November 11, 2021

Smart entrepreneurs try to think through every angle of their future business. For restaurants, that includes projecting costs like rent, marketing expenses, and labor. And to estimate your labor costs, you have to know the number of employees it will take to keep each shift running smoothly.

This is a crucial part of restaurant planning, as labor can be one of the biggest expenses in any culinary operation. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the key factors that will impact the number of employees you’ll need, and we’ll also go over some rough numbers to help you plan your costs.

The Factors That Impact Restaurant Staffing Needs

The exact number of employees needed to run any food service establishment will depend on the number of guests served at a time (also called “covers”), the complexity of the menu, and your business’ service style. In general, the more high-end the restaurant, the greater the employee-to-guest ratio. This is because fine dining restaurants have more “touch points” than casual service. Touch points are the steps of service that the staff will be expected to complete at every table. These can include things like frequent check-ins, replacing silverware between courses, bringing hot towels, and more.

There will also be roles in some restaurants that aren’t needed in others. A counter service restaurant will need a cashier, but a full service restaurant probably won’t. And a sommelier would be very out of place in a casual neighborhood cafe!

sommelier in apron holding wine glasses near wooden table

When planning your staffing needs, make sure to take your total weekly shifts into account. A full service restaurant that serves lunch and dinner seven days per week has 14 total shifts. So you’ll need enough front of house and back of house staff to cover each open position twice per day. And if you serve breakfast or are open 24/7, you may actually have 21 weekly shifts to cover, in three eight-hour shifts per day. So you’ll need enough staff members to cover each of those shifts while still giving them a couple days off per week.

How Many Employees Does It Take to Run a Food Truck?

~2-8 total employees

The small size and counter service style of a food truck dictates that it must run with a small crew. The executive chef will be responsible for the menu and managing the rest of the cooking staff. Depending on the size of your truck, you may only be able to fit two or three cooks and/or chefs in the space at a time. But if you’re open seven days per week, you’ll probably need additional cooks to cover all of the shifts.

Some food trucks ask one of the cooks to do double duty as order-taker and cashier. This delegation of responsibilities can certainly work, especially if your food comes together quickly. But busier trucks will likely need a dedicated cashier on each shift so they can handle the ordering and payment while the cooks focus on the food.

happy-customers-queue-at-food-truck

How Many Employees Does It Take to Run a Counter Service Restaurant?

~8-15 total employees

In a counter service restaurant, you don’t need servers to wait on tables. Instead, orders are placed at the counter, and the guests come to pick up their food when their name or order number is called. This service style helps to keep the number of employees down.

Back of House Employees in a Counter Service Restaurant

In the kitchen, you’ll usually have an executive chef along with a sous chef or lead line cook supervising the rest of the kitchen team. Depending on the size of the restaurant, you could have three to five line cooks (or more), as well as a dishwasher. There may also be a few prep cooks who chop, portion, and do some of the pre-shift preparation, like making sauces or dressings.

Front of House Employees in a Counter Service Restaurant

In the front of house, you’ll need at least one cashier to take orders, with more on busy shifts. There will also need to be someone to clear and clean the empty tables when the guests are gone. This could be a dedicated busser, or it might be the cashier or even a dishwasher, doing double duty.

There should also be a manager or supervisor on each shift. Aside from ensuring things run smoothly, managers will also be responsible for tasks like purchasing, end of day financials, and payroll.

Smiling female Barista with glasses Serves Order to a Food Delivery Courier Picking Up Paper Bag with Pastries from a Cafe Restaurant

How Many Employees Does It Take to Run a Casual Full Service Restaurant?

~10-40 total employees (or more, for a large restaurant)

A full service restaurant provides a seated meal, complete with servers to take orders and deliver food and drinks. Your full service restaurant may also have a bar, which will add to your staffing needs.

Back of House Employees in a Casual Full Service Restaurant

The kitchen hierarchy will have an executive chef at the top, as well as a sous chef or lead line cook. Expect staffing approximately three to five line cooks per shift, and a similar number of prep cooks. In a larger restaurant, you may have more. You’ll also need a dishwasher on each shift. A good starting estimate is to assume approximately four back of house employees per 50 guests in a casual restaurant.

Front of House Employees in a Casual Full Service Restaurant

In the front of house, you may be able to schedule one server per five or six tables. If you have a multi-step service process, or offer table-side actions like making guacamole, you may need more servers to make sure your customers get prompt service.

If you have a bar, you’ll need bartenders to make drinks and serve guests at the bar top. Most bars can accommodate two to three bartenders per shift. Full service restaurants often have a host stand as well, to manage the flow of guests and make sure servers don’t get tasked with too many tables at once. The host stand can run with a single host, or may need up to four in a large, busy restaurant.

Don’t forget the management team! A general manager will pull it all together, and a small team of floor managers will help to cover each shift.

Smiling male manager in dress shirt in cafe

How Many Employees Does It Take to Run a Fine Dining Restaurant?

~12-40 total employees

Fine dining restaurants have the highest staffing needs per guest of all restaurants. Because of their higher price point, they are expected to perform at an incredibly high standard. They also employ more specialization, both in the back of house and front of house. At the same time, these restaurants tend to seat fewer people. So while your fine dining restaurant will have more staff per guest, you may have fewer total employees than a casual dining restaurant.

At fine dining restaurant Ever in Chicago, Chef Curtis Duffy has a crew of approximately 40 employees for only 14 tables!

Back of House Employees in a Fine Dining Restaurant

Expect to see more specialized kitchen employees in a fine dining restaurant. After the executive chef and the sous chef, there may be a pastry chef, as well as a garde-manger to run the cold station. There could be additional specialists for sauces, fish, or niche dishes like sushi.

There will also be a crew of line cooks, often between three and eight depending on the size of the restaurant. Estimate around six kitchen employees per 50 guests in a fine dining restaurant.

Front of House Employees in a Fine Dining Restaurant

Because of the high service level, fine dining servers usually only take three to four tables at a time. And they may have additional help, like back waiters who serve water and bread, as well as food runners.

Fine dining restaurants may also have a sommelier who will make wine recommendations. And they’ll have a professional host staff to seat guests and manage the wait list. In some high end restaurants, a manager actually runs the host stand to ensure that guests get a top notch experience from the moment they enter the restaurant.

At the bar, there may be two or three bartenders to serve bar guests and make drinks for the dining room guests. There could also be a barback to restock juices, garnishes, and liquor, and help the bartenders to wash glassware.

Expect to have multiple managers scheduled for each shift as well, so that there’s always someone to talk to a guest if necessary. Fine dining restaurants must master customer service, and that level of personalization requires a lot of staff!

Restaurant manager and his staff in terrace interacting with head chef in restaurant

Every Restaurant Is Different!

Keep in mind that these numbers are only estimates. Some restaurants with unusual service models may have a completely different number of staff members. In a hibachi grill, the guests sit at a cooktop, and the cook and server roles are combined in one person. And at a tiny omakase sushi restaurant, the entire staff could just be two people—the sushi chef and a drink server. So consider these estimates to be a starting point as you work on your business plan.

If you’re interested in learning more about restaurant operations, a degree in Hospitality & Restaurant Operations Management from Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts could be the perfect place to start! This online program dives deep into service, management, leadership, and more. Explore how this 60 week program can help you achieve your goals by contacting us today!

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