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 properly ensures your business is well 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.
How to Get to The Root of Your Scheduling Issues
Every major scheduling issue that our customer's have struggled with, stem from an inability to meet either one or both of the following needs.
Though specific to restaurants, these nine issues and their root causes are universal across the service industry because they are rooted in staff scheduling and/or business staffing needs that either are or are not getting met.
Every business requires a crew of staff to work a set schedule, and each employee has individual scheduling needs and preferences. If either one (or both) of these sets of needs goes unmet, things go sideways fast.
Understanding these needs is the first step to fixing your scheduling issues. Here's how you can identify each set of needs:
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?
*Asking staff face-to-face for this information is critical. The conversation will show them that their job, their responsibilities and their time matters to personally, that you are concerned with understanding their individual needs, and are and considering them.
This doesn't mean you will be able to cater each schedule to every single preference of every employee–and you can be transparent about that, but you can try your best.
The 9 scheduling issues most commonly reported by restaurant managers and operators are:
9 Shift Scheduling Problems (and Their Fixes)
- 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?
Each one of these issues can do more or less damage your business depending on your shift scheduling method (no formal method, pen and paper, spreadsheets, or scheduling software), the engagement and morale of your staff, and your operational costs.
Let’s dive into each scheduling issue now, take apart the specific habits or assumptions leading to unmet staff scheduling or business staffing needs, and look at some actionable takeaways that you can implement to propel your operational efficiency–and staff engagement, 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. When this issue gets out of control, full roster coverage becomes increasingly time consuming. The more often managers have to do last minute coverage-hunting, the less time they're on the floor, the more likely shifts will be properly staffed and unnecessarily stressful for the crew.
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 creates transparency around time-off restrictions. It also gives management advance notice to make schedules and accommodate changes without added urgency or stress.
Your business needs available staff to fill your weekly schedule, and staff need to know their schedules in advance so they can reliably organize the rest of their lives. This fix helps meet both sets of needs by ensuring staff are empowered to keep their lives organized, and ensures your business gets the shifts it needs covered.
One shortcut managers use to avoid short-staffing is to schedule more staff–for more hours than required. The intent is to plan to have more workers than you need in the event that someone calls in sick at the last minute, and if they are not needed, to cut them early. This may seem like a great way to ensure things run smoothly–and in the short-term it can help.
Unfortunately, over-staffing shifts comes with the risk of unintentionally stirring animosity by ‘playing favorites,’ and damaging the trust your staff have in you and their schedules. Staff who are counting on logging a certain number of hours, or on working a particularly lucrative rush and then get sent home early 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 Friday rush. Why didn’t he get cut? I hope I get cut early tonight...” You get the picture.
Over-staffing also makes the manager’s job more stressful and complicated. In the long run, staff too may 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 shift workers home early can ripple across entire crews and impact staff engagement, morale and performance. Unhappy, stressed out staff provide worse customer service–and ultimately, your business' reputation and bottom line 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 to consistently schedule the people you need on a shift.
Set and communicate a clear policy on if and how you choose to send staff home– whether it’s by seniority, or who started their shift the earliest. And stick to it. Last year alone, 47% of restaurateurs reported scheduling employees to work fewer hours each week.¹
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. A good scheduling app can do this for you automatically.
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 turning a profit very difficult. After food and liquor, labor is the second largest cost eating away at the thin margins in the restaurant business.
Over time, labor costs can creep out of control, even under the watchful eye of even the most skilled managers.
All it takes is a streak of good weather or playoff game to spark the anxiety of an understaffed, unexpected rush. The fear of missing out on a nice boost in sales can convince managers to ‘play it safe’ and over-schedule. The more locations you manage, the more important not only protecting–but growing your margins is.
This worthwhile concern to protect customer service levels, can also bloat labor costs beyond what actual sales justify. You can only eat your own margins so long before you can’t keep the lights on–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 margins as it is for the staff looking to you and your business to earn a living. The best way to protect and grow your margins is to use your sales data to make educated, data-labor projections. If you use a POS, you should definitely be doing this.
