Restaurant Shift Planning

How to establish an effective restaurant shifts plan


Managing a staff schedule is one of many duties performed by a restaurant manager. It takes a solid knowledge of your personnel to form a successful restaurant shifts plan each week or month.

A well-organized process of communicating the schedule to employees can result in increased productivity and time saved. Whereas a dysfunctional setup can create chaos and worker disengagement, the number of staff you need and whom you need at what times are key points of information.

If you are just starting out, you will need to obtain these data along with many other key points, to start building a successful shift schedule.

Breaking it down

Depending on your opening hours and meal specialties, shifts will look different for every small restaurant. Many factors affect shift length but the average shift in the USA is about 6 hours. Here are some typical restaurant shifts and a few of the duties associated with them:

1. Breakfast

Popular on weekends in most restaurants but some diners maintain a dedicated weekday customer base. Usually, with quick turnover and low cheque totals, the breakfast crowd gets in-and-out and on their way to work or elsewhere.

Staff is expected to work from about 7 am – 12 pm. It mostly consists of in-house orders, coffee pouring, and asking how customers would like their eggs. Staff also needs to get the seating area set up, ensure items like coffee are being prepared, and that the team is ready to serve right away.

Be careful on weekdays as customers are often pressed for time and would be unhappy waiting for service. Weekends, although more relaxed from a customer’s time perspective, are often more crowded for breakfast.

2. Brunch

Popular on weekends, the brunch time is defined as 11 am – 2 pm. Trendy restaurants have recently targeted millennial patrons who often stay longer to socialize and order more items.

If you do offer a brunch special at your restaurant, you should factor in that customers often attend brunch in medium-sized groups, stay about 1 hour, and often order items throughout their visit. If your restaurant receives a fair amount of brunchers, it could be a good opportunity to onboard new employees as the turnover is slower and the stress level is lower.

3. Lunch

A dynamic restaurant shift that requires attention and experience, lunch combines speed, eat-in and take-out orders. Of course, your location will dictate the demands of customers. But you should be prepared to serve both sit-down and take-out customers.

Some workers enjoy sitting down with colleagues for a nice meal. Others prefer to phone ahead and send an envoy to pick up their order. Either way, you will need a team that can accept and fill rapid orders and open seats and tables for new customers quickly.

Customers who are on lunch break have no time to wait. Thus, they are often averse to waiting even a couple of minutes for a table at lunch. Ensure your staff is able to handle these demands. Once the rush is complete, there will be some downtime to prepare and regroup for the next big shift.

4. Dinner

The prime-time shift for most restaurants and where most restaurants generate the greatest amount of revenue. Lunch is usually a mad dash for 1,5 hours whereas a quality dinner-focused restaurant can sustain guests from 4 pm – 9 pm or even later.

Staff members for this shift often work from just before the dinner period until the food has stopped being served or it is closing time. During dinner shifts, like with lunch, restaurants receive all types of customers and orders. But it’s especially important to have an experienced team during dinner when at all possible.

Customers are more likely during dinner to order dessert, a few more drinks, and tip more when the service is friendly. A quality dining experience is expected and rewarded by most restaurant-goers.

A guys is serving breakfast to customers in a restaurant -

Planning a shift schedule

When sitting down with a manager or alone to plan a shift schedule, there’s a number of things to take into consideration, so your restaurant can run smoothly and efficiently without any foreseeable drama. Here are some major ideas that should be considered:

High dollar shifts

Service industry workers in North America depend heavily on tips and you should keep this in mind when planning a schedule. Staffs look forward to receiving a high-dollar shift as it will put more money in their pocket.

High-dollar shifts are the busiest restaurant shifts and are mostly later-in-the-week dinner slots where customers spend more. These shifts can be exhausting for workers but they are rewarded nicely after a long day.

Ensure that your employees are all getting at least one high-dollar shift per week and the opportunity to work high-dollar shifts on a regular basis. You want your most veteran staff on the floor for a busy Friday night but work in newcomers so they can gain experience and earn money as well.

