5 Tips To Master Restaurant Scheduling

Restaurant scheduling seems like a secret recipe that’s hard to figure out. 

Schedule too much staff, and you cut into your profits via payroll. Schedule too few staff, and you end up with frustrated customers and exhausted employees who eventually quit.

There’s not a lot of wiggle room, and it’s even more challenging in a tight labor market. In 2019, before all the upheaval in the restaurant sector, employee retention was already a problem. An 82% turnover rate for restaurants was the norm back then, and by 2021, there were some even scarier labor statistics emerging:

144% turnover rate at fast food restaurants. 70% more job vacancies than before the pandemic. 18% of hourly workers left the workforce.

Those are terrifying numbers, and even worse when you consider they’re attached to a trending pattern.

When you get restaurant scheduling right, you can flip some of that on its head. You can empower employees, give them control over their lives, retain them, and use workforce data to better understand employment costs and planning—and yes, all of that is tied to scheduling.

We’ll show you how to master your restaurant scheduling once and for all.

Tip 1: Hire the right employees for your needs

The best time to head off employee scheduling challenges is before someone becomes an actual employee.

Your scheduling process starts with hiring.

36% of restaurant owners say that hiring, training, and retaining staff are the challenges that they struggle with the most. Hiring is the foundation of that list, though, because the wrong person needs more training and will eventually leave. And before an employee quits, you start to see that trajectory affect your scheduling in absences and lateness.

So you have to hire the right people in the first place. How?

  • Know what you need. Before you know what you should look for, you should know what you need. What kinds of flexibility can you work with? What shifts do you absolutely need to have covered? What are the deal breakers, and where can you compromise?
  • Talk about your expectations. The best time to be clear about job expectations is during the hiring process. Even if you’re desperate to find employees, you don’t fudge your expectations because anything less than up-front honesty and clarity is tricking someone into a job they won’t like. Culture fit, their expectations, and your expectations all have to be in sync. Be clear about what kind of work, attendance, and reliability you expect.
  • Ask about scheduling preferences. Find out the kind of work schedule they prefer, and be sure you know any limitations up front so it’s not a surprise later. It won’t help to find a great employee only to discover they can’t possibly work when you need them.
  • Look for self-motivated workers. It’s not always easy to find (or identify) employees who are willing to work. Few employees would tell you they’re lazy, so you need to ask open-ended questions to suss this out. For example, ask the potential employee what they would do if they’d finished their tasks and there were no customers around, instead of asking if they were self-motivated—it will paint a better picture for you.
  • Look for workers who are flexible. Find someone willing to do different kinds of work, in different shifts. The more a prospective employee is willing to be flexible with their schedule and in the work they do, the easier it’ll be on you when you build the schedule. If an employee insists they’ll only be the host, and you need someone willing to bus tables, too, that’s not enough flexibility.

In a shifting labor market combined with the regular challenges of scheduling, the most useful asset is an employee with flexibility.

Tip 2: Provide restaurant schedules in advance

Providing a schedule in advance is being respectful of your employees. 

It also helps you reduce the last-minute panic you have to deal with because there’s lead time for everyone to juggle things around a bit.

An advance schedule reduces absenteeism, because employees can find childcare, plan appointments, and plan vacations. Consistency in how you make the schedule, and when you release it, gives employees a sense of stability and power, because they can plan and control their personal lives better.

Still not convinced? 

Predictive scheduling laws have become common in recent years as employees pushed back against last-minute or on-call scheduling. You can’t budget your income if it isn’t regular, and you can’t budget (plan) your life if your work schedule is last-minute and unpredictable. Waiting until the last minute with your schedule might not only be unkind, but it might be illegal.

Tip 3: Communicate with employees

As times change, expectations change. So do policies, the way you do things, and employees’ lives.

Nobody knows about these changes, though, unless they’re communicated. Communication is never one and done; it’s always ongoing, from hiring interviews and onward.

When business is difficult and the labor shortage is impacting you, communicate what’s happening with your employees, and let them know how it’s impacting the schedule, instead of just delivering confusing schedules with changes or shifts they don’t understand. It’s possible they might have some solid feedback or suggestions that could help you out.

