Restaurant scheduling is about more than just matching names to time slots. If it were that simple, you could draw names from a hat and still come up with something that works. Putting together a restaurant schedule is about creating a productive team. Because of that, it takes planning, forethought, and sometimes a bit of creativity to produce a schedule that is good for both your business and your employees.
This article shares eight tips for producing a restaurant schedule that creates a more productive team.
1. Set up a schedule for schedule creation
Consistency is key when it comes to posting a new schedule. It should occur on the same day and at the same time every week (or every two, three, or four weeks depending on your system).
So, for example, if you decide to post the new schedule on Fridays by 5 p.m., it should always be posted on Fridays at or before 5 p.m. Once you’ve established the day and time you want to release the new schedule, you can work backward from there to set deadlines for yourself and your staff. With Friday at 5 p.m. as your deadline, give yourself most of Friday and all of Thursday to create the schedule. It may not take you that long but you never know when an emergency may pop up. With Thursday and Friday as your work days, that means you can accept employee requests for vacations, preferred work days, and preferred shifts until that Wednesday.
Setting up a consistent process for schedule creation—and sticking to it—can help you keep this complicated and daunting task to a minimum of difficulty. Your consistency also helps your employees know what to expect. They know they have until a certain day to inform you of their personal schedule. And they can rely on the fact that the new schedule will always be released at the same time.
2. Keep business needs and employee strengths in mind
At its most basic, this comes down to the idea that you should always schedule your best people during the busiest times. That way you know that they won’t fall apart when the business, and your customers, need them the most.
But this tip also encourages us to look at our employee’s strengths when considering where and when to schedule. Is one employee more efficient than another? Perhaps she should be scheduled during the chaotic lunch rush when efficiency is a must. Is one employee more of a people person than another? Perhaps he should be scheduled during the more laid back dinner service when customers are more likely to spend an hour or two at the table and server/customer interaction is more important.
That’s not to say that we should pigeonhole these employees and restrict them to certain shifts. But we should consider putting strengths where we need them the most.
3. Give everyone a chance to work a high-dollar shift
We all know that certain shifts make more money than others. Maybe it’s Friday night from 6 p.m. to midnight. Maybe it’s Tuesday night from 8 to 11 p.m. after the baseball game across the street let’s out. These money-making shifts are no secret. Your employees know when the are.
Give everyone, even your less-senior and newest employees, a chance to work these high-dollar shifts at least once per week. Doing so serves two important purposes. One, it keeps the employees happy and engaged because they know they can count on a big payday if they do their best. And, two, it gives everyone a chance to learn how to work during peak hours.
The latter is an important factor to consider when scheduling newer employees because the only way they’re going to learn is by doing. If you want to increase their productivity, you have to give them an opportunity step up when it matters. This might be something you want to bring up at a staff meeting so that everyone understands why it’s being done.
4. Give everyone a chance to work the day shift
In a similar vein, schedule everyone for at least one day shift per week. This makes it possible then to be more flexible with the high-dollar shifts mentioned above.
But scheduling your most senior and most skilled employees on a day shift also serves a higher business purpose. It helps establish your lunch shift as a strong customer experience. This, in turn, can boost sales. And that’s just good for everyone.
Be sure to mention that everyone will be working a day shift during a staff meeting. Explain why it is happening so that it doesn’t create resentment or make people feel like they’re being punished.
5. Schedule busy shifts first
When creating a schedule, most managers start at the beginning of the week and work their way to the end. This method isn’t bad in itself, but it can make hard to ensure that your most skilled employees are available when they need to be (i.e., for the busiest shifts).
Instead of working from the beginning of the week to the end of the week, schedule your busiest days first. We all know when our busiest times are so make note of that on your working copy of the schedule. You could use a star-based system (1 star being the slowest and 5 stars being the busiest) or a number-based system (1 again being the slowest and 10 being the busiest). Whatever method you choose, label the days of the week accordingly and then schedule the busiest days first. Once that’s done, work your way down to the slowest day(s).
This helps to reduce the amount of shuffling and changing you need to do to get the most productive employees on the busiest nights. With this method, you start with them where they should be and then fill in around.
6. All schedule changes must go through you
Schedule changes will happen. It’s inevitable. Encourage your employees to find their own replacements so that you don’t have to do it. But make sure that all of those inevitable changes go through you first.
This is to make sure that you avoid overtime whenever possible, but also to make sure that all shifts are covered according to the business’s needs. You don’t want to throw an employee who has only been working a few days into your busiest shift just because he volunteered to cover for someone else. If you’re using a printed schedule, you could establish that all changes must be initialed by a manager before they go into effect. If you’re using a cloud-based schedule, you could set the permissions so that employees can view and perhaps make suggestions, but they can’t make changes directly to the schedule itself. That way, you know that the switching won’t get out of hand.
7. Avoid back-to-back shifts
Working a closing shift is hard enough. But then having to come back in to open up can be a productivity crusher. For one thing, it can be difficult on an employee’s morale when they know that they have to work back-to-back shifts. This can affect their performance for the negative on one shift or both. They can also start to talk negatively the night before which can affect the productivity of the whole team.
For another thing, avoiding back-to-back shifts helps make everyone more accountable. When the same person closes and opens, he can let things slide because he knows he’ll be in first thing tomorrow to fix it. This isn’t good for the people working with him because it may affect their behavior when it’s their turn to close. It’s also not good for the business for things to be left undone during the 8 to 10 hours that you’re closed.
8. Use technology to make scheduling easier
Scheduling technology has come a long way from the pen-and-paper schedules many of us may be used to. But restaurant-specific tools can make all the tips above (and countless others) so much easier to institute.
Take Sling for example. It was created specifically for restaurant scheduling. As such, it goes above and beyond just helping you create a schedule. It can notify you of conflicts and suggest changes to make the process go smoother. Because it’s a cloud-based platform, Sling makes your schedule available to your employees anytime, anywhere. It also can be used to set reminder notifications for your employees so that they don’t forget their shifts. And with other, powerful communication features, Sling can be used to communicate directly with a single employee, a group of employees, or all your employees at the same time. No more emails or time-consuming phone calls.
All of this taken together can help increase your employees productivity by keeping them engaged in, and informed about, their job. It can also help you to keep your productivity high by streamlining what would otherwise be a labor-intensive process.
Restaurant scheduling best practices
A productive team is not outside your reach. It can be done. By harnessing restaurant scheduling technology like Sling and using the tips above to create your schedules, you can increase employee productivity and engagement to new heights. That’s good for you and good for your business.