If you're in in the service industry (food, hospitality, medical, retail, etc.), you rely on effective scheduling to manage your workforce.
Shift scheduling done well ensures your business is properly staffed at all times—with the right amount of people in the right roles. It also means staff show up happy, on time, and eager to do their jobs.
But scheduling issues, can and will come up. When it comes to scheduling, insufficient coverage, excessive turnover and logistical sloppiness can make your business and your staff suffer.
7shifts has been helping the food service industry build better schedules and manage them for over five years. We’ve talked to over 63,000 restaurant managers and operators about their daily struggles and found some interesting patterns.
In this post we’re going to share what we’ve learned, so you don’t need to make the same mistakes.
What’s at The Root of Scheduling Issues?
Every major scheduling issue our customer's struggled with, stems from an inability to meet either one or both of the following needs.
Understanding these needs is the first step to fixing your scheduling issues:
Business Staffing Needs
To understand your business’ staffing needs, ask yourself:
- What functions and roles are needed for successful business operations?
- How many staff do you need on shift, when, and for how long?
- What can your business afford to spend on labor?
Staff Scheduling Needs
To understand your staff’s scheduling needs, ask them:
- What do you need in a work schedule to thrive in your role?
- How can the way scheduling is done here be improved?
The scheduling issues most commonly reported by restaurant managers and operators are:
- Lack of Availability
- Margin Cannibalization
- Staff Shortages
- No Call-No Shows
- Training Too Often
- Bad Customer Service
- Poor Communication
- Labor Law Exceptions
Do any of these sound familiar?
Though specific to restaurants, these issues and their root causes apply across the board because they are rooted in the needs shared by all service industry businesses.
Keep in mind, each issue can be more or less damaging depending on your shift scheduling method (no formal method, pen and paper, spreadsheets, scheduling software).
Let’s dive into each scheduling issue now, unpack the specific habits or oversights that are not getting needs met, and provide actionable takeaways to propel your operational efficiency–and staff morale, to new heights.
Recommended: Why Balancing Restaurant Staffing & Staff Scheduling Needs = Win-Win
1. Lack of Availability
Restaurants, like many businesses in the service industry, operate with a mix of part-time and full-time staff on their workforce. This staffing situation can make the scheduling process overly complicated. The more staff with specific availability requirements, the more consideration, planning, and coordination is required to accommodate each staff member. And the higher the risk of scheduling mistakes and conflicts.
Even the most well-considered schedule will occasionally conflict an employee’s personal availability. If this issue gets out of control, full roster coverage will become a growing challenge. The extra time it takes managers to be continually coverage-hunting, and the added uncertainty this habit introduces into the lives of your staff means more stress and friction all around.
Create an employee time off request policy to help ensure staff understand their responsibilities and availability expectations of your business. A clear, up front time off request policy and process is one way to create transparency about when staff can and cannot request time off. It also gives you the advance notice necessary to make schedules and accommodate changes without added urgency or stress to the operation of your business.
Your business needs staff to be available to fill your weekly schedule, and staff need to know their schedules in advance so they can organize the rest of their lives. This fix helps meet both sets of needs by ensuring staff have a process to request time off well in advance to keep their lives organized, and that your business gets all the shifts covered it needs to be successful.
One shortcut managers often try to avoid being caught short-staffed is to schedule more staff, for more hours than a shift typically requires. The intent is to plan to have more workers than you need on the floor in the inevitable event that someone calls in sick at the last minute. This may seem like a great way to ensure things run smoothly–and in the short-term it may work.
Unfortunately, over-staffing shifts comes with the risk of unintentionally sowing animosity, ‘playing favorites,’ and losing the trust of your staff. Staff who were counting on logging a certain number of hours, or on working a lucrative rush get sent home early and miss out on a planned night's income.
Then the gossip mill starts to churn: “Who’s getting sent home today? It’s not fair that person always gets to work the rush. Why didn’t he get cut? I hope I get cut early tonight...” You get the picture.
Over-staffing also makes manager’s considerations more complicated, and in the long run, staff may start to find the lack of scheduling consistency too stressful, and lose trust that their time (and their job) matters. The unintended effect of sending over-staffed shifts home early can ripple across entire shift crews and impact morale and performance. Ultimately, the customer service and satisfaction that unhappy staff are able to provide–and your bottom line–will suffer.
There will always be unexpected changes in your staff’s availability, and people will always have their opinions. To reign-in over-scheduling, and minimize the discontent among your staff, make it a point only schedule the people you need.
Set and communicate a clear policy on how you choose to send staff home, when and why (whether it’s by seniority, or who started their shift the earliest). And stick to it. Last year alone, 47% of restaurateurs report scheduling employees to work fewer hours each week.
If your business depends on good weather or foot traffic, you can also stay on top of the two-week forecast, and any upcoming special events in your area, and adjust staff hours accordingly prior to posting a new schedule.
3. Margin Cannibalization
Over-scheduling not only disrupts your staff’s need for a predictable and consistent income, but the added labor costs can make running a profitable business very difficult. After food and liquor, labor is the second largest cost eating away at the thin margins in the restaurant business.
