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Restaurant Service: Dining Room Staff Scheduling Tips

By Richard Saporito

Restaurant service staff scheduling is crucial and closely tied to excellent restaurant customer service.

In every way, a balance must be achieved by matching the dining room service labor needs to forecasted business, and I'd like to offer 2 concepts that can improve restaurant dining room service immensely.

The first concept is the "on call waiter" who can be scheduled for any shift necessary. The "on call waiter" function is to call the restaurant about 1/2 - 1 hr. before the work shift commences food service to see if he/she is needed to come in and work that particular shift.

The "on call" function is useful in many ways as in the case of outdoor dining where business literally depends on the weather. If the weather is right for outdoor seating, the "on call waiter" will be asked to come in to work. If it's raining, then the "on call waiter" will not be needed, though the phone call to the restaurant should still be made. Basically, if the staff is sufficient for that restaurant shift, then the "on call waiter" will not be needed.

Another useful function for the "on call waiter" is when there is an extremely important event scheduled, and there can be positively no staff shortages for that event. Simply by communicating properly and timely over the telephone, the dining room will be covered saving the service staff time and the restaurant wasted payroll.

This system is flexible, and should be used with common sense, not haphazardly. Depending on the situation, there can even be more than one "on call waiter" for a shift, and by the same token, you may not even use an "on call waiter" for many of the work shifts. Every restaurant must figure out what system works best for them, and make the adjustment.

The second restaurant service staff scheduling concept is the "maintenance runner" which works best when there is more than one food runner working per shift. Once again, this concept will prove how proper staff scheduling is directly tied to improving dining room service.

In a small restaurant, there may be only one food runner needed for the shift taking food from the kitchen areas to the dining areas. He/she is responsible for keeping those dining areas and floor areas clean, since it is be part of the sidework.

If this sidework doesn't get done, it is obvious where the blame lies. (Technically it's everyone's job to keep the restaurant clean, but it's ultimately the food runner's job to keep the service/ kitchen areas, waiter food prep areas, and floor areas clean.)

Now, on the other hand, a large restaurant that uses 3 runners per shift is definitely bringing a higher volume of food from the kitchen areas to the dining areas. So, things will get a bit messier because of the added food traffic. To compound the problem, with more than one runner, things will get confusing as to whose responsibility it is to keep the above restaurant areas clean.

The simple solution to this headache lies within the restaurant service staff scheduling. Simply put "maintenance runner" on a pre-designated schedule spot, and rotate fairly. For easy labeling on the schedule, a simple MR abbreviation next to the name or shift--- and it's good to go for each needed shift.

The "maintenance runner" will ultimately be responsible for the sweep up and wipe-up jobs-especially before and after each shift. Cleanliness, especially floors, will also lessen the risk of bodily injury such as slippage from an unclean floor.

These simple dining room service scheduling tips will help ensure that the restaurant is properly staffed while maintaining safety and sanitation.

Richard Saporito is a NYC Restaurant Insider with more than 30 years experience. He is currently the President of Topserve Restaurant Consulting, Inc. and the author of "How To Improve Dining Room Service." Discover how to improve your restaurant's dining room service and dramatically increase your profits here.

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