manager at HubSpot, and previously as a blogger at Toast.