Labor costs can get out of control quietly, over time, and even under the watchful eye of even the most well-intentioned managers.
All it takes is a streak of good weather and sunny spring patio or a new baseball season to spark the anxiety of being understaffed during an unexpected rush. The fear of missing out on a nice boost in sales can convince managers to ‘play it safe’ and over-schedule. Every business needs to grow, and the more locations you have to staff, the more important not only protecting–but growing your margins is.
The worthwhile concern that wants to protect customer service levels, can unintentionally bloat labor costs beyond what actual sales are able to justify. You can only eat your own margins so long before you can’t keep the lights on any more, and it goes without saying that going out of business is bad news for everyone!
There’s nothing worse than scheduling too few or too many staff–it’s as bad for your profit margins as it is for the staff looking to you and your business to make a living. The best way to protect and grow your margins is to use your historical sales data to make educated labor projections.
With proper forecasting and by learning from historical sales data, you can forecast the right amount of labor your schedule needs and take as much guesswork and intuition as you can out of scheduling. This can be tough to do manually, but is simpler with scheduling software. More efficient and profitable business means stable source of income for you and your staff–everybody wins.
4. Worker Shortages
Your workforce is the fuel that the engine of service businesses depends on to run. Pay attention to employee turnover, if you’re having trouble finding and keeping staff, it means your tank is low or you need an oil change. Chronic staff shortages can be a symptom of issues elsewhere in your employee lifecycle–from hiring to training, to scheduling, paying, and managing.
Good service staff can be hard to come by–and even harder to retain. High turnover, especially in the restaurant industry, can be an ongoing struggle. And the only thing more frustrating than over or under- scheduling is not having enough staff to cover the positions and shifts you need in the first place and getting caught short-handed during a peak season.
Fundamentally, your business’ schedule needs a consistent pool of competent, well-trained staff who are eager, willing, and ready to show up to provide service with a smile. And your staff–both future and current–need the proper training and support to be high performing–and earning–service industry professionals.
A healthy staff pool is one of the essential needs a business has. And your future staff need to be set up for success and on boarded into your business so they can hone their service skills in your establishment quickly, and maximize their earning potential.
Getting the employee lifecycle right will ensure the staff pool you have access to is drawn from effectively and that your hires stick around. Upgrading your business’ tech stack is one way to help optimize and manage the employee lifecycle from hiring to retaining.
Bottom line is worker shortages make issues elsewhere in the lifecycle–like scheduling, even more difficult. So get proactive and focus on hiring the right staff to prevent staff shortage issues before they become a major scheduling problem in the long run.
Recommended: 7shifts’ Partner Ecosystem: The Ultimate Restaurant Employee Tech Stack
5. No Call-No Shows
If your business depends on shift workers to operate, the no call-no show problem just cannot be ignored. In fact,
You’ve taken the time to consider your staff’s availability, special requests, historical sales performance, and a million other things, you’ve distributed the schedule and have your sleeves rolled up at the start of the shift ready to rock. Ten, twenty minutes, an hour passes, the rush starts, and your patio has no server. It’s going to be a long day.
Staff who don’t show up for work have at some point decided that their job either was no longer worth it, or that the consequences of not showing up are not uncomfortable enough to avoid. This is a bad situation for them, as they now need to find alternative employment, and it’s bad for your business, your customers who get less attention from less staff working, and for the morale of the staff who need to pick up the slack.
At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how considered and well made your schedule is, you have no control over whether someone chooses to show up and honour their commitment to work a shift of not.
What you do have control over is how you run your business and the expectations you model in the way you run it. And schedules are a great way to model how you want your business to operate and the staff who work there to treat their role. Respect for the schedule goes both ways. It shows that you respect your staff’s time and contributions to the business, and that you expect the same in return.
Get your schedules out on time, ahead of time, all the time. Establish a regular, dependable shift publishing cadence. When staff know what to expect, they will be better able to organize their lives around their shifts, and this reliability will increase the chances of them not only showing up, but wowing your customers from punch in to punch out.
6. Training Too Often
One of the most measurable issues downstream of high staff turnover is the additional–and often prohibitive–training costs associated with training new staff over and over.
A broad 2016 survey puts the average training cost per employee at $1,252. And dollars aren’t the only thing you’ll need to spend, there’s also your time, or the time of other staff doing training on the job. The same report shows that employers spend an average of 33.5 on training hours per employee.
This issue is primarily impacts your business' bottom line. New staff will always need training and training will always cost something, so how do you minimize the impact of training on your bottom line?
The key is to offsetting the costs of having to train new staff more frequently than your budget can stomach, is to strengthen other aspects of your employee lifecycle–and especially on retaining the awesome talent you’ve already got.
Renowned culinary expert Chef Jaques recommends the following 4 tips to restaurant managers looking to retain more staff, more often:
- Forget About Titles: Restaurant workers care more about stability than upward mobility or their job titles.
- Stay Away From the Trends: Instead, focus on serving high quality food in a good atmosphere.
- Encourage Ownership: Ask staff to share their own ideas for how the business can improve and evolve.
