How to Schedule Restaurant Staff: Ultimate Guide

Do you want to know how to schedule restaurant staff more effectively? Here are the key things you need to know:

  • Manual scheduling processes will hold you back
  • Offering flexibility is good for staff morale
  • Using apps saves time and improves efficiency
  • Being receptive to employee feedback is vital
  • Consistently publishing schedules keeps everyone in the loop

Whether you are a new restaurant manager or have been running a food establishment for years, one of the toughest challenges you face involves making employee schedules. You have to juggle the needs of your staff and the business. Unusual shift splits and a fluctuating volume of patrons make things even trickier.

The good news is that learning how to schedule restaurant staff doesn’t have to be a nightmare. This ultimate guide will help you build a schedule like a pro and keep your team happier in the process.

Table of contents

How to create a restaurant staff schedule

Learning how to schedule restaurant staff is easy when you follow a repeatable process. Here are nine simple steps that you can use to cover your staffing needs:

1. Divide work hours available into consistent shift times

First, figure out what hours you need coverage for. Suppose that your restaurant is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. In this case, you’ll probably need coverage starting about an hour before and ending an hour after this timeframe. That’s 15 total hours of coverage.

Next, divide that 15-hour block into two or three shifts. The goal is to have specific shift times (morning, afternoon, and night). This way, team members will know what hours they are working consistently. 

2. Create a scheduling template to save time each week

Now you’re ready to build a template. Your template should outline how many people you need on each shift. For example, you may need two cooks, one hostess, and five wait staff in the morning. Figure out these details for your afternoon and evening shifts, too. 

When I Work lets you create custom restaurant schedules. This makes it easier to build and modify templates. Once you’ve set up work hours and the total number of employee slots you need to fill, you can easily copy your template each week. 

3. Honor employee availability requests

Approximately 50% of restaurant employees quit due to burnout. One way to minimize burnout is to honor employee availability requests. If someone requests time off or is unavailable for certain shifts, respect their needs. Doing so can improve morale and keep them more loyal to the business. 

4. Make the schedule in advance and have a regular publishing cadence

Don’t wait until the last minute to make your schedules. Publish them early enough that team members can make arrangements for childcare or other obligations. Also, be consistent about when you publish schedules. Pick a day and stick to it.

For example, if you normally publish schedules on Thursday, do that every week. It doesn’t matter what day you choose. Just select whatever day makes the most sense for your business. 

Most importantly, don’t release the schedule the day before it takes effect. So if you put out the staffing assignments on Thursday, it should not take effect on Friday. Give team members a buffer of five to seven days. 

5. Consider how your staffing needs may vary throughout the day and week

Remember, not all shifts need to have the same number of team members. Your slower shifts should have fewer employees on the schedule and vice versa. 

Also, consider which days are busiest for your restaurant. If you run a sports bar, Saturday and Sunday evenings are probably slammed. Be mindful of season-related fluctuations, too. 

6. Prioritize high revenue drivers for busy shifts

Every one of your team members should have a chance to make a competitive wage. However, it’s important to schedule your top performers for busy shifts. Don’t assign one of your busiest shifts to a new waiter, especially if you are already going to be short-handed.

Individuals who work fast and do well at upselling should receive the best shifts. They can handle the pressure and increase the total ticket value. 

7. Take into account any time-off requests

Develop an organized way of tracking time-off requests. You don’t want to fill your schedule with multiple people who won’t be there. Poor time-off tracking leads to last-minute changes and staffing nightmares. 

8. Watch out for overtime

If possible, keep your team members at or below 40 hours. Minimizing overtime costs will reduce total payroll expenses and improve profit margins.

However, don’t understaff your restaurant to avoid paying out a little overtime. It’s better to take on added payroll costs than to work short. 

9. Use software so that staff can easily find their schedule 

Getting your schedule built is only half the battle. Making sure your team can easily access it is just as important. With that in mind, don’t rely on email, text, or other inconsistent methods.

Instead, use When I Work, where you can create and share schedules with ease. Each team member will have their own account, allowing them to send messages, view their shift, put in availability and time-off requests, and more. 

5 effective restaurant scheduling tips

Make your scheduling process smooth with our back-office scheduling tips.

1. Make team communication easy

Employees need a quick, easy way to ask for time off, call in, and communicate availability. Text and email are too inconsistent. Instead, you need a unified solution like When I Work. 

The all-in-one scheduling platform has in-app communication tools, giving you a secure place to send and receive messages. The app also lets employees put in time-off requests and send messages directly to their manager. 

2. Give employees the option to swap shifts

Life happens, and when it does, unexpected events can cause conflicts that interfere with a team member’s ability to show up to their shift. Allowing employees to swap shifts offers an easy solution. It can reduce call-ins and ensure your restaurant has adequate coverage. 

However, keeping up with shift swaps can be tough, especially if you are using paper schedules. The good news is that tools like When I Work make swapping restaurant shifts easy. You can track changes in real time and ensure everyone knows when they are supposed to be at work. 

3. Prioritize staff well-being

Show that you care about your team. If someone seems overwhelmed, see what you can do to help. This might be as simple as giving them a day off or shortening their shift. On the other hand, if someone needs to earn extra money, see if you can plug them into additional shifts. 

4. Be open-minded to feedback from your employees

Learning how to schedule restaurant staff is an ongoing process. You will get things right and make mistakes. The key is to be open to feedback from your staff. 

If your team has a suggestion or complaint, listen. Being receptive can promote loyalty and improve morale. 

5. Use an employee scheduling software that includes extra features, like a time clock 

Employee scheduling tools like When I Work can be a game changer for your business. Instead of doing things manually, you can handle everything in one app. 

When I Work has everything you need to make managing your staff easy. It has a time clock, geofencing, messaging, and more. When I Work also offers full-service payroll

Using software to save time on employee scheduling

When I Work is your secret weapon for simplified scheduling. It has loads of great features designed just for restaurant managers. You can create templates, communicate with staff, and track clock-in times, all from one platform. 

Try When I Work to schedule your restaurant staff with ease 

Ready to leave staffing headaches behind you? If so, stop making schedules the old-fashioned way. Get When I Work and simplify restaurant scheduling. 

Sign up for your 14-day free trial today. 

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