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Do you need an employee scheduling system for your restaurant?

Explore what these systems are, their key benefits and costs, and how other operators are choosing the right system for their business

Running a restaurant is one of the hardest jobs you can have. Those called to the profession seem to have a gift for multi-tasking (call it juggling knives?). Between managing inventory, making great food, and keeping the kitchen running smoothly, it can be easy to underestimate the amount of time and effort it takes to effectively manage a team of employees.


With staffing challenges being what they are, restaurants are doing everything they can to hire, train and retain the best people. For some operators, an employee scheduling system is one of the ways they're making things better both for their team and their customers.

What is an employee scheduling system?

An employee scheduling system is a digital tool designed to help restaurant operators efficiently manage work schedules and team communications. A digital system goes beyond the traditional pen-and-paper or spreadsheet methods by offering features such as automatic shift assignments, employee availability tracking, shift swaps, and real-time notifications.

Key benefits for owners, managers and staff

Time savings is one of the most important benefits. Automating the scheduling process can save managers hours each week.

It can help you manage labor costs. By optimizing staff schedules, you can ensure that you're not overstaffing during slower periods or understaffing during peak times.

It can help you improve employee satisfaction. Giving your staff access to their schedules from anywhere and allowing them to request time off or swap shifts easily can lead to happier, more engaged employees, and fewer scheduling errors. This is increasingly true for younger employees who have been raised using their phones for everything.

“They didn’t have a scheduling system at my first job. The manager kept everyone’s availability on sticky notes, which was really inefficient. She was constantly scheduling me to work shifts during class, when I’d told her I wasn’t available. It was frustrating and made me feel like I was letting her down. It's one of the main reasons I eventually quit”

- Jordan, age 21, server

Costs and calculating ROI

Employee scheduling systems typically charge a monthly fee based on the number of users or locations. Prices can range from as little as $10 per month to over $100 per month for advanced features and larger operations.

It can be hard to measure your actual ROI, but you might start by considering the time your managers will save each week in setting and communicating schedules. Then calculate an average amount each week for reductions in labor from more efficient scheduling, and potential increases in revenue from improved employee performance and customer satisfaction. It may become clear that the benefits of the system outweigh the costs.

“We use HotSchedules at Washington, and Sling at Drake. Both systems make it easy to keep everyone organized with shift assignments and time off requests. A favorite feature is shift swap -- so no employees can switch shifts without a manager's approval. My manager at Washington prefers HotSchedules, while I prefer the Sling interface. Both work well.”

- Jenna, Owner

Leading employee scheduling systems

There are lots of employee scheduling systems to choose from. Some are standalone systems while others are integrated into other tech systems. When evaluating employee scheduling solutions, consider how easy the system is to learn, and whether the system integrates with your POS, your back office and payroll.

HotSchedules: HotSchedules offers advanced forecasting and reporting capabilities that help optimize labor costs and scheduling efficiency. HotSchedules merged with Fourth in 2019 bringing employee scheduling to the hospitality portfolio which also includes inventory management, on-demand pay, HR management and business analytics.

Sling: A full-service employee scheduling solution, Sling lets you build,  communicate and manage schedules with ease. Toast acquired Sling in 2022 and added it to Toast’s Payroll & Team Management product suite, which also includes Toast Payroll, Toast Tips Managers and Toast Pay Card & PayOut.

7shifts: Designed specifically for the restaurant industry, 7shifts provides tools tailored to managing a restaurant workforce, including compliance with local labor laws and integration with point-of-sale systems.

Investing in an employee scheduling system can bring numerous benefits to your restaurant, from saving time and reducing labor costs to improving employee satisfaction. While there is an upfront cost involved, the potential ROI from increased efficiency and reduced scheduling errors makes it a worthwhile investment for some operators. The right employee scheduling system can be a step toward a smoother operation and a more profitable business.

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