Creating the perfect schedule for your restaurant can increase employees’ productivity and boost your revenue. Below, we explain the common types of restaurant schedules and offer tips on how to make the best schedule for your team.

Table of contents
  1. Why Is Restaurant Scheduling So Important?
  2. How Does Restaurant Employee Scheduling Work?
  3. How to Build a Staff Schedule
  4. Types of Restaurant Work Schedules
  5. Restaurant Scheduling Tips
  6. Restaurant Scheduling Best Practices
  7. Conclusion
  8. FAQs

Creating a schedule for your restaurant can be challenging, as there are a lot of different factors and conflicting priorities you need to account for and attempt to balance.

Employees might want to work at different times, some might request days off, and others may ask for more or fewer hours. While managing all of that, you need to make sure that every shift is filled and that your staff can be as productive as possible.

The good news is that creating the perfect restaurant schedule doesn’t have to be a hassle. By following a few tips and tricks, you’ll see the process is quite easy. In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about how to make a restaurant schedule and offer our top tips for success. 

Key Takeaways

  • Schedules help you ensure you have the staff you need to meet demand at your restaurant, without overstaffing.
  • To build a restaurant schedule, lay out the shifts you need and then assign employees to them. You can then fine-tune your schedule to ensure work is balanced across employees.
  • There are several different ways to structure shifts, including fixed shifts, rotating shifts, and split shifts.
  • Scheduling software can make it easier to build a schedule for your restaurant and eliminate scheduling conflicts.

Why Is Restaurant Scheduling So Important?

Scheduling is critical to the smooth operation of any restaurant. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key ways proper scheduling can help your business thrive.

Ensure every shift is covered

There are few things worse in the restaurant business than being understaffed during a busy shift. Orders take longer, employees’ morale suffers, and customers are more likely to have a poor experience.

One of the main benefits of scheduling is that it ensures every role is covered during every shift. You can decide how many line chefs, bus staff, and wait staff you need for any given shift, then assign the right employees to work each shift.

If you create schedules for an entire week at a time, you can feel confident knowing that your restaurant will be fully staffed for the days ahead.

Maximize employees’ productivity

Restaurant employees need to work as a team in order to be as productive as possible. You need wait staff who fill in for each other and chefs whose work styles align.

Scheduling gives you an opportunity to decide which employees will work together and how frequently. Employees who work well together tend to be happier and more productive, which can lead to a better customer experience and increased revenue.

Spread work evenly across employees

It’s well-known in the restaurant industry that some shifts are better for wait staff than others. For example, an upscale restaurant is much more likely to be packed on weekend nights than on weekdays during lunch. Busier shifts mean more tips, so employees typically want as many of these lucrative shifts as they can get.

You can take this into account when building schedules to ensure that every employee has an equal distribution of shifts. That way, employees have roughly equal chances of earning tips throughout each week. Employees who feel that they’re being treated fairly in this way are much more likely to enjoy working at your restaurant.

Save money on labor costs

While it’s important to ensure that every shift is covered, you also don’t want to pay for labor you don’t need. That means eliminating overstaffing and reducing overtime as much as possible.

With scheduling software, you can predict the coverage needed during each shift and schedule the appropriate number of employees. You can also monitor how many hours each employee is scheduled for during a week and make adjustments to reduce overtime hours.

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How Does Restaurant Employee Scheduling Work?

Restaurant employee scheduling starts with managers determining the business’s operational needs and busiest times, as well as workers’ availability, skills, and shift preferences. Managers will then create a schedule that accounts for these factors—usually using pen and paper, an online spreadsheet, or a digital staff scheduling tool.

Schedules are then shared with employees, who can request changes if needed. Managers will update shifts as required to avoid scheduling conflicts and issues like under or overstaffing. Both managers and employees need to be especially flexible and communicative regarding absences that can impact schedules.

For most restaurateurs, the best way to create employee schedules is to use dedicated staff scheduling software. This enables you to break each day down into shifts and decide which of your employees should be assigned to those shifts.

Connecteam's employee scheduling app

Some scheduling platforms like Connecteam, offer a drag-and-drop interface for building schedules. This is helpful because you can create an initial schedule, then make changes simply by moving shifts and employees around your calendar. You can also duplicate a schedule from one week to the next, which saves time if your restaurant’s staffing needs are relatively consistent.

Of course, you still need to know what coverage you need for each shift. This information is usually based on your own experience, so think about what days and times are busiest at your restaurant and go from there. It’s also a good idea to take notes about the quality of your staffing each day so you can make adjustments to your future schedules as needed.

How to Build a Staff Schedule

Now that you know the basics of restaurant scheduling, let’s dive into how to make a restaurant schedule. We’ll break it down into 6 steps.

Step 1: Lay out your shifts

The first step in creating a restaurant employee schedule is also the most complex. You need to decide what shifts you need and the hours each shift should cover.

We’ll explain some of the most common types of restaurant shift schedules in the next section. Many restaurateurs use a mix of 4- and 8-hour shifts, some use 12-hour shifts, and others schedule hour-by-hour.

