How to Avoid Scheduling Problems in Your Restaurant During the Holidays

by Katie Sawyer, 9 minutes read
HOME blog scheduling problems during the holidays

It’s holiday season, which means your business is guaranteed to boom. But if you're not careful, you'll end up with a series of nightmarish weeks.

Kitchen no-shows, empty schedules, and a poor customer experience.

While there's no way to ensure things run smoothly, there are steps you can take to improve the odds.

Continue reading to learn how to prevent scheduling issues in your restaurant during the holidays.

Common employee scheduling problems in restaurants

Planning the holiday schedule for a restaurant is stressful. You’re managing seasonal workers, regular staff who are looking to take time off, and a busier kitchen.

Fortunately, preparing for different scenarios can help prevent scheduling issues. Here's a look at some of the most common problems restaurant managers see throughout the year (particularly during the holidays).

Lack of availability

An employee's availability can change on a whim. Children, living arrangements, car problems, and other unforeseen issues can arise. So your best employees may one day have to adjust the days and hours they work.

For instance, a cook who's been available full time for six months now needs part-time hours starting next week. It can throw your restaurant out of whack, especially during the holidays.

Shortage of employees

When the holidays hit, you need all hands on deck, if not more. So not having enough employees isn't an option. Unfortunately, there's no way to ensure this 100%. Employees get sick, call out, or even quit for various reasons.

It can devastate your holiday scheduling, especially if you have a hard time finding extra help on a whim.

Last-minute scheduling

Locals planned a large holiday party at your restaurant. You want everything to be perfect, so you schedule as many restaurant employees as possible. Then someone cancels at the last minute. Or you realize you need more servers than planned.

Before you know it, you have a chaotic mess on your hands.

If you don't have enough staff, it could mean a lot of wasted food, unhappy customers, and an unpleasant experience overall.

Overtime spiraling out of control

If you avoid hiring more staff, then prepare to schedule employees to work overtime. Not only does this take more money out of the restaurant, it also creates inefficiencies. There are only so many hours an employee can take, especially during the holidays.

And if you're overbooking them each week, then you're burning out your restaurant team members with back-to-back shifts. As you'd imagine, this can lead to higher employee turnover. Keeping employees happy is vital to maintaining a well-staffed workplace before and throughout the holidays.

Unequal shift distribution

Everyone's on the schedule for the holidays, but did you ensure there are enough additional cooks or dishwashers for those days?

If not, you may run into an imbalance in workloads, leading to long wait times and unhappy customers. If you don't schedule enough workers across the restaurant, you could end up with not enough waiters, cooks, or dishwashers.

This inevitably leads to stress and the potential loss of valuable labor.

Scheduling for multiple roles

In small restaurants, managers have the kitchen, front of the house, and back of the house employees to schedule for. In larger restaurants, you'll find a manager for each department. This is convenient so each leader only has to schedule for their own section.

However, if you're the sole scheduler in the workplace, then cover all your bases. Don't forget to hire additional holiday help in the kitchen if needed. Check each area to find potential bottlenecks, then eliminate them before the holiday season.

Unique employee needs

Some restaurant workers have pre-schoolers, while others have health conditions that require working fewer hours or specific days. Accommodating unique schedules is key to keeping your restaurant functional.

9 ways to prevent restaurant scheduling issues

Hoping for the best and preparing for the worst — this is how restaurant managers should approach holiday schedules. If you're worried about running into common issues with your schedule, then use the following nine tips.

1. Schedule employees at the right times

If you're not careful, you could end up with too few employees working on a busy night. Pay attention to past trends to determine the busiest days and times during certain holidays. Maybe it's every night after 6 pm, or the week leading up to Christmas.

If so, put enough people on the schedule during these evenings to manage the crowds. However, if you don't have a way to track trends (i.e., you recently opened), then prepare for the worst. The most obvious busy times are in the late afternoon and evening on the weekends.

Then if a holiday lands on a Monday or Thursday, then expect higher-than-normal customers.

2. Avoid over-scheduling restaurant workers

Trying to forecast demand is tough without data. But even if you have it, there's no guarantee history will repeat itself. This may mean overbooking restaurant employees unnecessarily.

When this happens, you'll have restaurant workers on the clock too soon. For instance, an employee closes up at 10 pm and then opens up at 8 am. This is a "clopen" shift and should be avoided at all costs.

Ideally, your workers should have at least 12 hours in between shifts. Plan at least several months in advance to ensure you have enough staff to cover all the times and days over the holidays.

3. Prep for last-minute absences

It's impossible to predict when an employee will call in sick. Yet, it's bound to happen, particularly during the cooler months. When it does, have a backup plan. For instance, add an extra person to the schedule each week until the holidays are over.

