How to Find the Right Type of Work Schedule For Your Restaurant

How to Find the Right Type of Work Schedule For Your Restaurant
Laurie Mega

By Laurie Mega

Behind every successful restaurant is a great staff that is happy and fulfilled by their jobs. One of the keys to making sure your staff are happy is by using the right type of shift work schedule that can balance the needs of your staff with the needs of your business.

Whether your staff want steady, predictable shifts every week, a more flexible schedule, or an opportunity to pick up overtime shifts to make some extra money, listening to their needs will keep them happy and help you stay ahead of the notoriously high restaurant turnover rates.

And having a consistent and content staff is essential to keeping your labor costs in check and your profit margins healthy.

Creating a good shift schedule, and then keeping track of everyone’s hours requires a lot of planning and monitoring. A good scheduling tool will help you get there.

But before you start logging hours for your employees, it’s important to understand what your scheduling options are, and how to select the best one for your situation.

In this article, we’ll break down the types of shifts you can choose from and explain the importance of choosing the right one.

The 7 Big Work Schedule Types

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There are seven main shift options from which restaurant managers can choose. Depending on your restaurant, you may rely heavily on one of these, or you may choose a few different options to accommodate different seasons, or even different days of the week.

We’ve summarized each of them and given you the pros and cons for seven big shift types[1].

1. The Fixed Shift

When your staff members work in a fixed-shift situation, they can always count on getting the same shift. Morning, afternoon or night, fixed-shift staff will always work the same hours every week.

Pros

Staff members can count on predictable hours, which helps them schedule things like childcare and appointments. For example, while restaurant staff tend to be younger overall, in Washington D.C, they are not traditional students, according to the Economic Policy Institute[2]. A fixed shift schedule might give your staff more stability.

Cons

Fixed shifts leave little room for flexibility. If you have workers scheduled for hours that include a downtime in the restaurant, you’re left with an idle staff that you’re paying for. On the flip side, if you find yourself with a larger-than-usual reservation or an event, it may be difficult to staff up at the last minute.

2. The Rotating Shift

In a rotating shift, staff members switch shifts, generally on a set schedule. Waitstaff on a rotating shift will switch between breakfast, lunch and dinner shifts week to week or month to month. Rotating shifts are especially popular with operations that need 24/7 shift coverage.

There are three major types of rotating shifts: the DuPont shift schedule, the Pitman shift schedule and the 2-2 3-2 2-3 schedule. Each involves a certain number of “on” and “off” days, and usually include one week per month where you work more than 40 hours[3]. Workers usually have three to seven days off per month, as well.

Pros

Rotating shifts work great for restaurants that are open 24/7. They allow managers to spread out hours evenly among workers. Late-night, early morning and weekend shifts are rotated throughout the entire staff over a period of weeks.

Cons

The varying hours can be hard for workers to adjust to, especially if they’re moving between day and night shifts. Workers might have sleep issues as a result. If you decide to try a rotating schedule, you may want to give your employees tips to manage their new sleep routine[4].

3. The Split Shift

When your staff work two different shifts on the same day, they’re working a split shift. Keep in mind that the shifts have to be separated by more than a regular break period. So, your hostess might work the breakfast and dinner shift, or your bartender might do the lunch and late-night shifts.

Be aware that there are state and local laws concerning split shifts. For example, California requires a split shift premium if workers are scheduled for two shifts in one day[5]. Check with your state and local governments to make sure you’re abiding by the law before scheduling.

Pros

Restaurant managers can pare down staff during slower hours[6]. Staff members won’t be sitting around idle waiting for the restaurant to pick up, and managers save money.

Split shifts can be used to help workers who need to pick up kids, go to class, or take care of other personal business during the day, as well.

Cons

Some workers won’t like having to come back to work the same day, which can double commuting time and cost. For managers, you may have to pay more money in wages for split shifts.

4. The Swing Shift

Swing shifts straddle the dinner shift and usually go until closing time. Swing-shift workers generally work from late afternoon, when crowds might be light for your restaurant, through dinner and then into the late evening hours.

Pros

You can bring in new, rested staff to help cover the dinner crowd and then stay on to keep things running through close. Employees who have daytime commitments, like class or another job will have their days free.

Cons

Swing shift workers may not appreciate working while friends and family are leaving work, and it may not work for parents who have to pick up kids from school. And you have to be careful not to over-staff if the hours between dinner and closing tend to be quieter in the restaurant.

5. The On-Call Shift

This type of shift is exactly what it sounds like. Staff members are on call to cover a certain shift, should the need arise. Workers generally call in a few hours before their shift to see if they’re needed.

This type of shift is most useful for staffing slow periods. Workers will come in only if they are truly needed. If have a larger-than-expected crowd during a usually slow time, you can call in more hands as needed..

Pros

Shifts won’t be overstaffed. Employees won’t come in when they’re not needed and you will save money on wages.

Cons

Being on call makes it difficult for employees to manage their personal lives. Parents who have to schedule childcare, for example, will find it difficult on such an unpredictable schedule. Employees who count on a steady paycheck will also find on-call scheduling difficult.

6. The Overtime Shift

An overtime shift covers hours worked beyond a typical shift. Keep in mind that the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandates that all covered, non-exempt employees receive time and a half for any hours worked beyond the standard 40 hours per week[7].