- Offer Bragging Rights: Look out for awards or press opportunities and put some time into them, winning will boost staff morale and your reputation.
Check out the full post, How to Retain Employees in a Restaurant: 4 Proven Tips for the whole scoop.
7. Bad Customer Service
In the service industry your staff's ability to deliver outstanding customer service can make or break your business. One important lever you can control that connects your staff to your customers is the staff schedule. Here’s how getting your staff schedule right will set the table not only for operational success, but also for staff and customer satisfaction.
In restaurants, scheduling too many staff on a shift dilutes the cumulative tips each shift worker can take home. Tips a big part of why bartenders and servers love their jobs. Reducing the potential tips earned per shift, can demotivate servers from putting in their full attention and energy.
On the other hand, not having enough staff on a shift risks overwhelming the rest of the crew and risks making customers wait. Under-prepared or untrained staff are more prone to getting order wrong, punching them in wrong, or not knowing how to handle complaints, all of which can create an unsatisfactory experience and discourage customers for coming back.
Create schedules with the right mix of experienced and new staff and avoid over-scheduling or under-scheduling. Untrained staff are new, slower, and more likely to make mistakes. They need more time and space to learn, so schedule them during slow times and with experienced staff to shadow.
At the end of the day, there’s no way to control your staff’s mood or their attention to detail, but you can make your schedule–the key mechanism that supports their ability to earn a living–a rock of reliability. With that foundation, the conditions for happy, helpful staff showing up, connecting with, and servicing your customers are optimal as you can make them.
8. Poor Communication
Shift schedule changes are always going to happen, and when they do multiple people need to be able to stay on the same page. In restaurants in particular, shift swaps, shift subs, call-in’s and no call-no shows are a part of life, and all stem from low-quality communication habits.
Confusion stems from three main communication breakdowns:
- Shift changes are made and not properly communicated to all relevant staff
- Schedule changes creates availability conflicts between staff after the fact
- Schedules are posted too late for staff to plan the rest of their week
Communication is like air, we tend to ignore it until the quality is so low we have trouble going through our day. This holds true in all our relationships, but especially in scheduling conversations in the service industry.
Eliminate (or minimize) shift mix-ups and crossed-wires by picking one primary communication channel and centralizing all staff communications and make that your policy. For example, if you want to send and receive scheduling updates via text message, don’t accept or give updates in any other channel.
Accepting one form of communication (ie. email, phone, handwritten notes, messaging apps, text messages) is a quick way to reduce communication confusion, but may be difficult to enforce. If you can find one, you may also use a shift scheduling software that serves as an all-in-one team communication platform to collect all staff communications in one place.
9. Labor Law Exceptions
For business with complex staffing needs, like restaurants with five or more locations, not only do schedules need to meet the business’ staffing needs and the staff’s individual scheduling needs, they also need to comply with local labor laws.
In New York, California, Oregon and many other states, legislation like the Fair Workweek laws are being passed to protect the interests of shift workers. Whether or not they do what they’re intended to do, these laws compel restaurant owners to contend with the added complexity and time it takes to ensure compliance to local standards like:
Ensuring all staff receive mandatory breaks
- Ex. Give a certain period of time off after a certain number of hours worked
Ensuring schedules are published within acceptable limitations
- Ex. Give two weeks notice before the first scheduled shift, and don't make changes after publishing
Preventing shift composition infractions
- Ex. Limit the number of hours worked within a given period or between a close and open (clopen) shift
The fines incurred from failed audits can be costly and even threatening to the survival of a business, so regulatory compliance is a top priority for business that it affects.
Regulatory compliance is one scheduling issue where software shines. Scheduling apps can help automatically create and enforce mandatory rest periods and custom breaks, keep management informed of potential overtime, and store records of past schedules and changes in case of auditing.
All these controls are manually set up once in accordance to the business' local regulations then automatically enforced and maintained by the software. Manager’s time is freed up to focus on the staff and the customers. The peace of mind and assurance of automatic regulatory compliance let managers focus on running a successful business, instead of drowning in paperwork.
Scheduling Issues Are Opportunities to Grow
Effective scheduling is the ignition for your business' engine.
In the service industry, and especially in restaurants, scheduling involves many different people, sets of needs, and moving parts. Bad scheduling habits, or unintentional consequences of well-intentioned actions can and will happen. Labor costs can get out of control and lead to bigger business problems if not identified and dealt with as they come up.
If you experience any of the issues identified as stemming from insufficient coverage, excessive turnover or logistical sloppiness, you may be suffering from one or more of the most common scheduling issues experienced by thousands of other managers.
Depending on your resources (time, attention, and budget), the fixes offered above can help. Choose the right scheduling method for your situation, if you schedule with pen and paper, you might benefit from upgrading to a spreadsheet. If you are drowning in spreadsheets already, scheduling software might make the most sense for you.
In scheduling, like in life, everyone has issues. Identify the unmet needs of all involved, try out different strategies to meet them, monitor the results, then do more of what works and less of what doesn't. Good luck!
For everything you need to know to get shift scheduling right, the keys to effective scheduling and how to choose the right scheduling method, check out Shift Schedules: The Ultimate How-To Guide.