Tips and Tricks for Scheduling Restaurant Employees
As a restaurant manager, nothing is more of a slog than scheduling.
Building an effective restaurant schedule requires juggling dozens of variables. It takes a lot of mental bandwidth and energy, a great memory, and a knack for making the pieces fit. It's a rare skill set, and even with talent, you're still prone to error.
Below, you'll find five tips and tricks to help ease the pain.
Tip #1: Decide with Data
The biggest scheduling mistake you can make is to guess how demanding each shift will be. It's tempting to go with your instincts and memory, but is this working for you? If you're frequently under- or over-staffed, the answer is obviously 'no.'
But if you're using a modern point of sale (POS) system, you have a better option. Run reporting on past sales as a predictor of demand.
It's not infallible, but it should give you a solid base to start from. Pay attention to:
- Days of the Week. How does your business vary throughout the week? Are some specific days busier than others?
- Times of Day. Refine this further by checking how business varies throughout the day. Does the pattern change based on days of the week?
- Seasonal Changes. Check how your business varies throughout the year. What signals the start and end of slower times? Do the day and time distribution patterns change seasonally?
- Holiday Business. Are you busier around or during holidays? Which ones?
- Local Events. How do sporting events, fairs, and other local events impact business?
This data should give you a good idea of staffing needs for any shift. It could also tell you if you need to adjust business hours or shift times.
Tip #2: Plan in Advance
You should be posting your schedules at least two weeks in advance, and preferably more.
Better yet, keep schedules predictable.
Some variation is inevitable as staff come and go, but a pattern keeps things sane for everyone. Staff can request changes further ahead of time. And if they can predict when they'll be working, that could make shift swaps unnecessary in the first place.
Tip #3: Consider Employee Needs
With such high turnover in the restaurant business, it's easy to think of employees as a walking skill set you can plug in as needed. But that kind of scheduling leads to even higher (and more expensive) turnover.
If you take employee needs and preferences seriously, your staff will consider you a cut above most employers. What does this mean?
- Know Obligations and Preferences. Know when employees can't work due to outside responsibilities and avoid scheduling them for those shifts. Know when they'd like to work and try to honor those preferences.
- Distribute a Mix of Shifts. Give each employee the earning opportunities they need by assigning a fair mix of light and heavy shifts.
- Provide Adequate Downtime. Your staff will do their best work when they're rested. Scheduling one person for closing and the next day's opening should be a last resort. So should double shifts—focus and productivity nosedives after 8 hours a day. And try to regularly provide two days off in a row so people can rest and relax.
- Handle Time Off Gracefully. Give employees benefit of the doubt with time-off requests until you have reason not to. Also, keep in mind that leaving shift swaps entirely up to staff will result in misunderstandings and imbalanced teams. Have a system to control the process.
- Listen to their Feedback. Ask experienced staff whether they think certain shifts are over- or under-staffed. People down in the grind get a different perspective than you do.
- Make "On Call" a Rarity. Putting employees on call (or overstaffing and then sending people home) may feel like the safest way to buffer against the unexpected. But to your employees, it's frustrating and disruptive. You're not paying them, and you're preventing them from earning money elsewhere (or enjoying their time off). Do that too often, and they'll quit.
Tip #4: Cross-train Staff in Key Positions
Strategically cross-training your staff is a win-win-win-win. It provides scheduling flexibility, relieves burnout, encourages professional development, and reduces employee turnover.
Pay attention to where staffing bottlenecks tend to occur in your business. If the shortage is frequent and predictable, you'll need to adjust how you schedule. But for sporadic problems, cross-training is the perfect solution. If employees know how to step in where they're needed in a crunch, the gears can keep turning smoothly.
Once you have bottlenecks tamed, cross-training other positions will give you options in the event of sudden no-shows or abrupt staff losses.
Tip #5: Move into the 21st Century
All of these tips will be much more doable if you embrace a scheduling app.
Scheduling apps make the process so much simpler, faster, and more accurate. Depending on the software you choose, technology can:
- Store employee preferences, experience levels, and qualifications
- Help you forecast demand using a variety of factors (including weather!)
- Generate schedules automatically or suggest improvements based on all of the above
- Organize time off and shift-change requests (then guarantee you don't forget them)
- Create a shift-trading forum for employees that can be moderated
- Make up-to-date schedules accessible to everyone, everywhere
- Automatically remind employees of upcoming shifts
- Simplify communication without a long series of phone calls
- Make it easy for employees to volunteer for last-minute coverage
- Give staff an unobtrusive outlet for feedback on shift staffing
- Alert you to potential coverage problems
- Notify you of labor law compliance issues that crop up
- Generate reporting to help you continuously improve
Basically, if you were getting a headache just thinking about the previous tips, then tip #5 is your silver bullet.
And sure, effective software isn't free. But user testimonials claim good software can cut 3-4 hours of manual scheduling into 10-15 minutes.
Run the numbers on management labor savings. You'll probably save money as well in addition to the headache.
Using technology to do your scheduling can save both time and money. It can do the same for onboarding and compliance! Online food and beverage training ensures your compliance obligations are fulfilled with up-to-date information. It's efficient, effective, and affordable. And our business solutions make it easy to organize course enrollment and completion certificates.