Fixed schedules in restaurants: A definitive guide

By Jenna Murrell|Jul 19, 2023|7:00 am CDT

There’s a common challenge that both restaurant employers and employees face: scheduling. For restaurant owners and operators, optimizing labor costs directly impacts whether your restaurant thrives or dies. On the flip side, scheduling affects employees’ day-to-day lives and can play a big part in motivating your restaurant staff.

Although there are many ways to approach employee scheduling for your restaurant, we’ll focus specifically on fixed schedules in this comprehensive guide. We’ll talk about what fixed schedules are and how they can create a win-win for restaurants and their employees. We’ll also look at some of the potential downsides.

And don’t worry. We’ll give plenty of attention to one of your biggest pain points—compliance. We’ll talk about how fixed schedules fit in with your need to ensure employees’ schedules work for your restaurant and your team while still complying with local, state, and national legislation.

Now, let’s dive into everything you ever wanted to know about fixed schedules in the restaurant industry.

What is a fixed schedule?

So, what do we mean by a fixed schedule? It’s just what it sounds like—fixed, meaning it doesn’t change. An employee works consistent hours that don’t fluctuate from week to week or even month to month. This type of schedule provides predictability so workers can plan their personal lives around work— rather than canceling plans or scrambling to make sure they can work an unexpected shift when a co-worker calls in for a sick day.

Example of a fixed schedule

When you think of a fixed work schedule, probably the first example that comes to mind is the stereotypical corporate employee. They work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday every week. Every Saturday and Sunday, they have off, packing into restaurants for dinner and brunch. Maybe some people start a little later or put in the occasional time on the weekend. But for the most part, they work the same number of hours on the same days, week after week, month after month, without fail.

Of course, we all know that the service industry is a far cry from the corporate world. Restaurants open early and close late. And the staff needed to run the kitchen and front-of-house rises and falls with the peaks and lulls in customer demand.

However, fixed schedules can still work in the restaurant industry, and many full- and part-time workers enjoy having a set weekly schedule. Some people may work Tuesdays to Saturdays, with Sundays and Mondays off. Others might prefer different schedules that spread their days off apart. Their shift might even change from day to day. The important thing is that the days and the shifts the employee works stay the same from one week to the next.

Here’s an example of what a fixed schedule might look like:

Example of a fixed employee schedule created with Fourth’s employee scheduling software, HotSchedules.

How does a fixed schedule benefit employers?

There are a lot of reasons why employees love working a set schedule (more on that in a bit). Sometimes what’s good for employees, however, isn’t always good for their employers. In this case? Not so much. There are several reasons why rolling out fixed schedules in your restaurant could be a win for you too.

1. Better team morale

Happy workers make happy customers. Employees appreciate the consistency a fixed schedule provides. By offering your restaurant staff the ability to have a set schedule they can plan around, you show you care about their well-being.

Team members also get to know their co-workers better because they consistently share the same shift. They build not just good working relationships, but good friendships with their co-workers. And when employees have friends at work, it’s good for business. Studies show that it boosts engagement, job satisfaction, and productivity.

2. Reduced turnover

This isn’t a surprising revelation—employees tend to stick around when they are happy. No need to take our word for it, though. Studies examining the negative impact unpredictable schedules have on workers found that employees assigned unstable and unpredictable schedules experience higher turnover.

Looking at the other side of the equation, an analysis of the impact of predictive scheduling laws implemented in Oregon found the opposite effect. The analysis found that for accommodation and food service businesses covered under the law, employee turnover was lower and retention was higher than the national average.

“The data reveal that these policies can help more employers attract and retain workers back into industries hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Grace Dunn, research associate at Illinois Economic Policy Institute and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

Black Box Intelligence estimates it costs restaurants $1,956 per hourly employee to replace someone who’s left. Between a tight labor market and rising costs, restaurants can’t afford the wasted time and money that comes with high turnover.

3. Simpler planning

When restaurant managers implement fixed schedules, it makes it that much simpler to juggle the needs of the business and its employees. For starters, when schedules stay the same week after week, it eliminates the constant question of who goes on which shift.

The same predictability employees appreciate also makes it easier for managers to anticipate each team member’s availability. They can make minor adjustments when needed with their employees’ input rather than starting from scratch every time.

4. Easier calculation of labor costs

Fixed work schedules give managers a reliable foundation for budgeting labor costs. With schedules that generally stay the same, employees work a set number of hours each week. This gives managers a clear and consistent overview of the weekly labor costs for each employee.

Managers can also better control and plan for overtime because they can identify further in advance the amount of time employees will be scheduled to put in and if they are approaching or exceeding the maximum hours allowed before overtime rates kick in.