Communication goes both ways, of course.

Ever ask your shift manager how well your restaurant schedule is working out?

We did. We asked a restaurant shift manager what his frustrations were, when it came to dealing with employees and the schedule.

“The biggest frustration for me is people switching shifts without letting the manager on shift know,” he said. 

That’s a communication problem.

Employees have to be able to easily communicate with you about changes in their life that would conflict with the work schedule. Even the slightest barrier causes some employees to avoid communicating with you.

The biggest favor you can do for yourself is to streamline communication channels to zero friction. More channels aren’t better. Allowing email, text, phone calls, and message services is too confusing, not better communication. One easy-to-use communication plan with a go-to tool is best, easy for employees to use, and easy for you to use.

One of the reasons we built communication tools into our restaurant scheduling software is that communication is such a vital part of scheduling. Communication about work needs to be part of where work is planned. 

You should be able to quickly communicate with your whole team, with subgroups, and with individuals. Employees need to be able to communicate with you about conflicts with their work schedule. They need to communicate safely with other employees (without revealing their private phone number) about the schedule, about swapping shifts, and whatever else arises.

All of that is possible with When I Work.

Tip 4: Prioritize shifts 

Remember this quick list:

  • Busy shift first
  • Equal earning opportunities
  • Be compassionate

Schedule your busiest shifts first.

Those shifts have to be filled, so make sure they are. Then you can worry about the rest. Since the busy shift is also the shift restaurant employees can make the most in tips (depending on their job) as well as work the hardest, be sure to offer this shift equally to all employees.

Maybe they’ll swap it. Maybe they’ll let you know they don’t want it. But the busy shift has the most dollars attached, so you schedule it first and offer it first.

Then, with that out of the way, remember to be compassionate.

We understand creating a restaurant schedule is tough, and it’s even worse in today’s labor market. But don’t let your desperation lead you to do things for the short term that hurts employee retention in the long term. Keep in mind that your priorities and the employee’s priorities aren’t always the same, and if you want to retain employees, you should consider what they need and want. 

For example, your priorities to get maximum uninterrupted work out of your team might make it seem as if having employees come in early to get their breaks in before you actually need them to work is a great idea. Your employees will hate it. 

You know what else employees hate?

The clopening shift. That only wears down your employees and they’ll eventually quit.

If possible, avoid scheduling one day off at a time; two days off in a row gives employees a chance to actually enjoy their time off.

Some states have laws that prohibit sketchy scheduling tactics, but just because your state might not doesn’t mean you should go ahead and do it.

In fact, the best way to avoid doing this kind of thing, even inadvertently, is to use restaurant scheduling software that gives control and communication back to employees. People might be more willing to pick up unpopular shifts when they have a say in doing so.

That leads us to our final tip, and it’s about using the right tools.

Tip 5: Use data and technology

You can see how the previous tips converge to one point: using the right technology. 

Scheduling employees shouldn’t mean reinventing the wheel every time you do it, because your time is valuable. The best thing you can do for yourself is to get rid of the pen and paper and spreadsheets, and put great restaurant scheduling software to work for you.

First, make a scheduling routine—same day, same time, etc—so you can plan your time better and your employees know when to expect the next schedule (this is part of scheduling in advance). 

Then, use scheduling software that has automated features so you can generate schedules faster and smarter. When I Work makes it easy to create templates that allow you to define shifts so that you can auto populate them and know that you have the right coverage based on data.

For employees, tools like When I Work make work-life balance easy because they allow for flexible self scheduling. They can claim or swap shifts with each other easily, without having to bother you, all within the boundaries you define.

But let’s not forget the data you can get from great technology.

When I Work gives you a dashboard that lets you easily see what’s happening with your staff right now, as well as in the past. That makes it possible to manage your workforce for the future with much better planning, instead of guesswork.

What next?

When I Work is software that helps you build better restaurant schedules. The right mix of schedule automation, data generation for workforce planning, employee empowerment tools, and simple communication shave away nearly every annoyance that comes from a work schedule. In an era with almost 100% turnover, that’s gold

Because less annoyance, less turnover.

You can get started today, with a free trial, and find out just how much better employee scheduling can be. For everyone.