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Jeff Dover’s top 5 tips to staff smart for the holidays

Jeff Dover

When it comes to staffing for the holiday season or for the peaks and valleys of the calendar year, it pays to plan ahead, be flexible, hire smart, and expect the unexpected.

By Jeff Dover

Plan early

Consider holiday staffing months ahead. Ask your employees well in advance of the busy holiday season what days are important for them to have off, and work those times through the schedule as much as you can. Make clear it’s crucial they be available for those busy days leading up to and following Christmas Day that are peak time for business.

Communicate that you understand that holidays are important to have with family. If your business is open on Boxing Day and/or New Year’s, then your staff need to know they are expected to be on-call. It’s quieter in January and February, and encouraging staff to take their holidays after the New Year can help ensure availability during the peak period.

Tackle turnover

The reality is that there’s a ton of turnover in this industry, but it helps if you can become known as a business that considers the needs of staff when it comes to time off. If you structure your staffing so you limit the number of employees who can be off at any given time from front of house and back of house, and communicate this approach, then it helps with planning and lets everybody feel the system is fair.

Review last year and build on the past

As a starting point, look at last year’s staffing, and build your roster from there. Hire as soon as you can in the fall for the holiday season, and make your expectations about required dates and shifts clear right from the beginning. Remember that many people may quit, and if you’re not flexible, they are likelier to head for the door. But if you are fair and flexible in your requirements, they are more inclined to stay.

To determine staffing needs, I recommend looking ahead three or four months. That way you can give employees as much notice as possible and determine who might need to swap days or weeks off so that the schedule works as well as it can for everybody. If you are fair about giving people time off when they need it, they’ll usually help you on the days you really need them.

Hire for both long-term and part-time needs

When making hiring decisions, consider your regular employees’ and part-timers’ life situations. The most important thing is getting the right person, but it’s also about getting people who can work when you need them, for instance on Friday and Saturday nights. The right people understand this is an industry with evening and weekend work. Millennials, who make up a chunk of front and back end staff, aren’t as willing to sacrifice their social life. They have more opportunities for work choices and are looking for more work/life balance.

Forecast and prepare

Do a forecast of covers. You have the data, and you know when your busy days are throughout the holidays. Once you have history, you can do a better job of forecasting how much staffing you need any given day or evening.

I recommend our clients prepare a labour matrix detailing the number of covers per hour and how many staff they will need for the various positions. Depending on the service style, you might need a server every 25 covers, so work from that. If you are starting fresh and don’t have that information, go and meet some restaurateurs in your area and ask them what they do for lunches and dinners, then build your forecasting accordingly.

The more prepared you are, the more smoothly you will meet the challenges of seasonal peaks and valleys, and the better your restaurant will run this holiday season and in the future.

Jeff Dover is principal of fsSTRATEGY, an alliance of senior consultants focusing on business strategy support, research, analysis, design and implementation for the foodservice industry.