Shift Schedules for Restaurant Employees: Types, Pros & Cons

One of the most important tasks of a manager or owner in the food service industry is the creation of efficient employee shift schedules. If the other working elements of your restaurant are to run smoothly, the restaurant shift schedule must act as a solid building block for your entire organization.  

You might not realize it initially, but the employee shift schedule directly affects the quality of your food, inventory, and employee morale. Each of these factors heavily influences your revenue and bottom line, so understanding how to craft the best employee shift schedule for your restaurant accurately and smoothly is vital.

What is a Shift Schedule?

A restaurant’s shift schedule is a time window, typically grouped in weeks or months, that outlines how and when your employees work. Most general managers create their shift schedules that cover a decent block of time, whether that’s either a week to two weeks or even a month at a time. This includes the times that kitchen staff, servers, hosts, maintenance, and other hired help must be present to execute their roles, giving careful consideration to the busiest shift.

Your restaurant shift schedule must maintain a careful balance that satisfies the financial demands and structure of your business, but also respects employee availability, healthy work-life balance needs and labor compliance regulations of your employees. You can only legally demand so many hours from your staff, and you don’t want them overworked. On the flip side, each member of your restaurant team also needs to work a specific number of hours per week to maintain their cost of living, so consider that as well.

Labor costs must also be kept at a modest total – too many employee hours or shifts on the schedule quickly strain your budget, which is never good in a competitive market like the food service industry. However, you’ll find yourself understaffed by not allocating enough employee hours on the shift schedule, which can be equally disastrous if you’re not careful when you are forecasting demand.

Satisfying all these requirements takes a delicate balancing act that allows the restaurant to run like a well-oiled machine. However, leaving a slight amount of flexibility helps – you don’t want the entire operation to implode if one person misses a shift.

Every restaurant is different, and what works for your establishment might not work for someone else’s. The first step to success requires examining your business and its structure to determine the type of shift schedule that works best.

Determining the Most Efficient Shift Schedules

Creating an employee shift schedule is more than just jotting down a week’s worth of dates and counting down until each employee receives their requested number of hours. Sometimes the needs of your employees, including employee availability, may conflict with the needs of the restaurant, and it’s your job to find a comfortable solution.

Making a list of essential points regarding the staff and a separate list of highlighted areas concerning the business is the most efficient way to determine the best restaurant shift schedule.

Employee Needs and Requirements

Focus on the following areas helps with the employee end of the business:

  • Ensure each employee has a clear understanding of their role at work. If employees are standing around unsure of what to do, you’re essentially giving money away. This is equally as detrimental as food waste.  
  • Give employees enough notice if changes arise in their schedule. Effective internal communication is key here. Your restaurant staff has personal commitments and obligations outside of work that may require advanced notice to rearrange. Providing each staff member with sufficient hours to sustain is also important.
  • Give employees the option to do shift trades or pick up additional hours. Remember the mention above regarding flexibility? Flexibility helps your employees keep work-life balance and reduces the need to call in additional staff. It also allows your most hard-working employees to pick up lucrative shifts that will improve their financial standing.
  • Maintain a tight grip over specific time-off requests. Sometimes this means scheduling these requests weeks or months ahead of time. Preferably, you should have these details outlined in your employee handbook. That way, employees are clear on your expectations of them during busier shifts.

By focusing on all of these things and keeping a balanced schedule that caters to employee needs, you will keep employee satisfaction high.

Company Needs and Requirements

Placing attention on the following areas benefits the needs of your brand and restaurant:

  • Finding the perfect balance based on busy and slow times so you’re not over or understaffed. This is important from a payroll standpoint and the customer experience. Understaffing can increase daytime fatigue, reduce customer satisfaction (if wait times are higher, sometimes food quality can suffer), and you can kiss improved efficiency goodbye.
  • Maintaining a realistic schedule helps balance workloads, which leads to higher employee retention. Whether this is a fixed or rotating schedule depends on your business, but it will lead to more efficient service.
  • List each employee and decide their designated type of schedule (split, fixed) to maximize what they bring to the table and also work best according to their capabilities.
  • Creating an outline that integrates into your company software or POS eliminates handwriting a new shift schedule every period.