With historical sales data, you can forecast the right amount of labor your schedule needs week to week, and remove the guesswork and intuition. This can be tough to do manually, but is much simpler with scheduling software. A more efficient and profitable business means stable source of income for your business and your staff.
4. Staff 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 in the first place and getting caught short-handed during a peak season.
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 high earning–service industry professionals.
A healthy staff pool is one of the essential needs a service industry business has. New and existing staff need to be properly trained 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 longer. Upgrading your business’ tech stack is one way to help optimize and manage the employee lifecycle from hiring to retaining.
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.
You’ve taken the time to consider your staff’s availability requests, historical sales performance and any upcoming special events. You’ve distributed the schedule and have your sleeves rolled up, ready to rock the playoff rush. Ten, twenty minutes, then an hour passes. Your bar is slammed, and a half-dozen tables need water, but your patio staff is nowhere to be seen. It’s going to be a long shift.
Staff who don’t show up for work have at some point decided that their job is either 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 bottom line, your customer service, and the morale of responsible staff who show up and must 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–or not.
You do have control over how you run your business and the expectations you model in the way it's run. Your staff schedule is a great way to model how you want your business to operate and to show staff how to treat their role. Respect for the schedule goes both ways. A well-made, punctual, and reliable schedule shows staff that you respect their time and contributions to the business–and that you expect the same in return.
A well-made, punctual, and reliable schedule shows staff that you respect their 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 odds of them not only showing up, but wowing 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 highly prohibitive–costs associated with training new cohorts of staff more frequently than you can afford.
A broad 2016 survey puts the average training cost per employee at $1,252.² 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' profitability. 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 to offsetting the costs of training new staff more often than your budget can stomach, is to strengthen other aspects of your employee lifecycle–and especially on retaining the awesome talent you’ve already trained.
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 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.³
7. Bad Customer Service
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 schedule. Getting your staff schedule right will set the table–not only for operational success, but for staff and customer satisfaction.
Scheduling too many staff on a shift dilutes the potential tips each shift worker can earn–and tips are a big part of why bartenders and servers love their jobs. Reducing the potential tips staff can earn per shift, can demotivate servers from giving customers their full attention and energy.
Not having enough staff on a shift risks overwhelming a crew and making customers wait. Under-prepared or untrained staff are more prone to getting orders wrong, punching orders in wrong, or not knowing how to handle complaints–all of which can create a poor experience and discourage customers for returning.
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 alongside experienced staff to shadow.
At the end of the day, there’s no way to control your staff’s mood or 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 the foundation of a trustworthy schedule, the conditions for happy, helpful staff showing up, connecting with, and working hard to serve 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 substitutions, call-in’s and no call-no shows are a part of life, and all stem from and are worsened by poor communication habits.
Scheduling confusion stems from three main communication breakdowns:
- Shift changes are not properly communicated to all relevant staff
- Schedule changes create unexpected staff availability conflicts
- 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 your staff communications and make it a policy. For example, if you want to send and receive scheduling updates via text message, don’t accept hand-written notes or give updates via email or phone calls. Pick one communication channel and use it.
Accepting one communication channel (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 that fits your business, you may also use scheduling software like 7shifts that provides an all-in-one team communication platform.
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 intend, 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. Regulatory compliance and labor law exceptions are a top priority for businesses affected by changing labor law legislation.
Regulatory compliance is one issue where scheduling 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 lets managers focus on running a successful business, instead of drowning in paperwork.
Scheduling Issues Are Opportunities to Improve
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 do 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 more sense.
In scheduling, like in life, there will always be issues. When they start getting in the way, look for and identify the unmet needs of all parties 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.
- Restaurant Success in 2018 Industry Report
- What Is the Cost of Training Employees?
- How to Retain Employees in a Restaurant: 4 Proven Tips