Solving the Holiday Staffing Conundrum
Plan to overstaff for each holiday your restaurant stays open. That’s the best way to keep your customers happy. Should the volume of diners dwindle, you can always send workers home early. Also, if you have more staff on hand, if one or two don’t show, you won’t be stranded.
Many restaurants close on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day eliminating some of the anxiety surrounding which employees should get time off. But the evening before each of those holidays also seems to be a popular time for families to dine out. In the context of this article, “holidays” include all four of those dates.
Lambrine Macejewski, business manager and co-founder of Cocina 214 in Winter Park, Florida, says her busy holiday season actually begins toward the end of September or in early October.
“The first year we were open we didn’t realize business would increase that early and we weren’t prepared,” says Macejewski. “Now we’re ready.”
Using the OpenTable system, the upscale Tex-Mex eating establishment takes reservations as far ahead as diners want to make them. This system makes booking very easy, prevents overbooking and provides a good history for past years, says Macejewski. It also gives her the information she needs so she can staff appropriately on the eves of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Who Should Work?
Jason Chadwick, co-owner of Restaurant Rehab, a restaurant consulting business in Kansas City, recommends scheduling all your key employees on holidays. They effectively run the dining room and won’t make the same mistakes lesser-experienced staff might.
At the Wilshire Restaurant in Santa Monica, where modern California cuisine highlights the menu, workers can take time off around the holidays. Whoever asks earliest gets first consideration.
“Time off is also based on production,” says Clint Clausen, director of operations. “I will give a server with the highest sales days off over someone who has worked here for eight years, but has the lowest sales.”
Some establishments schedule workers for certain days throughout the year, so as an example Server A works every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. If a holiday falls on one of those days, she knows she’ll be working. If she wants to trade, that’s okay.
The last alternative allows for no time off during the holidays. This is typically how hotel restaurants handle staffing.
Is More Pay an Incentive?
“Usually the majority of the staff want to work because it’s a good time to make money,” says Chadwick.
At the two restaurants at the Salish Lodge & Spa in Snoqualmie, Washington, if you work full time and you come in on a holiday then you earn eight hours paid time off (pto), says Shannon Galusha, culinary director for Seattle-based Columbia Hospitality, which oversees 15 properties throughout the West, including the Salish Lodge.
Even if the restaurant itself doesn’t pay extra for holidays, most diners feel the holiday spirit and in general tip better than normal.
Plan, Plan, and Plan
If you don’t know how many servers and hostesses you’ll need, do some research. Look at last year’s reservations to see which days and time slots consistently filled and which didn’t.
Tanya Chadwick, Jason’s wife and co-owner of Restaurant Rehab, says get in front of your scheduling for the end of the year now. Use all the avenues you can to let people know you’ll be open on Thanksgiving Eve, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas.
“Reach out to those who made reservations with you last year and ask them to come back,” says Tanya. “Tell them what you’ll be serving so they can inform their party. This personal touch is sure to get you repeat customers.”
If you’re going to need extra help for the holidays, hire them now and get them trained, Tanya says. Don’t wait until the last minute when there’s very little time to train. Also if you employ college students in the summer, now’s the time to ask them to work the holidays.
“Whatever you do, be consistent. Don’t close early,” says Galusha who has 14 years of restaurant experience. “Customers return to your restaurant based on past experiences.”
By Heather Larson