How To Make a Restaurant Schedule

Restaurant scheduling is both an art and a science — it must simultaneously serve the business, satisfy customer demand, and account for employees’ needs. Given the complex factors involved, it’s safe to expect a certain amount of trial and error. Stick with it and you can create a workable restaurant schedule that keeps operations running smoothly and efficiently.

Why is restaurant scheduling important?

Restaurant scheduling creates the framework for your operations. A predictable schedule makes it easier to assign duties, plan deliveries and ensure busy shifts are adequately staffed. It also helps you spread out the workload, ensuring every employee has a chance to work lucrative shifts. That balance is critical, given that hiring is one of the biggest restaurant challenges in 2023; a fair distribution of labor can keep employees happy and boost retention.

The restaurant schedule you choose depends primarily on your business hours. Some common types of schedules are:

  • 5-2-2-5. Employees work 12-hour shifts in the pattern of 5 days on, 2 days off, 2 days on, and 5 days off. While the shifts are tiring, this schedule enables employees to work full-time while enjoying long stretches of time off.
  • 2-2-3. If your restaurant is open 24 hours a day, this schedule might be the right choice. Employees work 2 days, have 2 days off, and work 3 days. To make it work, you need four separate teams of employees who are willing to work 12-hour shifts.
  • 5-4-9. This schedule follows a 2-week pattern and requires a 5-day work week. The first week, an employee works 4 9-hour days and 1 8-hour day. The second week, they work 4 9-hour days and get the fifth day off. You might also see this method called a 9/80 schedule.
  • open. With an open-hour schedule, you publish available shifts in advance. Staff members can then sign up to fill the time slots that fit their schedule.

Instead of sticking to a rigid schedule template, many restaurants opt to split longer shifts into two shorter shifts. Instead of one 12-hour shift, you might plan an 8-hour shift and a 4-hour shift, for example. This strategy limits long, stressful work days, which reduces burnout and employee turnover.

How to build a shift schedule

When you’re building a shift schedule for your restaurant, there are a few key components to keep in mind. First, consider whether you’re using a fixed or rotating schedule. In a fixed schedule, employees work the same days and hours each week. With a rotating schedule, employees move through different shifts; that way, everyone has a chance to work busy hours with the biggest potential for tips. It’s also important to determine the shift length and the ratio of work days to days off.

Policies are another key component of employee scheduling. These rules govern the process and help employees understand what to expect. At a minimum, your restaurant should have written policies for:

  • Requesting time off
  • Claiming shifts (if applicable)
  • Swapping shifts or covering for other workers
  • Overtime pay and limits
  • Back-to-back shifts
  • Maximum hours per week

As you’re creating a shift schedule, follow these basic steps:

  1. Set the shifts. Determine the number of shifts you need and the best length for each one. The shift structure should typically be the same each week — that way, you can simply use a restaurant schedule template to speed up the process — but you might occasionally need to make small changes based on employee availability and special events.
  2. List duties for each shift. Examine the calendar for the upcoming week to determine what needs to be done during each shift. Include tasks such as kitchen preparation, sidework, training new employees and setting up for special events.
  3. Estimated diner volume. Examine your reservations log and historical sales data to determine the expected sales volume for each shift. Make sure to check local event calendars; if there’s a festival or conference happening nearby, you may need a larger staff to handle the extra foot traffic.
  4. Consider employee needs. Check for time-off requests and employee conflicts for the upcoming week to determine who’s available for each shift.
  5. Assign employees to each shift. Determine how many people you need for each open shift. Schedule more employees for busy periods; keep staffing light for slow periods to save on labor costs and help workers maximize tips. If some of your staff members work on a fixed schedule, this process might simply involve adding extra workers to busy shifts.

Restaurant schedule: tips for happy employees

Fair, consistent staff scheduling is an essential part of a productive restaurant culture. To make sure the process accommodates your employees’ needs, follow these best practices:

  • Publish the schedule as early as possible.
  • Use scheduling templates for consistency and speed.
  • Select a digital format for convenience and accessibility.
  • Make sure employees understand scheduling policies.
  • Be flexible to account for employees’ life events.
  • Ensure shifts are adequately staffed to avoid overwork.
  • Consider employees’ skills and preferences when scheduling.
  • Use a central communication hub to keep each shift updated.

Keep in mind that it will take time to develop a schedule that works well for your team and business. Restaurant managers should observe employees, watch the time clock and monitor labor data to make sure the process is equitable. For example, a pattern of excessive shift swaps could indicate your current schedule is at odds with employees’ personal commitments. If you notice certain shifts are consistently understaffed, it might be time to recruit new restaurant staff to provide extra coverage and enable a better distribution of labor.

By adapting the restaurant scheduling system to help employees maintain a better work-life balance, you can increase job satisfaction and increase retention. While you work to find the right solution, employee recognition incentives can encourage staff members to be patient and stick with the company.

Useful restaurant schedule software

If you have a sizable workforce and multiple daily shifts, building a restaurant schedule is a time-consuming task. Restaurant scheduling software can speed up the process and free you up to tackle revenue-generating projects. These programs benefit your business by:

  • Enabling you to edit the schedule from anywhere
  • Forecasting demand using historical labor data
  • Generating automatic schedules
  • Allowing employees to request changes digitally
  • Adjusting automatically to shift swaps and other staff scheduling changes
  • Providing customizable notifications for managers and staff

The right software program improves the experience for everyone on your team. Employees can log in at any time to see their schedule, eliminating confusion and allowing for advance planning. Workers can request changes quickly and conveniently, giving you more time to cover open shifts.

A variety of manufacturers offer scheduling software; popular options include Paycor, 7shifts, Jolt and ToastTab. Like Grubhub, many scheduling programs are engineered to integrate with your POS system for a seamless employee experience. Be sure to check compatibility with your delivery and POS programs before you invest; software that works with your existing tech stack helps the process move faster.

Don’t have a delivery platform? Grubhub makes it easy to connect your POS software and restaurant scheduling programs. To try it out, get started today.

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