Staff Scheduling in a restaurant

For a restaurant to run, there needs to be trained employees in the right roles at the right times. That is a huge logistical task, as your staff will never be fully satisfied with the exact schedule you make.


Restaurant owners and managers face some of their most difficult challenges when dealing with employees, scheduling workers to satisfy conflicting demands and making sure their restaurants have the right balance of staff to handle customers. The restaurants’ needs come first, and personnel managers must schedule enough workers to run the businesses efficiently.

However, keeping your staff might be difficult if you can’t give each worker enough hours. On the other hand, high labor costs from overstaffing eats into profits, and the practice lowers server morale because servers need enough tables to augment their minimal salaries with tips.

Staffing Balance

The demands of creating work schedules lead to many potential minefields. Experience and practice help management staff make more accurate assessments of scheduling needs. Policies must be in place and enforced so that the restaurant’s never understaffed.

It is hard to calibrate, especially without a long track record. New restaurants will discover unanticipated slow times and business spurts that are caused by festivals, concerts, plays, holidays and other community events. When building schedules, managers must cover projected sales volume with adequate staffing before considering special requests. Employees often want certain times off for personal reasons, but unless these dates were guaranteed, the needs of the restaurant come first.

Understaffing puts stress on workers and leads to diminished levels of service, long waits for orders and cooking mistakes.
Do not get in the habit of favoring employees when it comes to granting requests for days off as that can cause discord among your staff.
Overstaffing generates unnecessary expenses and causes staff members to become lazy and lethargic.
Managers can create schedules by hand, but point-of-sale systems and independent restaurant applications use technology to create tight schedules, match employee requests when possible and predict sales volume and staffing needs.
You can use emails to send a copy of the new schedule to each worker.
Some systems even interact with time-clock functions, preventing employees from clocking-in too early, accumulating overtime and clocking-out past their scheduled times.
Regardless of whether restaurants use software, spreadsheets or hand-generated scheduling, effective scheduling policies play an important role in meeting employee expectations and preventing unhappy workers from becoming upset when their requests can’t be honored. Sometimes, managers might prefer to schedule reliable, popular or skilled workers, even at the expense of paying overtime wages. This strategy is less risky and potentially explosive than giving workers preferential treatment for being absent.

Restaurants also use split shifts during busy periods at lunch and dinner. Servers often don’t mind because they depend on table turnover for their income, but kitchen staff need to understand that split shifts are part of their expected job routines.


Cross-training workers in various restaurant jobs allows managers to schedule swing workers who can function where they are most needed. The cycle of restaurant operations changes rapidly. Servers, managers or hosts seat guests and return to other jobs, such as taking orders, preparing foods, cleaning tables, washing dishes and preparing silverware, glasses and table set-ups. Cross-trained staff can help at multiple stations in the dining room or kitchen. However, it is important to consider an employee’s ability level and efficiency when allocating responsibilities.

Advanced Requests Facilitate Strong Scheduling

Try to encourage employees to make special requests as far in advance as possible. Set up a cut-off date so that you can keep your restaurant properly staffed with minimal schedule changes. You should let each worker know that they’re expected to work when scheduled, unless a real emergency occurs. A good strategy for covering emergencies (you’ll be surprised how often they occur) is to get employees to submit their long-term vacation plans and needs for time off for special events. You can also ask employees to submit information about when they’re available to pick up an extra shift. Having this information on file helps to cover emergencies, allocate extra work to the people who want it and prevent paying overtime for the highest salaried workers. Good scheduling mixes experienced workers and people who need help with their duties.

Regardless of schedules, illnesses and emergencies will always occur. Managers might consider an on-call arrangement with certain employees to handle emergency staffing needs. Restaurant employment services also supply temporary workers in emergency situations to help managers meet their staffing needs.

Plan for Full Service at Critical Times

Managers should never allow employees to switch shifts without their approval because these alterations could have unintended consequences. Special events, holidays and peak-dining times require full staffs to serve customers efficiently. Managers can risk overscheduling at these times because they could always send people home if anticipated crowds fail to materialize or after crowds begin to subside.

Restaurants face unique challenges in the business world because managers must schedule workers to handle various shifts and levels of activity, unlike nine-to-five businesses. Bakers and prep cooks work different shifts than line cooks and servers, and bartenders might only be needed during peak times in the evening. Online programs and POS applications can help with scheduling workers in large restaurant operations. Small restaurants can rely on experience and sound knowledge of their workers’ skills and habits to create effective schedules to meet their operational needs. In the end, if you know the local, seasonal dining trends and your staffing situation, you will be able to craft schedules that do not disrupt service and quality.
Scheduling involves making hard decisions. Everyone will not be happy, but most will understand if you are fair and consistent. It is therefore important for scheduling to be carried out with the utmost professionalism and organization. Without that professionalism, employee morale and work quality may suffer. Setting up a staff scheduling system and following it to the letter is the best way to ensure that scheduling is never an issue.

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