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Restaurant Scheduling: 5 Best Practices for Shift Trades and Time-Off Requests

For many restaurant owners and managers, one of the more onerous administrative tasks is employee scheduling. Juggling time-off requests and trying to keep everyone happy with their shift slots while making sure you’re not under- or over-staffing can be difficult. But there are ways to make it easier on yourself and your employees — just follow these tips, and choose the right tools.

  1. Plan the schedule in advance.

Ideally, you should be posting your employee schedules at least two weeks in advance. This lead time gives workers sufficient notice so they can rearrange personal commitments or appointments if necessary, or trade conflicting shifts with a co-worker. The schedule should also be readily available to everyone at all times. Sticking a paper copy on the wall and hoping everyone sees it (and any changes that might come up) is inadequate. Online accessibility to the single most up-to-date version saves a lot of frustration.
If you’re thinking that you can’t plan your schedule that far ahead because you have no way to anticipate your future needs, then you aren’t using the right tools. Good restaurant scheduling software includes labor reporting that will show the labor cost ratio over actual sales on each shift. This information enables you to plan in advance based on past trends, ensuring that you don’t over- or under-staff during peak periods and that you keep labor costs under the recommended 30%.

  1. Open lines of communication.

Employees need a reliable means of communication with each other and with management in order to get updated schedules, swap shifts with each other, and get trades or time-off requests approved. Not everyone uses e-mail regularly, and calling everyone individually can be frustrating and a time sink. A digital labor management tool is a great way to connect all staff members and managers, enable seamless swaps, and make the latest information readily available at any time.

  1. Set clear rules for requesting time off.

Restaurant scheduling works best for everyone involved when there are clearly defined rules, consistently applied, for time-off requests. Your rules should cover such issues as:

  • How should time-off requests be submitted, and how far in advance? A standard written or online form is recommended, and at least two weeks’ notice is a good starting point. The important thing is to have everyone making their requests the same way.
  • When can time off be requested, and when can’t it? You might want to take certain holidays off the table in order to be fair to everyone. Or the needs of your business may dictate policies: if you know your establishment is especially busy during Spring Break weeks in March or the local music festival in August, you might want to set those times as off-limits. If employees know these rules ahead of time, they can make their own plans accordingly.
  • How are you going to handle overlapping requests? You might lean toward a “first come, first served” policy, or a seniority-based one, to handle conflicts. And managerial discretion regarding the reasons for the requests and the needs of the business will also come into play. Consistency and transparency are key.
  1. Create a procedure in case of emergencies.

Emergencies will happen: an employee might fall ill, or have their car break down, or need to stay home with their children when school is closed because of adverse weather. It’s always good to have a Plan B (or even a Plan C) in place for when such situations arise. Your emergency backups could include keeping a list of former or part-time workers who could fill in, or designating “on call” days for employees when they aren’t scheduled but could be available.

  1. Invest in restaurant labor management and shift scheduling software.

Advance planning, open communication, easy shift trades or emergency substitutions, and consistent handling of time-off requests can be difficult to juggle without the right tools. Pen-and-paper or spreadsheet methods might be what you’re used to, but they will cost you valuable time and energy to accomplish tasks that could be streamlined with restaurant scheduling software and online management solutions. These tools can save you a lot of headaches, improve employee satisfaction, and give you more time to focus on other areas of your business.
Contact SalesVu to explore how you can implement an affordable iPad restaurant labor management and shift scheduling software solution in your restaurant.

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