Whichever shift structure you use, it’s typically helpful to keep your shift layout the same from week to week. This reduces confusion for employees and makes the scheduling process simpler.

You also need to decide how many employees you need for each task in your restaurant. That is, how many people do you need in the kitchen? How many wait staff? How many greeters, and how many bus staff?

Getting this right takes some trial and error. Review your past schedules if you have any and think about how busy your restaurant typically is during a given day and time. Don’t forget to consider holidays, which can bring in extra customers.

Step 2: Decide on the length of your schedule

When you sit down to make a schedule, you’re probably going to schedule shifts for more than one day at a time. Otherwise, you’ll have to spend time creating schedules every single day, which isn’t very efficient.

But how many days should you schedule for?

For many restaurants, the answer is 2 weeks at a time. Publishing 2 weeks’ worth of shifts enables employees to plan ahead, but it also doesn’t lean too far into the future. With a biweekly schedule, you’ll need to create and publish 26 schedules each year.

Some restaurateurs opt to create monthly schedules. This reduces the number of schedules you need to make each year to 12. However, employees may have difficulty planning a month or more into the future. This can result in more last-minute time-off requests or even no-shows.

Weekly schedules are also an option. Since shifts in a weekly schedule are just around the corner, it’s less likely that employees will have unexpected time off or other issues that prevent them from showing up for work.

However, it can be hard for employees to plan their lives around a weekly schedule, which can result in lower morale. As a restaurant manager, it can also be stressful to plan shifts just a week in advance.

Step 3: Create a draft schedule

Once you’ve laid out your shifts for the entire length of your schedule, you can start adding employees to shifts. You’re creating a rough draft at this stage, so don’t worry too much about minimizing overtime or balancing hours for each employee. The goal is to simply fill in all of your shifts.

If you have a schedule from a previous 2-week period, you can duplicate it to create your draft schedule.

Step 4: Fine-tune your schedule

Now that you have all of your shifts filled in, it’s time to do some fine-tuning. 

First, double-check that all of the shifts are feasible. Each employee you’ve assigned to a shift should be qualified to do their assigned role. You should also check that the shifts you’ve scheduled don’t conflict with the time that employees have requested off.

Next, count up each employees’ assigned hours. They should each have roughly the number of hours that they typically plan to work. If any employee is scheduled for overtime, you may want to replace them in shifts to minimize your overtime costs.

Finally, check that the shifts you’ve assigned to each employee are balanced. That is, each employee should have roughly the same number of lucrative shifts (like weekend evenings) assigned to them. If this isn’t possible within a single schedule, make sure you vary which employees receive a more favorable schedule each time you create a schedule.

Step 5: Publish your schedule

Once your schedule is ready, you can publish it and share it with employees.

It’s a good idea to publish your schedule at least the length of the schedule in advance. That is, if you create biweekly schedules, publish each new schedule 2 weeks in advance. For monthly schedules, publish a month in advance.

💡Pro Tip: 

Publish your schedule somewhere it’s easy for employees to find. You can send it to them in an email or make it available through a scheduling app. It’s also a good idea to print a copy of your schedule and hang it up in your restaurant’s staff area.

Step 6: Make adjustments

Inevitably, employees will request changes once you’ve published the new schedule. There are a few ways to accommodate changes.

First, you can allow employees to swap shifts with one another with your approval. Shift swapping is a relatively easy option for adjustments, as it can help ensure every shift is covered and it leaves it up to employees to decide what changes work for them.

Another option is to remove an employee from a shift and leave it open. Any qualified employee can then claim the open shift with your approval. This offers a way for employees who want extra hours to get them.

For last-minute schedule changes, be sure to call or text employees as soon as possible after you’ve changed the schedule to let them know what’s been adjusted.

🧠 Did You Know?

Connecteam sends employees a push notification when their schedule changes. This reduces the frequency of late arrivals and no-shows.

Types of Restaurant Work Schedules

While you’re free to create whatever schedule works best for your restaurant, most restaurateurs have converged on a few common schedule structures.

Fixed shifts

With fixed shifts, employees work the same schedule each week. This can be advantageous because it makes scheduling straightforward and your employees work in consistent teams.

The drawback to fixed shifts is that they aren’t very flexible. They can make it difficult to accommodate busy periods. They can also result in unbalanced schedules in which some employees repeatedly work more lucrative shifts than others.

Rotating shifts

With rotating shifts, an employee’s schedule changes from week to week. Usually, shifts rotate in a predictable pattern. Here are 3 of the most common rotating shift schedules:

5-2-2-5 schedules

A 5-2-2-5 schedule requires employees to work 5 days on, 2 days off, 2 days on, and then 5 days off. Shifts are typically 12 hours, but can also be split into blocks of 8 hours and 4 hours.

2-2-3 schedules

2-2-3 shift schedules are typically used by restaurants that are open 24/7. Employees work 2 days on, 2 days off, and then 3 days on. The following week, they work 2 days off, 2 days on, and then 3 days off. Shifts are typically 12 hours.

