Today, more than one million restaurant owners, managers and staff use web-based restaurant scheduling software. And while there are plenty of solid return on investment factors—such as controlling labor costs, improving workforce efficiency, or increasing team productivity—that explain why so many restaurants are moving their scheduling online, some less-tangible benefits are often just as important.
I prefer to consider more subjective, emotional factors that often drive buying decisions for restaurants that place value on team unity and happiness as much as on hitting labor cost targets. So rather than run through ROI calculations, I'd like to consider "smiles," "serenity," and "freedom" as significant drivers in the move from paper to the internet for restaurant staff scheduling.
Mention the words “restaurant scheduling” to most restaurant people and they will immediately frown. For instance, let’s say you are a manager and you create the weekly schedule. You probably have to come in to the office for several hours each week to build the schedule, often spending several hours sifting through voice mails, texts, emails, and chicken scratch-covered scraps of paper to try to determine who can work, and when.
Then you have to think through subtle variables such as which team members work well together, the weather forecast, and a matrix of different factors that help you create what you believe will be the perfect schedule, one that will help your restaurant run smoothly and efficiently. You are most likely interrupted multiple times as you attempt to complete your work, and often you need to make a phone call or two to track down employees to ask them to decipher what they have written.
Alas, you finally finish your masterpiece, and you post it on the corkboard in the back office, sit back, admire your work, and smile.
Yet within minutes, chaos ensures. Phone calls light up the lines from staff wanting to know when they work next week, or if they can trade shifts, or why they have to work Wednesday dinner when they told you three weeks ago they had to take Wednesday night off to study for an exam.
The next thing you know, your smile turns into a frown. And of course that’s only the beginning of the changes that will take place throughout the week, leaving your beautifully handcrafted schedule looking nothing like it did when you first posted it, and you looking forward to creating next week’s schedule like you look forward to a migraine.
Restaurant managers and staff that use a web-based restaurant scheduling solution don’t deal with these same frustrations. Employees plug in their availability and time-off requests in one place online; managers call up schedule templates with a click of a button or simply copy forward previous schedules from week to week; staff members instantly receive their individual schedules via text, email and on the Internet using their phone, tablet or laptop; and shift trades are requested and approved/declined on the fly by staff and managers using their web-enabled phones.
“I never thought I would smile when discussing our restaurant’s schedule, but online scheduling has turned one of our biggest challenges into one of our easiest tasks, and I can’t be happier about that,” says Scott Maitland, owner of Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The only time most restaurant people use the word “serenity” when it relates to scheduling is when they throw their hands up in the air and yell “SERENITY NOW!” re-enacting the famous Frank Costanza scene from the TV show Seinfeld. That’s because they face an endless stream of scheduling fire drills, mistakes, and changes as well as a cluttered, unorganized mess of sticky notes, backs of old receipts, and coffee-stained scraps of paper.
Not so in restaurants that use web-based scheduling tools. Everything is nicely organized and everybody is in sync. Owners, managers and staff have one easy place to store information and communicate. Time off requests, shift trade requests, shift notes, employee files, training documents and more are all conveniently stored in one place and accessible from anywhere, anytime from the palm of your hand or the tips of your fingers.
“I can’t tell you how much more organized we are now that we moved our scheduling online. It’s gotten rid of so many headaches and made everything run so much smoother at our restaurants,” says Steve Quarles, Regional Operations Manager, Hooters of South Florida.
Most restaurant people imagine a tether tying them to the restaurant when they think of scheduling. Whether it’s the manager piecing the schedule together, the employee who need to put in his time off request or the owner who wants to know who is on her bartending crew tonight, all scheduling-related issues happen on the premises.
However, the millions of owners, managers and staff at restaurants around the world using web-based scheduling enjoy the freedom of not only accessing their restaurant schedules, but also communicating with each other and making adjustments from wherever they are. All they need is an online connection and any web-enabled device, such as a phone, a laptop, or a tablet. This cuts that proverbial tether and creates an important sense of freedom.
“I LOVE being able to find out when I’m working, put in time off requests, and even pick up shifts from the convenience of my iPhone, and all of my teammates feel the same way. It’s a huge benefit of working at Pi Pizzeria,” says Kelsey Zehner, a server at Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis.
If your team frowns and gets anxious when the topic of scheduling arises, or they feel tethered to the restaurant when it comes to any scheduling-related issues, there are several web-based solutions available. Most providers focus on certain niches (independent restaurants, chains, etc.), and all of them offer solutions that turn frowns into smiles and anxiety into serenity, and cut the unnecessary tethers that tie your team to your restaurant for issues that could be just as easily handled on the fly from anywhere.
Wil Brawley is a partner at Schedulefly, a company that provides restaurants with Web-based staff-scheduling and communication software. He is he author of Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Twenty Owners Share Their Recipes for Success.