Overtime laws can vary state by state, as well. It’s best to check with the Department of Labor to determine when overtime shifts are appropriate[8].

Pros

Overtime shifts give your staff the opportunity to earn some extra money from time to time. If they’re available to work, they can help cover an unexpectedly busy shift in a pinch.

Cons

Overtime shifts will cost the restaurant more money. Use these sparingly to avoid overspending on your labor budget.

7. The No-Schedule Shift

No schedule shifts are actually scheduled. It’s just done on an ad-hoc basis. Restaurant managers schedule staff to work as needed, without any regularity. A waiter might get two lunch shifts and two swing shifts one week and something completely different the next.

This kind of scheduling is usually done on a weekly basis. Managers post schedules ahead of time and it’s the responsibility of the staff to take note of their hours for the week.

Pros

A no-shift schedule gives managers the ultimate flexibility. They can schedule staff as needed and change the schedule from week to week. Managers can also make sure vacations and sick time are covered as they come up.

Cons

As with on-call shifts, staff may find it difficult to work with a schedule that changes every week. And don’t forget to follow the laws in your city of state pertaining to shift work.

Why So Many Types of Shifts?

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All these shifts to choose from. Shouldn’t there be an ideal shift that works for everyone? Unfortunately things aren’t not that simple.

The best shift schedule for your restaurant will depend on they type of restaurant you run and even the kinds of staff you hire.

If you’re running a 24/7 breakfast place, a rotating shift may work best for you. But if you’re an upscale steakhouse, the kind that hires career waitstaff, a fixed shift schedule may work best.

If your restaurant is on the main street of a tourist town, you may have two different shift schedules, one one for the high season and one for the low season. You may have swing shifts to cover the aprés ski crowd that comes off the mountain at four o’clock in winter. But you may have on-call shifts to cover the summer months, when not too many people are around.

Your schedule may even vary from weekend to weekdays. If you’re packed on weekends but slower during the weekdays, implementing swing and on-call shifts during your busy and not-so-busy times, respectively, might give you the right labor cost to sales percentage.

And don’t go it alone. Find the right scheduling tool to help you keep everyone on track and your restaurant running smoothly. A good scheduling tool, like 7Shifts, will help you schedule shifts automatically based on worker availability and shift needs. You can even use custom shift templates.

You can also analyze your labor costs to see where you can improve efficiency and adjust shifts.

Choosing the Right Shift Type

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As you can see, each shift option affords different opportunities and challenges for both managers and staff. Finding the right option that works for everyone is a delicate balance.

It takes thought, research, and even some trial and error to determine which shift is a good fit. You need a scheduling solution that covers all shifts and keeps costs down, while your staff needs some stability and predictability in their hours and their pay.

Experts recommend scheduling staff against expected sales, but don’t leave it until the last minute. Instead, choose the kind of shift that best matches the ebbs and flows of your restaurant's needs.

Recently, the use of no-schedule and on-call shifts has become a hot topic in every industry that typically uses them because they can place an undue burden on staff.

Employees who have more than one job, children to look after, or classes to attend find the unpredictability of these two types of scheduling difficult to impossible to navigate.

Restaurants that rely on on-call or no-schedule shifts may find it difficult to attract quality staff.

In fact, several cities and states have taken up measure to protect workers from unpredictable schedules. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) San Francisco was the first to mandate staff scheduling with the Retail Workers’ Bill of Rights in 2014[9]. Businesses that don’t give employees adequate notice of their schedule face penalties, and hourly workers get predictability pay for last-minute schedule changes.

Seattle and New York City have followed suit. And in 2018, Oregon became the first state to mandate on-call shifts scheduling. Employers of 500 workers must post schedules a week in advance, and in 2021, that will extend to two weeks.

That said, in a 7shifts survey, 64 percent of restaurant staff enjoyed a flexible schedule. Many restaurant employees are students, or have other commitments that require a non-traditional work schedule.

The balance, then, is to create a flexible work schedule that works for your bottom line and then give workers plenty of notice about their shifts.

Figuring out the ideal shift schedule for your restaurant is a delicate balance that requires thought, planning, feedback from staff, and tweaking. Once you choose a shift schedule you think will work, don’t consider it set in stone. Listen to your employees, look at your labor cost ratio and then adjust as you need to.

Amazing shift schedules help control labor costs, keep staff happy, and improve efficiency. Read our ultimate shift scheduling guide for all the basics and advanced techniques you need become a scheduling pro.


  1. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/what-are-shift-work-hours/ ↩︎

  2. https://www.epi.org/blog/seven-facts-about-tipped-workers-and-the-tipped-minimum-wage/ ↩︎

  3. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-find-best-shift-work-schedules-your-employees-well-beings ↩︎

  4. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/shift-work-disorder/shift-work-you/tips-help-manage-your-shift-work-schedule ↩︎

  5. https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/Split_Shift.htm ↩︎

  6. https://pos.toasttab.com/blog/split-shift-restaurant ↩︎

  7. https://www.dol.gov/whd/flsa/ ↩︎

  8. https://www.dol.gov/whd/state/state.htm ↩︎

  9. 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.