Staffing needs

Once you have a good feel for a daily week at your restaurant and what days are busiest, you can really hone your plan and figure out how many employees are needed on which days.

Always consider events like holidays, sporting events, school events, and community occasions that may affect business. Being overwhelmed with customers happens to every restaurant at some point. But do your best to adjust to predictable events, so that customers always have a high opinion of your restaurant.


In the USA, employees earn an extra 50% of their wage for every hour worked after 40 hours in a week. This can be an incentive for workers to put more hours in but can also create some problems.

A well-planned schedule can cap the hours for workers and give others a chance to work. Consistently having staff work overtime is normally not sustainable from a business or moral standpoint.

Employing minors

Federal wage laws have been enacted to prevent the exploitation of children in the workplace. Factors such as age, hazardous work, and working on school days versus on non-school days are all factors that must be considered if you are employing teens under 18 years old.

Time off

Although you may be working 7 days a week as a small business owner, it is a different story as an employee. Find a good balance when employees request specific days off but understand sometimes you cannot please everyone.

Do your best to give employees two days off in a row, so that they are motivated and refreshed when coming back to work.


New employees need some time to learn the ropes and adapt to the business environment. Ensure that new staff members are learning from exemplary employees who can act as positive role models for them. Strategically managing with whom a new employee is working can help create a thriving team atmosphere for your business.

2 plates are delivering to the table of a restaurant -

Step by step setting up your schedule

1. Establish a template and routine

Time management is key for any business owner, and you can really net some time or lose valuable hours when testing the best way to post your schedule. A foolproof idea is to create routine and familiarity. Release the schedule around the same time each week or month so that employees know exactly when their shifts will be known.

Allow a period for recommendations or vacation notices but enforce a strict deadline to submit their requests. There are various ways to write out the plan but a calendar-style format rarely fails.

A common practice is writing each employee’s initials on a weekly grid with the time of their shift each day. Include other information on the page such as their manager for that shift, contact info, store hours, and holidays but make it easy to read.

However, you wish to write or print the plan, make sure employees know what to expect on a week-to-week basis. Always refer employees to this table if they ask you personally when they are working.

2. Work backward

Start by planning your busiest day. You’ll have free reign to put out your best employees and construct the necessary team to get the job done. From your busiest day, move to the second busiest day, and so on.

This strategy will eliminate panicking to plan hectic days. Most busy times for restaurants are on weekends which can cause problems if you plan in a traditional way from Monday to Sunday.

3. Use software if it’s right for you

As with many forms of scheduling and communications, shift planning has found its way online. Numerous online programs and softwares, which seek to make this job easier, exist today.

The plan is submitted digitally and can be seen by all employees. Changes are requested online and must be approved by managers.

Introducing online shift plans can allow smartphone-savvy employees to access their shift plan anywhere changes can be requested more quickly. But some owners may consider this software an unnecessary headache and prefer the old-fashioned written method.

4. Hold everyone accountable

Once the plan has been written, make sure everyone knows there is now no excuse for not knowing the shifts or requesting time off. Keeping your strict deadline for changes will allow you to point to the fact that you have rules which must be followed.

Making exceptions can lead to chaos, as any leader knows, so try your best to be consistent in this area. Holding yourself accountable means publishing the plan when you say you will and looking out for your employees by giving them a balanced weekly shift schedule.

Your employees look to you for guidance in many ways. Shift scheduling is an important issue where you must lead and control the identity of your restaurant.

Prepare for shift changes

Shift changes will occur sometimes after the shift plan has been posted to your employees whether you like it or not. Unforeseen events and emergencies are a part of daily life and you should empathize with your employees whenever possible.

A good strategy is to make sure all changes are approved by you so that undesirable work teams are not formed. Staff members almost always seek somebody to “switch” with them on their own. But it is valuable to remind them that their changes must ultimately be approved by the owner or manager. Restaurant shift planning software allows for this approval as well.