Make Flexible Scheduling Your Secret Weapon in 2021

Thanks to COVID-19 and the government regulations on sanitation, social distancing, and capacity limits that followed, schedule writing is suddenly on the forefront of every restaurant manager’s mind.

A successful schedule reflects both the market demand and needs of the restaurant staff. But, creating such a schedule requires concessions from every party involved. The extreme fluctuations in demand caused by the pandemic make it difficult for managers to accurately predict workforce needs, thereby making their schedules unpredictable.

Research by Masoud Kamalahmadi of the University of Miami, Qiuping Yu of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Yong-Pin Zhou of the University of Washington shows that unpredictable scheduling is especially painful for restaurants.

Known as “real-time” or “just-in-time” scheduling, the team analyzed 1.5 million server-customer transactions that took place over nine months in 25 locations of a national casual-dining chain and discovered that unpredictable schedules often increase employee turnover and a 4.4 percent drop in restaurant sales.

One of the causes the team found was that servers who are asked to stay later on their shifts with little-to-no notice show a significant drop in productivity over employees who are allowed to leave on time.

For Kamalhamadi, the research is timely, especially as restaurants are allowed to reopen and expand their capacity. However, the research also points to the benefits offered by flexible scheduling, a practice he says could be a secret to success for restaurants in 2021.

“When managers know there is a productivity loss for real-time scheduling, they will schedule servers with longer notice,” Kamalhamadi said in a statement.

“At this time of reopening, this is an opportunity for employers in the food and beverage industry to rethink their scheduling practices,” he added.

Flexible scheduling is a practice used by restaurant managers to optimize scheduling needs based on customer demand. For example, restaurants that serve a greater lunch volume than dinner volume would allocate more employees to the earlier shifts. The goal is to offset the added labor costs with sales volume.

This technique certainly isn’t new. In fact, many restaurants use it today. However, where many restaurants fall short is being able to accurately analyze their data to predict future sales volume. The market volatility created by COVID-19 has also made this much more difficult.

In turn, flexible scheduling has emerged as a necessary skill for restaurant managers to master. Research by When I Work, a workforce management software company, found a 60 percent increase in flexible scheduling over a nine-week period ending in November 2020.

Emerging technology like artificial intelligence (AI) has dramatically improved the efficacy of flexible scheduling, allowing companies to offer products that guarantee near-perfect scheduling accuracy based on hyper-localized forecasts which factor every single location and company characteristic.

One of the easiest ways to implement flexible scheduling is to add workforce management software that managers can set and manipulate from a mobile device. This allows managers to optimize the restaurant’s schedule based on real-time information.

Flexible scheduling isn’t just a boon for restaurants either. Research by Quinyx, a data analytics firm, shows that businesses in logistics, healthcare, and retail that don’t use flexible scheduling often lost up to 15 percent of their revenue and overspent on labor by up to 25 percent.

To that end, Quinyx developed an AI-driven scheduling software that provides demand forecasting, strategic planning, labor optimization, time and attendance, scheduling, and customer engagement functionalities.

The product was developed after analyzing over 450,000 schedules from companies in various industries. Quinyx discovered that 30 percent of the schedules analyzed showed overstaffing. An additional 16 percent showed understaffing.

“We are proud to bring to the market new product solutions that will help businesses optimize the way they currently manage their desk-less workforce and give them vital tools to be ready and thrive in 2021 and beyond,” Erik Fjellborg, CEO and founder of Quinyx, said in a statement.

Other companies like 7Shifts provide similar scheduling products. 7Shift’s workforce management software allows businesses to automatically publish schedules and revisions to all employees and provides a communication platform for managers to keep in touch with staff. The reporting features also allow managers to see how their scheduling impacts revenue.

To Chad Halvorson, CEO of Where I Work, flexible scheduling allows businesses to meet today’s widely fluctuating market conditions, which would be “nearly impossible using traditional methods.”

“Flexibility, autonomy and employee empowerment are not only competitive advantages, they are also key to survival and revival during these uncertain times,” he wrote in an article for QSR Magazine.

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