Labor LawsPredictive SchedulingStaff

A Closer Look At Restaurant Staff Scheduling

Crafting a restaurant’s schedule that meets the needs of employees and businesses can be challenging. The many variables that go into keeping a restaurant adequately staffed and keeping that staff happy can test the resolve of even the best of veteran restaurant schedule makers. Although full-service restaurants across the country share policies and principles around how they staff, scheduling can look very different from one restaurant to another.

These differences are signatures of what makes each establishment unique and what makes restaurant employee scheduling practices, unlike other industries. Location, type of restaurant, target clientele, and even the weather are considered when crafting a restaurant’s scheduled practice specific to an establishment. Consideration of employee needs and hours, local events, or unexpected weather events can impact how a restaurant is staffed. All these moving parts can sometimes be why best practices in scheduling are sometimes overlooked.

Flexibility is King

Many workers come into the service industry because of schedule flexibility. A flexible schedule allows these workers to take time off as needed by swapping or getting shifts covered. They can also maximize their time and money under this model. Workers can claim shifts outside of what they have been assigned or group shifts close together to have blocks of days off. Soft in and out times also allow workers to come to work a bit later or leave their shifts early to take care of personal business.

In recent years labor groups have put a spotlight on service industry scheduling. They have tried their best in labor-forward areas of the country to commandeer service industry scheduling practices. Recently these labor groups have managed to get a foothold in deciding what is best for workers when it comes to when and how they work in our industry.

Secure Scheduling

In 2017 Seattle passed a broad version of FREO called “secure scheduling” to regulate how employers hired and scheduled restaurant employees. The law was labor’s reaction to  “Just in Time” Scheduling Software used in retail establishments to schedule based on when customers are shopping. Independent restaurants were thrust into a fight over scheduling practices.  Scheduling that afforded workers freedom and flexibility and allowed employers to properly staff unique to the restaurant industry was suddenly being legislated against in the name of worker advocacy.

Our Time Counts

According to labor activists, employers not giving workers timely notice of the schedule was the reason for attacking restaurant scheduling practices. They called for posting schedules “two weeks in advance” and sold the idea with the rallying cry “Our Time Counts.”   Beyond the slogan, the ordinance buried regulations on shift trades, close/opens, and in and out times. 

What workers and employers saw as flexibility was now branded “unpredictability.” Employers unable to follow the intricacies of the new scheduling practices would be fined “predictability pay” by the city through the “Office of Labor Standards.”

Workers and owners came together to push back and managed to stop the labor groups from burdening smaller independent restaurants with the new scheduling law. They were also successful in keeping the legislation from coopting workers’ ability to swap or pick up shifts. 

The Seattle fight over scheduling was just the beginning. Since 2017, labor groups across the country have attempted to burden full-service restaurants with scheduling laws almost identical to Seattle’s Secure Scheduling Ordinance. In many states, this type of legislation has been rebranded as “Predictive Scheduling” but is always some reiteration of Seattle’s Secure Scheduling Ordinance. 

Best Practices are Key

Best practices look different from restaurant to restaurant. Taking care that independent full-service restaurants don’t come under labor scrutiny will no doubt take effort on the part of the industry. Finding best practices that strike the balance between staffing the restaurant properly and workers’ needs will definitely lead to easier recruitment and employee retention.


What best scheduling practice can an employer implement today?

Creating a consistent schedule where an employee works the same days every week should be the standard at any restaurant. Employers should no longer be writing schedules that are completely different every week. Workers should only be scheduled on days they commit to an employer. This allows a worker to craft an optimal work/life balance where they are allowed to use the flexibility of the schedule to pick up or swap shifts.

Has Secure Scheduling been a good thing for workers?

In 2019, a two-year study on the impact of Seattle’s Secure Scheduling law was released. It showed little positive impact on restaurant workers’ schedules. Managers reported having trouble adhering to the law due to the confusing nature of the ordinance. Crafting restaurant schedules under the lens of Secure Scheduling didn’t make sense for many employers. However, being able to put out a schedule two weeks in advance was easily done for many. 

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