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How to schedule the front of house when you're understaffed

front of house staff
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Question:

My lead server does scheduling for front of house. I am convinced she deliberately understaffs so that I’ll take tables, knowing that I can’t be in the tip pool. What would you advise?

– Owner/manager

Answer:

It may seem like a great scheduling strategy on its surface for you as the owner and manager to take some tables. You would reduce labor costs and provide stellar service. But there is a difference between jumping in to help out during a rush, which all managers should do, and having management scheduled for a shift in place of a line-level employee.

I suspect you are exactly right as to the motivations behind your server scheduling lean staffing—the fewer hands on the floor, the fewer hands in the tip pool. And you are right that management can never participate in the tip pool. Further, she is probably confident that you’ve got her back. As the owner, you won’t stand by watching your few staff get weeded, so will jump in, essentially volunteering as a server in addition to your management role.

At the core of the problem is a discrepancy in motivations and goals. Your goal is to run your restaurant smoothly and profitably. Your scheduler’s goal is to make sure she gets her desired shifts, with her desired co-workers, and maximum potential tips.

I would advise two things to remedy this:

  1. The scheduler needs to have your interests in mind. I understand the temptation to delegate scheduling—no one likes to do it. Consider taking it over yourself, using a technology tool to assist  or delegating to someone without a vested interest such as an office manager or assistant manager.
  2. Get out of the trenches. While I have every confidence in your ability to serve as well as or better than your servers, it is not a good use of your time. Especially if you are taking the tip credit, the few dollars per hour it costs to add a tipped employee in the FOH are a great investment, freeing you to do many other things, while still making yourself available to jump in to assist with service as needed.

 

By dedicating yourself to a service shift, your focus is on the guests in front of you rather than on all your guests and the efficient operations of the restaurant as a whole. Ensuring that you are adequately staffed for all shifts will help you raise your head from the immediate tasks of serving a few tables and give you better perspective on the overall operation.

More on server scheduling here.

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