Staffing Management

6 best practices for creating a restaurant employee schedule

By Andie Burjek

Jan. 31, 2021

The restaurant business runs on a careful balance of the right number of employees doing the right work at the right time. 

But the first and most important step — putting together an effective schedule — is anything but simple.

Understaffing means restaurant workers will be busier than necessary and not have as much time for excellent customer service. Meanwhile, overstaffing means restaurant servers make less in tips, and the restaurant itself will overpay on labor costs. 

You can avoid both of these wasteful work situations.

With the right processes, workplace culture, and restaurant shift scheduling software, you and your managers can avoid scheduling conflicts and create the most accurate schedule possible. Here are six best practices for creating an effective restaurant employee schedule.

1. Ask candidates about their scheduling preferences and constraints

The restaurant industry has one of the highest turnover rates — 81.9 percent as of 2019. Turnover has many negative downstream effects on a food service business, including an increase in the time and money needed to find, hire, and train new employees. 

And your restaurant scheduling process could be contributing to employees’ dissatisfaction. Consider the length of a shift when you schedule hourly employees.

Unless a restaurant employee specifically requests it, scheduling short shifts are a quick route to a disengaged workforce. A shift of four hours or less can have financial consequences. An employee may actually lose money working a short shift thanks to commuting costs and potential additional costs like elder care and/or child care.  

Avoid creating schedules with too-short shifts by asking employees for shift feedback. Do they think the restaurant is adequately staffed for rushes? Or are they chronically understaffed at critical points in the day?

Keeping shifts in the 6- to 8-hour range will help employees stay fresh and engaged and give them plenty of time to earn tips.

Be proactive in the interview process and ask your potential hires about their scheduling preferences. Perhaps they prefer evenings since they are in school during the day? Or want to be scheduled on weekends because they enjoy busier shifts? Some will ask you to split up their off days when you build out a schedule while others like consecutive days off. 

You may not be able to accommodate every schedule request or preference. But by asking, you can improve employee engagement and reduce turnover in restaurants. You’re showing your team that you care about them as people, not just as employees. 

2. Build flexibility into your scheduling

As a manager, your flexibility when building a schedule counts, too. While many on your team are fine with a schedule that varies days and hours, some hourly employees need stability because of other responsibilities that limit when they can work at the restaurant. Honoring those requests will make those employees more loyal, productive, satisfied and less likely to leave. 

You also can add more flexibility to your restaurant scheduling with shift swapping capabilities. Shift swapping software is like a scheduling assistant that gives managers the peace of mind that all shifts will be covered. They can rely on employees to find their own work replacements through the scheduling app, provided that the switch is in compliance with labor laws and not threatening the restaurant with unnecessary overtime pay. 

staff restaurant employees,

3. Provide the schedule as far in advance as possible

Last-minute and unclear schedules can have negative consequences on hourly employees, making it more difficult for them to plan their lives outside their jobs. 

Finding child care, holding a second job (which many restaurant workers need to do to afford basic necessities), or taking continuing education classes all become more difficult when shift workers don’t know what their hours will be.

A wave of predictive scheduling laws in the 2010s required that organizations with shift workers provide employees with their schedules up to two weeks in advance, giving employees more stability and flexibility. 

This type of law only exists in certain cities and states, but the reality is that any hourly restaurant employee would benefit from predictive scheduling policies.

Look at the calendar; don’t make employees wait until the last day of the month to see the schedule. Be transparent and consistent since staff schedule changes can be disruptive for employees. Building and posting the work schedule ahead of time relieves some of the stress that can accompany a flexible schedule.

One way to start scheduling in advance without the hassle of paperwork is with a schedule spreadsheet

While this is a good start, the more data you have available, the more options you can access, the more accurately you and your managers can create shift schedules with the right number of employees at work at the right times. 

schedule template, restaurant employees

Consider a more comprehensive solution like’s online scheduling software

The software analyzes operational data about the specific restaurant, outside forces like the time of the year and weather, and even how long it takes employees to complete specific tasks.

So, it can predict how busy your restaurant will be at any given time, thereby helping you and your restaurant managers accurately forecast labor needs. 

When you plan well-informed, data-driven schedules, you can plan for optimally-efficient labor costs.


scheduling software, restaurant employees

4. Hire the right employees 

Some 36 percent of restaurateurs say that hiring, training, and retaining staff are their biggest challenges. Building a restaurant schedule that reflects properly staffing a restaurant goes a long way to easing those challenges. 

With over 660,000 restaurants in the United States, pay and the right employee work schedule are big differentiators when people choose a job. Your ability to balance the proper number of employees with their schedule requests will determine their level of job satisfaction and your ability to make payroll.

Fewer employees means your restaurant staff is more likely to feel overworked and burned out. With too many employees, they may not get as many hours as they need in a job. This is especially true for smaller restaurants, which must carefully manage their labor costs.

As Lil Roberts, CEO and founder of fintech company Xendoo, has suggested, you can use behavioral-based questions in the interview process to assess potential candidates. 

These behavioral questions shouldn’t be binary, which might yield a yes-or-no answer that isn’t helpful. The question, “Are you organized?” would give a more generic answer versus something like “If I opened your closet, what would I see?” Roberts said. A more organized candidate might end up being a phenomenal host or hostess, she added, while someone with different strengths may be a better server. 

If you’ve had many employees who don’t consistently show up to work on time, you and your managers can reconsider the questions you ask candidates. Vet candidates for vital qualities like culture fit and job expectations. 

“If you’re a business owner and you’ve got a revolving door [of employees leaving], you need to not say, ‘Oh, the workforce is bad.’ You need to look internally and say, ‘What process can I change?’ ” Roberts said in an August 2020 interview. 

Given that restaurant turnover is chronically high, reliable workforce scheduling is a proven way to attract and retain quality employees. 

With an overwhelming 95 percent of restaurant owners agreeing that technology improves the efficiency of their establishments, as managers go to hire new employees, having’s scheduling platform is particularly effective for restaurant operations. The simple, paperless onboarding feature sets the right tone for new staff once they are hired. 

workforce software, restaurant employees

5. Don’t forget about time off, sick days, and holiday schedules

In spite of your best efforts, you’ll have last-minute changes when scheduling employees. Employees get sick and have personal emergencies. 

Be clear with your staff that it’s OK for them to take sick days off of work. Some organizations have cultures where employees feel shamed or discouraged for taking time off to take care of themselves, and that’s a health hazard in a place of business where people are preparing, cooking, serving and eating food.

6. Manage scheduling in real time based on changing conditions 

The unexpected does happen occasionally, meaning that restaurant managers must be able to change their employee shifts at a moment’s notice. Managers need a scheduling tool that allows them to react quickly and confidently. 

The Live Wage Tracker allows managers to adjust staffing levels in real time. Both overstaffing and understaffing can be dangerous for a restaurant, which generally runs on small profit margins. Any staffing decision that can cut labor costs will help. 

With the Live Wage Tracker, making operational decisions on the fly to tweak your restaurant employee schedule is as seamless as possible. 

live wage tracker, software, restaurant employees

Meanwhile, for those food service businesses with multiple locations, you can get complete oversight of staff numbers in all teams and at all locations. You can see how many employees are currently working and which teams or locations have the largest variance from your shift schedules. 

See how to build your restaurant’s employee work schedule with ease and accuracy. Sign up for a free trial of’s restaurant employee scheduling software today.

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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