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Schedule writing is one of the most time consuming processes in the restaurant. On top of that it sucks to write, and even when you get it perfect, employees complain. So how can you make this job suck a bit less? I’ll send you through my process that should help to reduce your time. If you don’t have a system or template already that works well for you, you can download a copy of an example restaurant employee schedule here.

Start With A Template

First and foremost you have to have a template if you don’t want to take 3 hours to write a schedule. You likely have employees that

work the same shifts every week. Put all of these shifts on a base template that you start from every week. You can adjust them slightly as needed but if you have a chunk filled in before you even start you’ll save lots of time. If you have a number of employees that work a position every other week it may be a good idea to have two templates that you rotate with.

Your template doesn’t need to have all of you shifts on it, just the consistent shifts that the same employee works every week. Leaving numerous shifts off of the template may actually make it easier to configure because you can fill in the blanks rather than trying to reconfigure.

Section Your Schedule

Split up your section into different departments. List the employees that most commonly work in those sections. If you have employees that work across multiple departments, put them in the highest section or in the section where they work the most.

Color Code

Color coding your schedule may also help. I found it helpful to have opening shifts in a different color. It made it easy to spot if I had full coverage or not.

If you have a patio or deck that takes both bartenders and servers, putting the outdoor employees in different colors allows you to spot them without having to change up your sections.


Have your schedule on the top sheet in an excel workbook with the availability for each employee on the sheet behind it. That way you can flip back and forth between the schedule and easily see if an employee is available that day.

Further, on the main schedule you can put an ‘xx’ in the box for any employee that can never work on that day. See the schedule template if this didn’t make sense.

Weekly Schedules

I know the temptation is there to do two weeks or a month at a time when you do a schedule. The idea is that since it sucks so bad you knock out a month at a time. This sounds good in theory and may work if you only have about 4 total employees who are very committed but doesn’t work as well in larger restaurants.

My recommendation is to put out schedules weekly, too much changes week to week that you’re entire schedule will be blown up by the end of the first week and you’ll have to deal with a ton of complaints. Plus it makes it hard if you have to suspend or fire someone.

Further, as we’ll talk about next, requests off can get really tricky. If you have a two week schedule and require requests off to be in two weeks ahead of time, then an employee has to know what they are doing a month from now and that is just not practical.

If you are doing this specifically for this reason so that you get no requests off, you are doing a disservice to your employees. Restaurateurs already work some of the most inconvenient hours. If you prevent them from asking off any weekend by having complicated request off policies, you’ll likely aggravate your employees or encourage them to work elsewhere.

Fill in Your Requests Off

I recommend having requests off due three days before the schedule is due out. This gives you plenty of time to write out the schedule without a last minute change affecting everything. Have an ask off sheet in convenient area that has a calendar with boxes on each day. Have each employee requesting off put their name in a box, once the boxes are full, no one else may ask off. They can still shift change if scheduled but cannot request off directly. Have a proper number of boxes for employees you can allow off while still filling a full schedule. This makes it first come, first served and makes the schedule writer’s job much easier. Have the ask off calender come out monthly on the fifteenth of the previous month at the same time. In this way, if someone really needs off they know when to come in. It keeps things fair for everyone.

Once you have your requests off sheet, plug all of your requests off into your template moving any conflicting shifts from your template into empty spaces.

Start With Your Toughest Position

Now fill your toughest positions. Every restaurant has a shift or five that only one or two people can work. Fill those first before moving on.

Fill Your Weekends

Next fill your weekends or any other high volume times. Make sure your busiest times are covered. Schedule people on doubles if you need to but try to avoid them if possible.

Fill Your Mornings

Typically the next hardest to fill, get your mornings booked up.

Take Care of Your Best Employees

Now that you have your needs covered, be sure you take care of your best employees. The best shifts should go to your best employees. These should have been part of your initial template already, but make sure that your best are getting the quantity of shifts they desire.

Take Care of Your Reliable Employees

Your best employees are likely your most reliable as well. However, you likely have some up and coming employees that are dependable and reliable. Take care of these employees and try to get them the best shifts still available.

Fill In The Cracks

Finally, fill in the cracks with your ‘two to three shifts a week’ employees. Try to give them the amount of shifts they desire whenever possible. These employees play an important role in your business and should be taken care of as much as possible without sacrificing your best or most reliable employees.

And that’s it, your schedule should be done. Post it and wait for the complaints and shift changes. Just because you have a better system doesn’t mean the job is any less thankless, but hopefully you won’t dread writing it as much. At least with the time you saved, you can go do something more enjoyable like inventory or paying bills. It’s the industry but we love it.