Now that there’s an understanding of how to craft an employee shift schedule efficiently, the next step entails understanding the specific types of shifts so you can plug in the information from above.

employee shift schedules

Types of Restaurant Shift Schedules

The following shift schedules are the most popular in the food service industry. Weigh your options based on the information determined using the lists from the previous section to produce an efficient schedule.

Fixed Shifts

What is a Fixed Shift Schedule? 

A fixed shift schedule is the most common across all workplaces. In this system, employees work a designated number of hours each pay period, and the typical schedule consists of a 40-hour work week. Ordinary hours include 7 am – 3 pm, 3 pm – 11 pm, and 11 pm – 7 am.


  • Allows management to plan further ahead
  • It becomes easier to calculate labor costs
  • Easier to provide each employee with a regularly designated schedule


  • It doesn’t account for unexpected events, so you must rely on calling in employees who would otherwise have the day off. Management must be prepared to fill in during emergencies.

Open Shift

What is an Open Shift Schedule? 

An open shift schedule allows employees to work any time during the day or night, depending on requirements and availability. Management usually uses this format to fill any gaps in the regular schedule.


  • Provides employees a high amount of flexibility
  • Allows employees to receive additional hours or overtime
  • Suitable for part-time or seasonal employees


  • It doesn’t work well with smaller establishments or during slower periods
Restaurant Solution

On-Call Shifts

What is an On-Call Shift Schedule? 

On-call shift schedules allow employees to work on an as-needed basis. Management typically notifies employees the day before or the shift before they’re needed. These shifts are implemented for as long as necessary.


  • Works excellent for holidays and busy seasons
  • Ideal during situations when employees call out sick
  • Allows management to control staffing during busy periods without investing in full-time employees


  • Not ideal for steady year-round restaurants that require full-time and fixed shift employees
  • Not satisfactory for employees who need a certain number of hours

Rotating Shifts

What is a Rotating Shift Schedule? 

Rotating shift schedules entail employees working a specific schedule one week and switching with another employee the following week.


  • Allows employees to rotate who gets weekends off
  • Great for employees who need flexibility
  • Allows management to predict labor costs while still giving employees short-notice time off or additional hours


  • Not ideal for employees who need specific hours due to childcare or other obligations
  • This could lead to a higher turnover rate

Split Shifts

What is a Split Shift Schedule? 

A split shift schedule is when an employee works two separate shifts in a single 24-hour period. For example, an employee may work the overnight shift from 11 pm – 7 am and return to work from 3 pm – 11 pm.


  • Works better for employees who prefer more hours but shorter shifts
  • Keeps the number of employees to a minimum during slower periods
  • Allows employees to work two separate positions


  • Risk violating compliance regulation
  • Risk of employee burnout

Swing Shifts

What is a Swing Shift Schedule? 

Swing shift schedules are hours outside of the regular schedule. For example, if an organization has normal shift hours of 3 pm – 11 pm or 7 am – 3 pm, employees may work from 2 pm – 9 pm or something similar. These shifts usually take place over two normal shifts.


  • Ideal for busy times of year
  • Great for more prominent businesses
  • Allows employees to pick up additional hours
  • Good for part-time or seasonal workers


  • Difficult to predict labor costs
  • It doesn’t allow a regular or predictable schedule

Overtime Shifts

What is an Overtime Shift Schedule? 

Overtime shift schedules are hours that go beyond the standard 40-hour workweek.


  • Allow management to award employees with additional hours
  • Ideal for busier times of the year
  • Allows for additional flexibility and additional hours while still predicting labor costs


  • It can strain the budget because of the required time and a half-pay grade.

A Solution to Your Scheduling Challenges

Shift scheduling isn’t as challenging if you’re armed with the right tools. SynergySuite software provides a plethora of solutions for the food service industry.

Among the most powerful tools is the restaurant scheduling software that makes crafting your schedule more manageable than ever. With SynergySuite, managers and owners have access to the following capabilities:

  • Remain compliant with labor laws
  • Compare hourly sales to labor costs
  • Send text reminders for shift scheduling
  • Biometric clock in and clock out
  • Track overtime
  • Manage employee requests

Management and owners benefit the most from the software scheduling of SynergySuite by cutting down the time it takes to craft shift schedules and focus on other areas of importance.

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Leverage Technology to Manage Restaurant Labor Costs

Between increased costs, labor shortages, and socio-economic complexities - staying on top of labor costs is more important than ever for franchise owners.

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