Why Is Creating A Restaurant Employee Holiday Schedule So Confusing?

By: Jessica Reimer

7 Minute Read

Dec 20, 2018

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How are the holidays treating you? Are you thriving, striving… or barely surviving?

As far as hectic holidays go, nothing compares to the chaos of Christmas and New Year's.

Unlike most businesses, restaurants tend to stay open over major holidays. According to Toast data:

  • 75% of Toast restaurants stayed open on Christmas Eve in 2017.
  • 16% of Toast restaurants stayed open on Christmas in 2017.
  • 86% of Toast restaurants stayed open on New Year's Eve in 2017.
  • 67% of Toast restaurants stayed open on New Year's Day in 2018.

However, this decision is not without its drawbacks. Come Christmastime, everything gets kicked up a notch: less availability from staff, more vacation requests, and a longer line of dinner reservations and holiday party bookings. For restaurant managers, this means a delicate balancing act of keeping your team happy, your restaurant staffed, and your customers satisfied.

To spread the holiday cheer and keep you feeling merry and bright, we’re here to talk about all things employee holiday scheduling.

Feeling A Staffing Slump? Download Our Employee Retention Playbook

Restaurants and Holidays: the Facts

Any restaurateur will tell you the key to success in foodservice is to build a strong, reliable, cohesive team.

Both front of house and back of house employees handle long days, late nights, and the occasional Grinch with a smile, so when the time comes that they’d like a few days to celebrate with their loved ones, what’s a manager to do?

This is where things get (even more) complicated: as a restaurant manager, it’s your responsibility to put together an employee holiday schedule that suits everyone's unique holiday availability, however, working against you is the fact that searches for “restaurants open on Christmas” have nearly doubled over the past five years. Some experts attribute alternative holiday dining arrangements to Millennials, while others believe it's due to the traditional frenzied at-home family dinners losing favor and fashion across North America.

More restaurant guests during the holidays require more restaurant staff working during the holidays.

6 Tips and Tricks for Effective Restaurant Employee Holiday Scheduling

Open shifts, split shifts, holiday incentives, temp staff… it’s a lot for a restaurant manager to juggle. Here are six strategies to help you survive the holiday scheduling season:

1. Create a holiday pay policy

In the United States, there is currently no federal law requiring employers to provide time off on nationally recognized holidays. Should your restaurant stay open on popular holidays, there is no legal precedent for how you should pay your employees.

It's a smart idea to develop a holiday policy for your restaurant. Holiday policies are governing documents that set expectations around the holiday scheduling and approval processes. Putting these processes in writing makes it so everyone—management and staff— have a complete, shared understanding, which minimizes the margin for error or confusion.

Consider this: even though providing paid holidays and vacation time isn’t mandatory, it can be a great way to inch ahead of other restaurants who, like you, are recruiting from a shrinking labor pool. Nowadays, demand far exceeds supply; this means prospective employees can afford to be picky about their “must-haves” and their “never-evers.” Gen Zers crave connection and prioritize time spent offline with the people most important to them. Play to these preferences and you’ll give these potential employees one more reason to apply (or one less reason to leave).

Free Resource: Try Our Online Restaurant Scheduling Template.

2. Use data to decide

While we know that December is generally a month filled with high highs and low lows, reviewing your POS system to pinpoint when exactly traffic and revenue dip and spike helps you make data-driven decisions about when to stay open, when to close, and how to schedule accordingly.


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Though there's a lot you can do to prepare for this holiday season by reviewing your performance at this time last year, it's remember to factor in local events, activities, and the like that may cause an unexpected rush or slow day.

For example, shopping centers typically extend their hours starting December 1st. Suddenly, a restaurant that is historically quiet on Mondays is bursting with hungry, shopped-til-they-dropped customers looking for a bite after the mall closes at 9 p.m.. In this case, it might make sense to extend your hours, or at least ensure you have extra bodies on staff to manage the hangry festive masses.

3. Start a dialogue

It’s not enough just to set your expectations — you have to communicate them, too.

The hectic holiday season can mean that communication suffers… and when communication suffers, you can bet that a destructive domino effect will soon follow. Supplement your IRL – in real life – chats with team members with some online team communication.

Create an honest dialogue with your staff that allows them to comfortably ask questions about or make helpful suggestions to improve your restaurant holiday policy. Since these are the people your holiday policy will affect the most, it's important to hear their thoughts and make tweaks that suit their needs.

Read More: How to Handle A No Call, No Show In Your Restaurant

4. Implement and enforce rules

Once you have an idea of what days you’ll be keeping the restaurant open, you’ll need to set some ground rules. Having a deadline for staff to submit their availability (whether that’s five days, ten days, or four weeks) is a must; it ensures sufficient coverage during crunch time, and fosters a habit of thinking and planning ahead.


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Don’t like being an enforcer? Let your restaurant scheduling software do the heavy lifting! Once a deadline is programmed into the system, requests submitted after that date will not be accepted. Activating a blocked days feature is another way to control the number of employees requesting to take money-making days like Christmas Eve off.

5. Be open to alternatives

If traditional staffing tactics simply aren’t getting you the coverage you need over the holidays, fear not: there are plenty of options to keep your restaurant running smoothly into the new year.

For example, switching up your usual scheduling strategy and instead posting open shifts puts staff in the drivers seat, allowing them to pick up shifts of their choosing, rather than being assigned work. If that tactic isn't helping, on-demand staffing might be the answer. Services like Hyr or Jitjatjo are fast gaining popularity in the foodservice industry, providing qualified, temporary staff to cover your bases.

A word of caution, though: to get the best result, plan (and recruit) ahead whenever possible, as there’s likely to be a flurry of requests coming through for gig economy workers over the holiday season.

6. Recognize the rockstars

Make sure you give credit where credit is due. Acknowledging the hard work of your team—particularly those who go above and beyond during the holidays—increases morale and makes having to work when everyone else is out indulging in festive fun more manageable. You can easily track your top performers using a digital logbook.

How you choose to recognize your staff is up to you. Even if you don’t have a formalized employee incentive program at your restaurant, adding in a little something extra over the holidays will serve you and your staff well. After all, it is the season of giving!

For example, you might choose to reward those who work on Christmas Day with a cash bonus or a gift card to a local spa for a much-needed foot massage. Don’t forget the benefits of non-cash benefits, though: according to a recent study by the Incentive Research Foundation, things like flex time and paid days off can be more motivating than straight dollars and cents.

Read More: Game On: Using Restaurant Employee Gamification to Retain Staff

Happy Holidays!

Keep in mind: when the cold and snow start to settle in, the growing popularity of food delivery and online ordering services means you can now conveniently capture hungry customers any day, any time. So, if you don't plan to keep your restaurant open for in-house meal service, you can still capture online ordering and delivery revenue this holiday season.

Are you keeping your doors (and menus) open this holiday season? Why or why not?

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