January 12, 2015 |

Scheduling: Pencil Me In

By DeAnn Owens

Employee work scheduleMaking a schedule that actually works takes time and effort from management and staff

Putting together the pieces of a scheduling puzzle requires flexibility, time and the ability to see into the future.

Operators need to balance the demands of their restaurant’s customers with the availability of their employees, handle last-minute staff requests and make sure every area of the restaurant is covered –– and all on a daily basis.

It can be a complicated juggling act, but with practice and a few key rules in place, operators will find their way to scheduling success.

“A lot of managers’ train of thought is to give equal time to closing and opening. I tend to disagree with that thinking,” says restaurant consultant Ron Santibanez of Profit Line Consulting in California. “There are special skills that I need my opening crew and closing crew to have. I like to stay on schedule with people; I like to have a bit of order in my schedule.”

For Brad Vinton, owner of Toppers Pizza in St. Paul and Burnsville, Minnesota, thinking ahead makes sense in scheduling.

“I train my people to look more into the future — that’s what I talk about a lot with my management,” Vinton says. “Servers look at 12 p.m. and think 12:05 p.m., but I want them to look at 5 p.m. and see into the future more. Let’s make sure we’re scheduling appropriately for events and outside events that are affecting our business to make sure we are staffed appropriately and people are making money.”

For most operators, scheduling begins early with potential staff and often caters to their needs.

“During the interview process, we know their availability and that can determine who we hire,” says Mike Sims, owner of Your Pie in Jacksonville and Fleming Island, Florida. “If someone can’t work the hours we have the most demand for, we might not be able to make the hire.”

“We schedule by more personal preferences,” Vinton says. “The biggest part is that staffing is at appropriate levels. We don’t require everyone to work a certain number of shifts.”

With every new hire, Sims uses a schedule availability worksheet that is updated along with quarterly reviews.

“We start with an understanding of our associate’s needs,” Sims says. “We try our very best to accommodate their long-term scheduling needs or things that come up. You have to be rigid in some respect, but we try to be as flexible as we can. It’s a two-way street — being flexible with scheduling is like an employee benefit — it makes the work environment a better place without costing any money.”

By paying attention to individual preferences, Mac Ryan, owner of Mac’s Pizza Pub in Cincinnati, Ohio, can customize staff recognition. Employee Schedule

“The great majority of our servers and employees in general are students,” Ryan says. “We have very little turnover as we try very hard to accommodate their schedules. That means that the reward system that most people use is harder to apply here as we are primarily based on individual availability. Naturally, we do the math, and we know what servers ring in the higher sales and when the need arises to choose who gets the prime shifts we use that data. In my experience, the best reward I have found is to offer some bar shifts to the servers who we feel are stepping up. They feel rewarded for two reasons: the money, but also it is perceived as the proverbial ‘pat on the back’ from management, and they always like the recognition.”

Scheduling a young staff presents unique issues. “We have a young staff and we sell beer and wine. You have to have an 18 year old on duty all the time. Eighty-five percent are high school students. We have a handful of 18 year olds to do it — sometimes I schedule more hours than I need to,” Sims says.

For Vinton, whose staff includes a lot of college students, the biggest challenge is the accountability factor. “If you can’t work a certain shift because of a final or class, make sure you let us know ahead of time,” Vinton says.

“With a young staff, having to work is not a necessity to survival,” Santibanez says. “You will have those employees where work is not their first priority.” Utilizing a technology tweak to his schedule allows Vinton’s young staff 24-hour access.

“One of the things we did to fix the problem of calls into the restaurant asking about the schedule is that we made a shift to a Cloud-based scheduling system. It can be accessed by any smart phone or computer. It has everyone’s number, e-mail address and day-off requests — which still have to go through manager’s approval, but it puts the responsibility on them, not on us,” Vinton says. “It really helped us make the next kind of leap with scheduling issues with our younger staff.”

Waiting to finalize the schedule can decrease last minute changes.

“We put out the schedule a few days before the schedule starts; we hold off as long as we can to accommodate day-off requests,” Sims says. “We send out a weekly newsletter to all of our associates that has a link to the schedule and time-off requests.”

Finding the right scheduling formula is tasking for any operator.

“My goal is I want people busy, but not over busy or over crazy because service will suffer. It is a sweet spot and it’s difficult to do,” Vinton says. “We want our best people to get the best hours. When we’re slower, we try to cut. We know how many deliveries our drivers will have during a shift, and we schedule accordingly.”

Santibanez says there is no magic way to find that balance.

“Eventually you’ll know the flow of sales and understand the maximum number of servers and kitchen staff to get the highest level of efficiency. You’ll know it when
you see it; it’s an intuitive thing that managers will develop over time,” Santibanez says. “I recommend to operators to develop a master schedule and try to keep it stable and to use an online tool.”

DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Dayton, Ohio. She specializes in features and human interest stories.