5. Compliance with Fair Workweek labor laws

No one goes into the restaurant business because they love keeping track of the ever-changing local, state, and national labor laws. Implementing fixed work schedules is another way restaurant owners and operators can make it a little bit easier on themselves to ensure they don’t get into hot water with the authorities.

Managers can more easily plan to eliminate clopenings, ensure employees have the required number of hours between shifts, and provide a good faith estimate of the number of hours each employee will be able to work. It’s also much easier to give schedules weeks in advance when the hours and days worked are always the same.

How does a fixed schedule benefit employees?

Hourly workers in the food service industry have it rough. The work is grueling, the pay is low, and schedules are often unpredictable. It’s no wonder restaurants are struggling to find and keep employees.

According to The Shift Project, nearly two-thirds of workers receive less than two weeks’ notice of their work schedule, and one quarter says they have as little as 72 hours’ notice. Implementing fixed schedules can go a long way to improving the lives of restaurant employees.

65% of workers want a more stable and predictable schedule.

1. Better work-life balance

When you never know when or how much you’ll work in a given week, creating a regular routine is virtually impossible. Nearly 50% of workers with irregular or rotating schedules struggle with work-family conflict, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute. In contrast, just over 10% of workers with a fixed work schedule say the same.

Fixed schedules make it easier for workers to plan around their personal life, whether it’s going to family events, attending school, spending time with kids, or even taking time for their own mental and physical well-being.

2. Easier to coordinate childcare

One-third of workers in the service sector are parents with dependent children at home. The harsh reality is that the children of hourly workers pay a steep price when their parents have unpredictable work schedules.

When parents in the food and retail industries work on-call shifts, clopenings, or have last-minute schedule changes, they are more likely to rely on informal child care. Young children of these workers spend an average of 15 days per year without childcare or receive childcare from a sibling younger than 10 years of age.

When parents can count on a fixed schedule, it’s easier to plan ahead and line up childcare. It also helps parents create a more stable environment where their kids can thrive.

3. Reduced earnings volatility

When you’re only paid for the hours you work, your schedule determines your pay. And when hourly workers’ schedules fluctuate, so does their income. According to a report by the Federal Reserve, income volatility can lead to financial hardship, especially for less educated and lower-income workers. One study found that “monthly swings in income, even by modest amounts, and unpredictable work hours frequently led to an inability to pay expenses.”

Fixed schedules give workers more financial predictability. Knowing when they’ll work week to week also makes it easier to hold a second job, attend training, or pursue a higher education degree that would increase their earning potential.

Fast Fact: Earned Wage Access

Did you know almost 80% of hourly workers say they would switch employers who offer early access to their previously earned wages? Learn how Fourth’s on‑demand pay solution drives retention by supporting financial wellness.

4. Fewer disruptions to sleep patterns

Everyone expects good sleep quality to go right out the window when you work night shifts or parent young children who frequently wake up at night. What’s more surprising is how last-minute changes to work schedules, lack of control over the timing of work, and working clopening shifts hurt sleep quality. The truth is that these factors actually have a more significant negative impact on sleep quality than being a parent to a young child or working a night shift.

Fixed schedules help workers build a consistent sleep routine, which is better for their health and may even help them perform better.

5. Less stress

When you take into account work-life conflict, difficulty obtaining childcare, and the potential financial hardship that comes with unpredictable schedules, it’s no surprise this leaves hourly restaurant workers feeling stressed.

A study of 5,000 service workers in Michigan showed that employees with irregular schedules experienced a heightened level of stress and exhaustion. And yet, a separate study found that the ability to set one’s own schedule or take time off from work appears to diminish work stress.

What are the downsides of a fixed schedule?

We’ve talked a lot about the benefits of implementing fixed schedules in restaurants—both for restaurant owners and operators and for employees. Of course, as in all things, fixed schedules have both pros and cons. Here are a few of the potential downsides.

1. It doesn’t account for unexpected events

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.” So, as much as employers and employees enjoy the predictability of fixed schedules, the factors affecting demand will inevitably change.

Fixed schedules can make it more difficult to react with agility to changes outside your control. That’s why intelligent employee scheduling solutions are so critical to running a successful restaurant business. With advanced demand forecasting, you’re able to predict changes in demand further ahead and with greater accuracy, so if you need to make changes to fixed schedules, you can get employees’ input ahead of time.

2. Employees can get stuck on a “bad” shift

Not all shifts are created equal. With fixed schedules, employees can get stuck working a shift that cuts into family time or doesn’t bring in as many tips. This can be particularly true of new employees who have to pay their dues before they can earn the privilege of claiming the “good” shifts. It’s important to spread the less desirable shifts around and work with employees to create a schedule everyone can be happy with.