This way, if anyone calls in, you have someone who can pick up their slack. Another option is to offer overtime pay to workers who agree to stay later.

4. Start planning at the end of summer

Begin planning your fall and winter schedule before the summer's over. This provides leeway to determine whether you need to hire more part-time workers or opt for seasonal staff. It's also a good time to speak with your employees to learn their plans.

See if anyone's planning to take vacation time over the holidays. Then, if you find temp workers are necessary, then hire them soon. You need time to train and prepare them for the holidays. It can sometimes take months for new workers to learn the ropes.

5. Use a scheduling platform

Paper and pen won't cut it. Nor is using a spreadsheet or word processor to create and print out your employee schedule. It's disorganized and offers no way to see the availability of your staff.

This makes using scheduling platforms a must for restaurant managers. With the right tool, you can develop a schedule and share it with everyone immediately. This way, they have time to request changes.

Use an app that gives employees access to their schedule and allows them to request time off in advance. That will help alleviate conflicting schedules and absences.

6. Ask workers for their availability in advance

Last-minute vacation requests will put you in a bind. Prevent this by asking workers months in advance if they plan to take time off. Pay attention to personal life situations, such as pregnancies leading to maternity leave. Or folks with children at home, causing issues with childcare.

Find out the best days and times your staff can work over the holidays (vs. force-fitting them into where you want them). This can limit call-outs, tardies, and no-shows.

7. Make plans around vacations and paid time off

If you asked for the availability of your workers, now's the time to plan around their schedules. The last thing you need is a group of frustrated workers forced to work at the times they need off. It'll only lead to conflicts down the road.

If their schedules don't align with your needs, consider hiring additional workers or bringing on temp workers. When hiring new employees, ask their availability to ensure it suits your current needs. No point in hiring workers if they can't show up at the times you need them.

8. Plan a consistent schedule

If possible, plan a schedule that's consistent, so there's no confusion about who works and when. Also, don't allow workers to switch schedules without permission. This is the worst time to have no one show up because they thought the other was on the schedule.

Allowing workers more freedom to manage their own schedules takes work off your shoulders. At least, until it becomes an issue with a no-show.

So instead, create a system of approval so workers must go through you before swapping times and days. Using a scheduling tool that lets you visualize everyone's availability and requests for schedule changes. Even better if it allows you to quickly swap around schedules at the click of a button and check schedule updates on the go.

9. Keep your workers happy to prevent turnover

Employees quitting before or during the holidays isn't always a surprise. There are telltale signs that lead up to these events. For instance, consistent tardiness or absences, or conflicts with co-workers. When an employee isn't happy, it shows in their productivity and demeanor.

Don't sleep on these not-so-subtle hints, especially if it's happening with multiple employees. One may be a bad seed, but if there's a handful, then it's something wrong with management or the workplace.

Take a closer look to determine the underlying problem so you can fix it. It's also good to find ways to keep workers content. For instance, offer incentives for showing up on time and never missing days of work.

Appreciation gifts can also show you value them as workers, which increases the chances of them sticking around long term.

4 tips for using employee scheduling software

Adopting scheduling software makes life easier for managers. But how should you use it in your restaurant? Here are several ideas.

1. Use automated reminders

Make sure no one forgets they're on the schedule by creating automated reminders the day before. With scheduling software, everyone has access to the mobile app. This allows them to receive alerts wherever they are.

2. Publish your schedule early

Don't wait too long to create employee schedules. If you can make them weeks in advance, even better. This way, your workers have time to request changes and make future plans. This is easier to do with an app, since employees can view it anywhere.

3. Approve shift change requests quickly

Allowing employees to request shift swaps is a good idea. It makes your job easier by empowering your team to create an optimal schedule that works for everyone. Now, it's your job to approve the change requests fast, so it's not left in limbo for too long. The last thing you need is to have no one show up because the approval was last minute.

4. Monitor employee work trends

It becomes easier to set up schedules by reviewing past work trends. Are there particular times or days they request off frequently? How about the number of hours they show up each month? Use this data to improve your scheduling and reduce call-outs.

Start planning your restaurant holiday schedule today

The holidays are fast approaching—what are you doing to prepare your restaurant for the influx of customers? If your schedule is still in the air, then now's the time to plan.

This is key to identifying whether there are worker shortages anywhere in the restaurant. Plus, it'll prepare your teams to manage the holidays ahead.

If you'd like to learn more about improving your restaurant scheduling, then check out How to Schedule Your Staff.

Then when you're ready to get started using scheduling software, try Deputy for free today.