September 24, 2018

Building an effective back-of-house staff schedule

Chefs are more closely tied with the quality of the food their kitchens put out and the accuracy and speed of such efforts than any other task. However, a head chef is often a manager of many responsibilities, from efficient stocking of ingredients and supplies to developing an effective schedule for back-of-house staff. Online culinary school students should be sure to understand these tasks as they build their skills on the line, preparing themselves to take on every aspect of the head chef job once they reach that stage in their careers.

Close up shot of a chef kneading dough.There are plenty of factors to take into account when putting together a back-of-house schedule.

Understanding how to build a fair, effective and manageable back-of-house schedule

Although not a universal concept, as sometimes a general manager or other business leader will handle the task, many head chefs create the schedule for their employees on a regular basis. There are a number of factors for chefs to consider as they develop these plans, including:

  • Making sure the line positions, as well as support positions like dishwashers and prep cooks, have an adequate and cost-effective level of labor available at all times. This is the primary consideration whenever a schedule is made.
  • Putting the most reliable workers and those with the best culinary skills in positions where those abilities will benefit the restaurant most.
  • Making adjustments and anticipating upcoming events with enough time to avoid surprises and last-minute requests that could leave the line short staffed.
  • Working with the schedule of current staff, whether it’s making sure no one receives an excessive amount of overtime unless absolutely necessary or respecting requested days off when possible.
  • Addressing limitations, such as the limited time periods and total hours available to minors who may work in many areas.

Making a schedule is therefore a more complicated exercise than it may seem initially. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it requires a deep knowledge of your kitchen and the skills of all the staff working on the line.

Tips for building an effective schedule

There are many concepts to implement when trying to put together an efficient schedule that keeps the kitchen functioning smoothly and allows staff a level of flexibility related to other professional pursuits, education and personal responsibilities.

A good place to start is with the busiest services of the week. This may be Friday and Saturday dinner for many restaurants, but can range from Sunday brunch to weekday lunches. Put together your strongest, most reliable crew for these services, then start looking at remaining hours and other holes in the schedule.

Consistent scheduling isn’t always possible, but it helps you know what your team will look like each day and allows staff to make plans around established days off. When you have the resources and opportunity, put people on the schedule in regular spots. When you have to move things around, try to give your staff a little advance notice.

How far to schedule into the future is another important consideration. The more notice you can give your employees, the easier it is to hold them to established standards in terms of showing up on time, being prepared and bringing up conflicts well before the shift itself arrives. Keeping the schedule prepared about two weeks in advance, and always posting it at the same time on the same day, are good places to start. This approach also allows you to set a reasonable cutoff on requests for shift changes and time off.

Although not only a scheduling consideration, cross-training on the many stations along the line opens up flexibility for your staff. You can also consider having dishwashers and prep cooks cross-train on the simplest stations, like salads and desserts, to increase the number of capable staff available at any one time.