Restaurant Scheduling Advice: Making the Most of Your Staff

By: Kim Warner

7 Minute Read

Jun 26, 2019

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According to Toast's 2019 Restaurant Success Report, the restaurant industry is plagued with staffing issues. There’s a labor shortage, minimum wage is rising across the country, leading to sky-high labor costs, and a lack of accountability has led to a frustrating trend of no-call, no-shows from restaurant employees. 

One of the biggest day-to-day difficulties in managing restaurant staff is scheduling, because there are so many factors to juggle.

  • In front of house, sometimes servers want the same shifts – Thursday through Sunday – as they’re the most lucrative when it comes to tips.

  • In back of house, you have to make sure the cooks you’ve scheduled are comfortable working the station you’ve assigned them to, which isn’t always a given depending on which cooks are available for a shift and how new they are to your team. 

  • Both employee groups need time off, as well, and scheduling vacation time is no easy feat in the restaurant industry. 

  • Sick days and no-shows happen, too, so that means panicked last-minute phone calls to try and get someone to cover a shift.  

To make restaurant staff scheduling easy, don’t rely on a printed-out spreadsheet posted in the break room. 

We’ve built you an online restaurant scheduling template that can live on your computer and on your employees’ phones. It updates in real time, and it’s as simple as the Excel spreadsheets you might be used to.

Free Resource: Everything You Need to Know About Finding, Hiring, and Managing Restaurant Staff

Restaurant Scheduling Advice

The restaurant industry wakes up well before the birds, and it keeps going long, long after what the rest of the working world considers quitting time. With such a wide range of business hours comes an endless combination of shift options.

Master the art of scheduling, and you’ll bring out the best in your team. When your staff is high-functioning, happy, and working a schedule that works for them, the positive effects trickle down to customers, directly contributing to your restaurant’s bottom line.

Here are five ways strategic restaurant scheduling can help you make the most of your team’s time.

1. Ask for time-off requests regularly – and honor them

If you don't want last-minute time-off requests, take on the responsibility of checking in with your staff about their availability. 

Designate a regular time (monthly, or biweekly) for staff to submit or update their availability to ensure you always have access to their most up-to-date scheduling information.

Yes, sick days will still happen, and emergencies will arise every once in a while. However, by getting as many time-off requests in as early as possible, you minimize the amount of last-minute time-off requests.

With all the details at hand, you’ll avoid the reactive practice of “just-in-time” scheduling, which gives employees little or no notice of what their work schedule will be like, diminishing any shot they have at work-life balance. 

Everyone needs time off – perhaps especially in our industry – and employees who know they can take time off when they need it will be more satisfied in their jobs and more likely to stick around. 

2. Try open shifts

If you’re getting feedback from staff that they don’t like the shifts they’ve been scheduled on, try something new. 

Every two weeks, publish your schedule with a few open, unassigned shifts and give your staff a time frame in which they can volunteer for them. This is a great way to accommodate the needs of staff who want to get in as many hours as possible while keeping your less-available staff happy with the shifts they want.

When you let employees volunteer for shifts, you offer them the chance to work by choice, not obligation. You’ll ultimately have final approvals in how the schedule shapes up, but by offering employees the chance to pick shifts that interest them, you’ll introduce collaboration, flexibility, and ownership into the scheduling process - all things that contribute to a workplace of empowered, engaged employees.

3. Schedule time for side work and chores

Instead of tacking housekeeping items onto the end of an already-long closing shift, consider booking certain employees for shorter shifts devoted to side work, administrative work, or chores.

While shorter, task-based shifts may not be everyone's preference, assigning behind-the-scenes work in smaller chunks may be the perfect scheduling solution for those with limited availability who still wish to pick up hours when possible. Plus, even with restricted availability, those employees will have a chance to stay in the loop with happenings at the restaurant, which makes it easier for them to jump back in once their schedule becomes more accommodating.

The one caveat: Familiarize yourself with relevant call-out/minimum shift time bylaws in your state before introducing shorter shift times.

4. Let tech do the heavy lifting

By integrating your restaurant POS with staff scheduling software, you’ll gain access to a wealth of scheduling data. This data can let you know which are your busiest and slowest nights so you can staff accordingly – and minimize the number of people you’re paying to stand around on a slow night. 

Comparing sales reports with employee schedules lets you explore a variety of other options for your staffing plan, like:

5. Encourage following the leader

Every team will have natural leaders – identify the leaders on your front- and back-of-house teams and make them shift leads. They’re great candidates for one-on-one job-shadowing time with new and learning employees, and they can also help to coordinate schedules. 

As a leader within your restaurant, your job is to empower and strengthen your team. Think of yourself as a mentor and take time to explain “the because” to staff. By doing so, you’ll foster a rapport with your team that’s based on accessibility as opposed to taking a closed-off leadership approach. The more approachable you are, the more comfortable your staff will be to come to you with issues of all kinds, including requests for time off.

In the same vein, take time off yourself, because if employees see you working to the point of burnout, they’ll feel the need to do the same. 

Making the Most of Your Restaurant Schedule

Scheduling is a recurring task on every manager’s to-do list, but it’s also an opportunity in disguise — an opportunity to discover, and rediscover, the very best in your workforce. Strategic scheduling offers the chance to create shifts employees will want to work, to inspire engagement, to maximize efficiency, and to encourage a spirit of mentorship. When employees can prepare, learn, and grow, and count on camaraderie and support in their workplace, they’re going to look forward to punching in and getting involved.

Ready to bring your break-room schedule into the 21st century? Try the restaurant scheduling template.

It’s a Google Sheets template, so you can access it on your browser on the computer or in the Google Sheets app on your smartphone. You can share it with all your employees and tag them in time periods that need their attention or approval. It calculates the number of hours worked by each employee, and will alert you when a worker has moved into overtime territory. 

Don’t worry – the template comes with thorough instructions that’ll explain how to use it, even if you’ve never used Google Sheets before. 

Need help with Staff Payroll, too?

With Toast Payroll and Team Management, you can grow and manage your team by recruiting, onboarding, managing, and paying on a single platform built specifically for payroll for restaurants. With everything you need to manage your team, including tools to help both new hires and your seasoned staff improve their day-to-day experience at work, it's a robust time tracking tool with easy manager approval for employee punch data, shift swaps, and PTO requests that sync to payroll. Get a demo today! 


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