5-4-9 schedules

5-4-9 schedules are used by many restaurants that are open 5 days per week. Employees work 4 9-hour days and 1 8-hour day during one week, then 4 9-hour days the next week, with 1 day off.

Split shifts

Any shifts that are split by a prolonged break are known as split shifts. They can be used to have employees work during lunch hours, then take a few hours off and return for dinner service.

Split shifts reduce the time that employees spend working when restaurant traffic is slow. However, they can also make it more complicated for employees to achieve a healthy work-life balance. In some states, including California, employees who work split shifts are entitled to extra compensation.

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Restaurant Scheduling Tips

Here are 5 of our top tips to help you ensure your restaurant is always properly staffed.

Set scheduling policies

Create a basic set of scheduling policies and stick to them. This could include how far in advance you will publish schedules and how far in advance employees need to make time-off requests

Your scheduling policies could also include setting minimum hours for each employee or designating particular shifts as high-traffic (and thus better for tips).

Honor time off requests

If employees request time off, do everything you can to honor those requests. Even if you’re busy, you don’t want employees to suffer burnout. Employees who find their time-off requests rejected are also more likely to look for work elsewhere.

Send shift reminders

Automated shift reminders can go a long way in reducing no-shows. These can be as simple as a text message or push notification sent to employees’ mobile devices.

Cross-train employees

One approach to reducing understaffing is to cross-train your employees. For example, you might cross-train a greeter to wait tables. That way, they could step in when your restaurant is especially busy or if one of your wait staff fails to show up for work.

The more your employees are cross-trained to fill in for multiple positions, the more redundancy is built into every schedule you create.

🧠 Did You Know?

With Connecteam, you can create custom training courses for your employees in minutes. Workers can complete training at their own pace, right from their mobile devices, and get notified when they have new courses to work through.

Get started with Connecteam for free today!

Collect data

At the end of each day, take notes on how your staffing compared to the amount of coverage you actually needed. If you’re consistently understaffed or overstaffed during a specific shift, it will show up in your data. You can then use this data to adjust your schedule accordingly.

Restaurant Scheduling Best Practices

Following a few best practices can help you build better schedules, keep your employees happy, and maximize your business’s revenue.

Use scheduling software

While it’s possible to use pen and paper or digital spreadsheets like Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel to create restaurant schedules, these options are time-consuming and very error-prone.

On the other hand, scheduling software like Connecteam can dramatically reduce the time it takes to build schedules. It also helps you eliminate scheduling conflicts and errors that can lead to understaffing or overstaffing. 

The best options will offer an intuitive drag-and-drop interface for fast and simple schedule-building, the ability to create open shifts, and the option to schedule employees based on qualifications, preferences, and more.

💡 Pro Tip:

Not all scheduling software is created equal, so take advantage of platforms’ free trials to test out their features before committing to one. Connecteam, for example, offers a free-forever plan while premium plans start at only $29 for up to 30 users.

Get started with Connecteam for free today!

Plan ahead

Create and publish your schedule well in advance of the first shift on that schedule. This gives employees time to plan around the new schedule. If employees need to get someone to cover them for a shift, it can take a few days for them to find a replacement.

Create a backup system

Mistakes and emergencies happen, and it’s important to be prepared when they do. Perhaps an employee fails to show up for a shift, or maybe your restaurant has a much busier evening than you expected. Whatever the cause, it’s important that you have a system in place for getting backup from employees who aren’t currently working. 

One way to achieve this is by paying employees a reduced rate to be on call—that is, ready to come into work at a moment’s notice. 

Alternatively, you can offer time and a half to employees who agree to come into work on short notice. This means you pay them at 1.5 times their usual hourly rate.

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Check out our guide on creating an effective on-call schedule for your team.

Communicate with employees

The more you communicate with your employees about scheduling, the fewer scheduling problems you’ll encounter. Speak with them regularly in person or via email or text message about their schedules, availability, and shift preferences. 

In addition, remind employees to submit any time off requests before you create a new schedule. You should also let employees know when to expect a new schedule and how to address any problems that come up after a schedule is published.

Conclusion

Your restaurant’s schedule needs to ensure your restaurant is properly staffed at all times while also keeping your employees happy. Creating a schedule entails laying out your shifts, spreading work evenly across employees, and making adjustments as needed.

Although it can seem daunting to create a schedule at first, the process gets easier with practice. Following the top tips we shared in this article—and using dedicated scheduling software—you’ll find that creating a great restaurant schedule is a cinch.

For more information, check out our guide to the best restaurant scheduling software to find the right tool for your business.

Get started with Connecteam for free today!

FAQs

Can I use Excel to create a restaurant schedule?

While it’s possible to use Excel to create a restaurant employee schedule, it’s not a good idea. It’s easy to lose track of shifts in Excel and create scheduling conflicts that can hurt your business later. Instead, we recommend using a dedicated scheduling software like Connecteam.

How do you know how to schedule restaurant staff?

Deciding how many employees you need working at your restaurant throughout the day can be tricky. It’s a good idea to take notes about how your scheduled coverage compares with how busy your restaurant is. Over time, you’ll have lots of data to use to decide how to schedule shifts.

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