How to Properly Staff Your Restaurant for the Holidays

Let me begin by saying that staffing for the holidays is a year-round process.  Granting requested days off throughout the year and keeping your staff balanced between full and part time employees sets you up for a more flexible staff during the holidays. However, there are some additional things you can do to make sure your restaurant is well staffed for the holiday season.

Here are 6 ways to properly staff your restaurant for the holidays:

1)   Pick a Holiday – Allow your staff to sign up for the holiday they would like off.  First of all, you will find that some people want to work every holiday because their family is not near or because the money is just too good to pass up.  You will also find that family traditions mean that some staff members only need certain parts of the day off on holidays. Determine how many people you need for each holiday and from there determine how many people can take off. Let that be the number of available slots on the sign-up sheet.  So, you might ask staff to pick one from Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Or maybe you allow them to pick from a combination like Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  It’s a giant puzzle that can be fun to put together.

2)   Pay Attention to History – Historical data will show you that dining trends change during the holidays.  Use that data to schedule only the people you need.  This allows staff to have time off and participate in some of the fun things happening during the season.  In most of the restaurants I have managed, the week before Thanksgiving and Black Friday are very slow lunches.  Lunch business picks up progressively each week leading up to Christmas. Weekends in December are meant for holiday parties and usually not in a restaurant.  The large parties in the restaurant were usually all the business I would see, so it was a great opportunity to give some rare Friday and Saturday nights off. These are just a few examples of what years of sales data will tell you.  In using it to create smart schedules you will find that sometimes a Saturday night off to go to a Christmas party in December is more important than being off on Christmas day.

3)   Welcome College Students and Teachers –  Often, I have heard managers complain about hiring college students because they always leave and teachers because they cut down to one shift a week in the fall. That may be true of some students and teachers, but if you ask the right questions during the interview you can always hire those students that want to work a few shifts when they are home for the holidays and teachers that want you to load them up with shifts once the kids leave for holiday break.  The trick is to keep their contact information and stay in touch a few weeks before you need them.  Once again, if they can only give you a few shifts it helps to give breaks to your full-time staff.  I also find that because these people have not been working every day of the holiday rush, they have a great attitude that helps keep your entire team upbeat and positive.

4)   Share Staff – There are lots of businesses that slow down around the holidays and have to cut back on shifts drastically. Convention business during December is slow, so the restaurants and hotels around the convention center are slow as well.  The restaurants around colleges become ghost towns at holiday break.  Seek out the restaurants and hotels that may be cutting hours for their staff and partner with them to help their team get through the cuts.  The holidays are the worst time to lose half of your income, so these employees will be forever grateful and do a good job for you.

5)   Hire Extra Support Staff – No matter what, your team will end up working more hours, and often overtime, every week until the holidays are done.  It is impossible to train a server or a cook at the last minute, but you can hire support staff to make jobs easier for those people.  A couple extra bussers can not only work as bussers but can also refill water glasses, remove dirty plates, bring more bread, roll silverware and a multitude of other tasks that end up stressing servers out.  Extra dishwashers can be trained to do most of the cleaning at the end of the shift allowing line cooks that have worked multiple doubles to get out at a decent time and go get ready for the next shift.

6)   Take Care of Your People –  I remember going to work every December day and looking at a dining room full of people enjoying their families and friends, drinking and laughing, opening presents and I thought “I wonder what that it like? It must be so nice.”  Your staff feels the same way.  They sacrifice a lot of the joy of the season to earn their pay.  It is usually the biggest paychecks they get every year, but emotionally it still takes its toll.  The best way to stay staffed during the holiday is to look after your staff. Hang stockings for them, make family meals, bring in cupcakes and candy, have eggnog Wednesday’s, read the Night Before Christmas to them on Christmas Eve, have carolers pop in for a pre-shift meeting.  These are your extended family members.  Treat them like family and they will get up the next day, iron their uniform and do it all over again with a smile.

Michael Maxwell – Partner, Blue Orbit Restaurant Consulting

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