3. Some employees prefer “mixing it up”

Fixed schedules aren’t for everyone. Some workers find a fixed schedule monotonous and boring. They thrive on variety and prefer to switch things up rather than feel like they’re getting stuck in a rut.

You can use this to your advantage by allowing fixed schedules for workers who prefer them and leaning on workers who prefer variety to make your scheduling more agile. This might have been a scheduling nightmare in years past, but with the robust employee scheduling tools available today, managers can get it done in no time.

4. Experience can get weighted towards the “better” shifts

You naturally want to reward loyal and experienced employees with the first pick of the prime shifts. Over time, this can lead to a lack of balance, where you end up with your strongest team on the “better” shifts. This leaves the less desirable shifts weighted with more of your inexperienced and new employees.

Be mindful of this and work with your team to keep your schedule balanced. You can reward your most experienced employees without putting your customer experience at risk.

5. Turnover can be high on unpopular shifts

Turnover is already a challenge in the restaurant industry. Monthly hospitality and food service labor turnover is twice the national average. So, when employees get stuck on an unpopular shift, they may be more likely to leave.

Keep tabs on your employee morale so you can spot dissatisfaction early and intervene to keep good employees from quitting. Have managers check in with employees or leverage employee engagement tools like end-of-shift surveys and anonymous pulse surveys for unbiased feedback.

Fixed Schedules and Compliance

Many local and state governments have enacted predictive scheduling and Fair Workweek laws to protect workers from the negative impacts of unpredictable schedules.

Restaurant managers and operators don’t have time to keep track of ever-changing labor regulations, particularly when they operate multiple locations across different cities and states. However, failing to do so can have significant financial consequences. Implementing fixed schedules can make ensuring employee schedules comply with all the relevant laws easier.

At Fourth, we’ve found that many of our customers choose to follow the strictest laws across all locations. Doing so not only streamlines operations across the organization but also protects employees and boosts retention. It also helps to have employee scheduling software with built-in compliance so you can put compliance on auto-pilot, knowing you’re covered even if regulations change in the future.

Fast Fact: Fair Workweek Law

Did you know that fast food employers in NYC must give workers regular schedules that stay the same week to week? What’s more, employers are required to pay premiums for schedule changes or clopenings.

Implementing employee scheduling software with built-in compliance can make adhering to national and local labor regulations like the Fair Workweek law easier.

How to implement fixed schedules in your restaurant

Whether you’re still building schedules in Excel or have graduated to a more sophisticated employee scheduling solution, implementing fixed schedules in your restaurant starts with communication. Restaurant workers don’t just want predictability in their schedules. They also want to have input.

Make sure managers take time to listen to employees and work with them to build a schedule that keeps the restaurant running smoothly and the staff happy. And if you want to keep managers happy, give them the tools to build schedules faster so they can get out of the back office and onto the floor.

If you haven’t already, consider implementing scheduling software that gives managers simple drag-and-drop functionality, automated demand forecasting, built-in compliance, and customized KPI reporting. Just making this one change can cut the time managers spend creating and managing schedules by 75%.

Best practices for fixed schedules

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to employee scheduling. Fixed schedules aren’t for everyone, and as much as employees crave predictability, they also prioritize flexibility. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind when rolling out fixed schedules to your team.

Conquer your employee scheduling

It’s clear that fixed schedules have a role to play in the restaurant industry. Restaurant managers enjoy simplified operations and reduced turnover. Meanwhile, employees experience less stress, fewer hardships, and a better work-life balance. The positive effects even extend to the lives of their children.

Whether you want to go all-in on fixed schedules or take a more balanced approach that uses a combination of fixed and flexible scheduling, Fourth can help you implement an employee scheduling solution that empowers employees, optimizes labor costs, and ensures you deliver delightfully delicious guest experiences.

Fixed Schedule FAQs

  • What is a fixed schedule?
    • A fixed schedule is a work schedule that doesn’t change. For example, an employee might work Tuesdays to Saturdays, with Sundays and Mondays off. Their shift may change from day to day, but their schedule stays the same from one week to the next.
  • What are the pros and cons of a fixed schedule?
    • Pros of a fixed schedule include more predictability for the restaurant and workers, better work-life balance, and reduced income volatility. As for cons, fixed schedules don’t account for the unexpected, and employees can get stuck working a “bad” shift.
  • How do I implement a fixed schedule in my restaurant?
    • Implementing fixed schedules starts with communication. Seek input from employees, then build a schedule that works for everyone. Using employee scheduling software like HotSchedules can cut the time it takes to create and manage schedules by 75%.

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