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The Split Shift: Your Restaurant's Secret Weapon for Scheduling


Chris de JongAuthor

North American culture has long perpetuated the notion of the “Nine to Five.” People tend work Monday through Friday from 9AM until 5PM with a break somewhere in the middle. 

However, for the hospitality industry, that is rarely the norm. 

Restaurants schedule shifts to correspond with their service times or rush periods - often with long lulls in between. This means that scheduling employees to work a single, continuous shift does not make operational (or financial) sense. 

Enter the idea of the “split shift.”

So, what is a split shift in the restaurant world, and how can your business benefit from it?

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Restaurant Scheduling Template

Use the Restaurant Scheduling Template to easily schedule your restaurant staff's shifts.


What is a Split Shift?

In the simplest terms, the split shift is a special type of schedule which divides the workday into separate parts with more time than a meal break (typically in excess of 1 hour) that is non-paid and non-working. 

For example, a server may be scheduled on a split shift where they work from 11AM until 2PM to cover the lunch rush and then again from 5PM until 10PM to cover dinner service (a total of eight working hours). While the employee’s work day was spread from 11AM to 10PM (a total of eleven hours), they had three hours of non-paid and non-working time in-between. This creates the split shift.

It is important to note that a split shift is deemed as such only if the schedule is dictated by the employer. If an employee initiates a break in his/her work schedule for personal reasons (for example personal health or to accommodate childcare), that interruption is not considered a split shift, since the break was established by the employee and not the employer.

Federal and State Regulations on the Split Shift

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers to pay workers for all the hours they work on a business’ premises, but not for time between shifts if they are allowed to leave. So, it is common practice that employers will ensure that employees leave their workplace between their shift split segments in order to adhere to federal laws. 

Aside from this, there are no federal restrictions on shift splitting, and employers are free to implement it with their staff. 

However, this can get complicated in practice depending on the state in which you are operating. 

California Split Shift Regulations

In California, workers with more than one hour between shifts may receive an extra hour of pay known as a “split-shift premium” in addition to their standard pay if they make minimum wage. This is covered under Industrial Wage Commission, Wage Orders, section 4(c) which states:

“When an employee works a split shift, one hour’s pay at the minimum wage shall be paid in addition to the minimum wage for that workday, except when the employee resides at the place of employment.”

For example, an employee who works two four-hour shifts in a day would be entitled to an extra $10.50 for the day (the current California minimum wage), for a total of $94.50 for the day ($8 x 10.50 hours + $10.50 split shift premium). The California Restaurant Association offers a great breakdown on other premium scenarios.

There are two notable exceptions to this requirement that you should know about:

  1. A split-shift premium is not required if the employee’s pay (excluding tips) for the day is equivalent to at least the minimum wage for all hours worked plus an additional hour at minimum wage. In effect, it offsets the cost of the premium.

  2. A premium is offset or reduced if the employee’s pay is more than minimum wage, but their total pay for the day is less than minimum wage for all hours worked plus one hour. In this case, employees are entitled to only the difference between what they’ve actually earned and what they would have earned had they been paid minimum wage their work.

New York Split Shift Regulations

Unlike California’s regulations that are tied to wages earned, the New York Department of Labor has enacted a law which specifically impacts hospitality workers and is tied to hours worked. Known as the ‘spread of hours’ rule, this law requires that employers be liable to employees for an extra hour of pay at the minimum wage on days where the ‘spread of hours’ they work is greater than 10. 

This ‘spread of hours’ refers to the total hours in an employee’s work day, including all working and non-working time. When the ‘spread’ of hours in one workday exceeds 10 hours, the employee is owed an extra hour of pay at the state minimum wage rate.

The New York Hospitality Wage Order provides a helpful FAQ for this law with two great examples of situations in which an employee works less than 10 hours, but the “spread of hours” is great than 10. For example:

Situation #1

Shift 1: 7AM – 10AM
Shift 2: 7PM – 10PM

6 total hours worked over a 15-hour spread (7AM - 10PM).

Situation #2

Shift 1: 11:30AM – 3PM
Shift 2: 4PM – 10PM

9-½ total hours worked over a 10-½ hour spread (11:30AM - 10PM)

In both of these cases, the employer is required to pay the employee one additional hour of pay at the state minimum hourly rate (currently $11 /hour) as the ‘spread’ is in excess of 10 hours.

Advantages of the Split Shift to Restaurant Owners

Given the complicated nature of shift-splitting and of state-specific fees that may be incurred, why do so many restaurants swear by split shifts?

The fact is that shift split still ranks as one of the best ways to maintain cost control in your business. By reducing your labor costs during non-peak times in your daily operations you can ensure that your labor percentage stays in check relative to your sales and that you have the right amount of staff on-hand at any given time without idle work. 

In fact, our own data at 7shifts indicates that more than 20% of our users are already utilizing shift-splitting on a weekly basis!

In addition, it is well-researched that productivity decreases when the hours an employee is working increase. The longer you have a member of your staff working - especially in a fast-paced industry like hospitality - the more likely they are to provide a lower degree of service to guests. Offering a break in-between service helps them feel recharged and less burnt, which is a key to employee retention and job engagement - both of which can be costly to your business.

Advantages of the Split Shift to Restaurant Employees

You don’t have to search far to know that shift splitting is seen as a pain to many employees. The idea that you must leave and then return to work in a single day not only increases commuting time and cost, but is shown to dramatically increase work-family conflict, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

So, when does a split shift make sense from an employee perspective? Under two common scenarios.

First, when a split shift allows a staff members to provide care for children or family members. If an employee has a child to pick up after school, a split shift is a great way to be able to offer them full-time hours without them having to sacrifice parenting. 

Second, a split shift is a great way for employers to offer employees more work hours without having to alter or curtail the hours of others. By scheduling their additional shifts around existing shifts you can help them increase their hours without making significant changes to your existing schedule.

Tips To Remember

In order to make shift splits effective for everyone in your restaurant, there are a few tips to consider:

Scheduling Efficiently 

The biggest hurdle to overcome when implementing split shifts is making sure it does not wreak havoc with your existing schedule. Make sure you are using employee scheduling software that can handle split shifts and can notify employees on their mobile devices when schedule changes are made that affect them.

Make sure you're being efficient with your time as well by using the Restaurant Scheduling Template. 

Consider Commute Times 

Make sure you have an idea of the time, effort, and cost it takes your staff to commute so that you can schedule with the least impact. If this is not possible, look at implementing a travel subsidy or bursary to make up for the cost. You might be surprised at how cheap this option is compared to the cost of rehiring and retraining staff! 

Keep Records

When using split shifts it is important that you and your staff keep accurate time records which includes start and stop times, meal periods, split shift intervals, and total daily hours worked. This is essential in case you ever have an employee complaint and will also better inform management on split shift efficiency. The easiest way to do this is to ensure that your scheduling software has integrated time-clocking so you can compare your employees’ work hours to the schedule. 

Know the Rules

While it may seem common sense, make sure you review all of your state or provincial rules regarding shift splitting. Consult with a labor lawyer prior to implementation to ensure that you are scheduling staff legally and fairly. You will also be better prepared to answer questions as they arise.

To learn more about the best practices of restaurant payroll, read our guide on How to Do Payroll for Restaurants.


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