Restaurant Scheduling Advice: Making the Most of Your Staff

By: Kim Warner

6 Minute Read

Nov 09, 2017

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According to Toast's 2017 Restaurant Industry Report, all things staff-related are the biggest challenge to modern restaurateurs.

One of the biggest pain points of employee management? Scheduling

On the one hand, you have half your employees coming to you every day with special time-off requests that you don't have the time to accommodate. On the other hand, to not accommodate these requests could lose your restaurant its best talent.

Read on for some helpful restaurant scheduling advice to keep your kitchen running smoothly.

Restaurant Scheduling

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 endless combinations of shift options.

While some employees will request as many shifts as possible, others might only be able to accommodate one short shift a week. At first glance, it may seem like a wild jigsaw puzzle, but fear not! Achieving restaurant scheduling zen is possible.

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 ultimately trickle down to customers, directly contributing to your restaurant’s bottom line.

Here are five fantastic ways that strategic restaurant scheduling can help you make the most of your staff.

1) Make Availability Accessible

If you don't want last-minute time-off requests, don't make them an option.

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

Yes, sick days will happen, emergencies will arise unexpectedly, and some employees will quit. However, by getting as many time-off requests in as possible early, you minimize the amount of eleventh hour requests on your desk. 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.

To make it easy, adopt an employee scheduling app that keeps all availability requests in one place, instead of scrawled on note paper or lost in email inboxes. When employees submit their time-off requests and availability updates in an efficient, uniform fashion, the foundation of your schedule is ready when you are.

2) Try Open Shifts

Why not test-drive a new scheduling tactic?

Every month, publish your schedule with open, unassigned shifts and let your staff have first dibs on available times and locations to work. Staff can review the list of options within a shift pool and pick up available shifts that suit their preferences.

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 Away the Downtime

Instead of tacking housekeeping items onto the end of an already-long closing shift, consider booking certain employees for shorter shifts devoted to “admin” 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: be sure to familiarize yourself with relevant call-out / minimum shift time bylaws in your state or province before introducing shorter shift times.

4) Let Tech Do the Heavy Lifting

By integrating your restaurant POS with your staff scheduling software, you’ll gain access to a wealth of scheduling data. This data can confirm when your busiest and slowest nights are so you can staff accordingly.

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

  • Considering a split shift to minimize wage spend on your busy days.
  • Exploring the option of restaurant kiosks if you need more hands in the back of the house.
  • Looking at restaurant handhelds to promote front-of-house efficiency and reassign servers to a different duty.
  • Schedule accurately to avoid unnecessary overtime pay.

5) Follow the Leader

Within your strong front-of-house and back-of-house teams are natural leaders. Make them shift leads and schedule one-on-one job-shadowing time with new and learning employees.

Amidst all this scheduling, don’t forget about yourself. You are the coach of your team, so lead by example! According to Heather Lane, Vice-President of Training at Moe’s Southwest Grill, “having the right leader really is the key to a great team.”

As a leader within your restaurant, your job is to influence and strengthen your workforce. When you leverage that influence, you’ll show that you’re invested in the success of the team - action that will inspire your employees. 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.

Making the Most of Your Restaurant Schedule

Scheduling is a recurring event 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 their workforce. Strategic scheduling offers the chance to create shifts employees will want to work, to inspire engagement, to maximize efficiencies, 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.

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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