Simple Guide for Holiday Staffing & Rota Planning in Restaurants

37% of restaurants suffer from less staff during peak business hours and holidays. Help your restaurant ahead with our holiday staffing guide.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: April 5, 2022
  • 7 Minutes
holiday staffing and rota planning for restaurants

For most restaurants, the Christmas and New Year holiday period is typically the busiest of the entire year. And it’s understandable why. Christmas brings out the best in people and we want to celebrate such a joyous time with our family and friends by cutting loose and eating out.

But with a pandemic behind us (nearly) throwing a spanner into restaurant owners’ plans, the biggest challenge for many remains staffing. How do you manage holiday staff while keeping customers happy and dealing with staffing emergencies at the drop of a hat?

These are not simple questions to answer. But undeterred, we’ll give it our best shot in this, our guide to holiday staffing in a restaurant. Don’t forget to tip your waiter.

What Do You Mean by Holliday Staffing in a Restaurant?

When we talk about restaurant holiday staffing, we are looking at the general increase in staffing required over the Christmas and New Year seasons. This is often to accommodate the extra table bookings that come with the increase in custom. The festive season is the busiest time of the year for restaurants, with friends and family getting together to meet up to wine and dine with each other. And with higher levels of customer demand, businesses often find themselves under increased pressure to ensure staffing levels adequately meet business demands.

What Issues Come with The Increase in Demand Over the Holidays?

There are many problems that the increase in demand over the holiday period can cause restaurants. These can include:

  • Increased pressure and workload on current staff. Restaurant staff during the holiday period will be far busier and their services much more in demand than at other times of the year. Addressing each customer’s needs, making sure service is speedy, and keeping customers’ drinks topped up becomes increasingly difficult when tables are full, and merriment is high.
  • Difficulty keeping all customers happy. With an increase in customers comes an increase in pressure to keep them all happy. With staff stretched and resources pulled in a variety of directions at the same time, ensuring you attend to all your customer’s needs with the same level of care can be difficult.
  • Slower food service. This is, in many ways, an extension of the previous point. Busy times can lead to slower service for customers. Kitchen staff can be pushed to their limits getting food cooked and out within a reasonable time frame.
  • Increased requests for staff holiday. It’s only understandable that restaurant staff will want to spend time away from work with their families over the festive season. This can lead to an increase in the number of requests received for leave at a time when the business needs exactly the opposite.

How Do Restaurants Combat The Increase in Demand?

There are many ways that a restaurant can adapt their processes to meet the demands of the holiday season. These include:

  • Hiring more kitchen staff. Whether this is on a permanent or temporary basis, a sure-fire way of ensuring food orders are dealt with swiftly is to hire more kitchen staff. And while fully trained chefs and cooks may be hard to get temporarily, you can lighten the load of more experienced staff by hiring extra hands to prep, clean, or wash up.
  • Hiring more waiters. This is perhaps the most common problem faced by restaurants over the holiday period, having enough waiting staff to tend to customers’ needs. There’s nothing more frustrating to customers than having to wait for service. Or look around for an hour watching others eat while they still haven’t received their drinks. Waiting staff are one of the easiest hires and businesses can bring in staff on either permanent or a temporary basis.
  • Hiring more front-of-house staff. It’s easy to neglect the pleasantries of customer management in a restaurant. Especially at busy times. But front of house staff, such as greeters, maitre d’s, or receptionists, are incredibly important to the image of your restaurant.
  • Reducing staff leave over the holiday period. Some restaurants will prevent or reduce the number of holiday days their employees can take during the holiday period. This can free up more staff at busy times. It’s important to note, however, that running such a policy can upset staff and lead to no call no shows.
  • Offering overtime and bonuses. While overtime isn’t for everyone, many staff members will jump at the chance to work extra hours over the holiday season. If you incentivise the overtime with bonuses or perks, you’ll find even more willing to work more. This can allow you to increase staffing levels without hiring extra staff.

Tips for Dealing with the Holiday Period

There are many things you can do as a restaurant owner to ensure staffing in your restaurant is up to scratch over the holidays. These include:

  • Plan Everything Ahead of Schedule

It’s important for restaurants to plan for the holidays, staffing-wise, as early as they can. This involves working out how busy you will be and how much of each type of staff (kitchen staff, waiters, front of house, etc.) are required at each part of the holiday season.

Look at previous years’ data (if you have any) to figure out where your staffing is short. Use this information when hiring and make sure that cover levels are perfect on every single day. Don’t neglect things like training and factor this into timeframes.

  • Hire Extra Staff

No matter what, your team will end up working more hours and be pushed harder until the holiday period is over. And even the hardest working team will find themselves spread thin when demand is high. Therefore, we recommend hiring extra staff to cover for pinch points. Look to the casual market and see who you can bring in to help. Do this early, so the best staff don’t get whisked away to rival restaurants.

Don’t despair about hiring people who may be inexperienced. While it may be impossible to train a new cook at the last minute, you can hire support staff to make the jobs of more experienced staff easier. Utilise the skills you have and use the extra hires to support where needed.

And remember, over staff. Don’t understaff. It may be tempting to keep staffing at the bare minimum to keep profit margins high. Don’t. Doing so is a sure-fire way to put undue pressure on your staff, lessen the customer experience, and fail to meet the demands of the season.

  • Show Your Appreciation

Ok, so this has little to do with staffing levels, but it’s important to remember that during such a busy time your staff are working incredibly hard. Each staff member, including temporary hires, will be flat out to meet the extra demand of the season. Because of this, it’s incredibly important that you let them know you appreciate their hard work… or you may find them serving you dinner next year at a rival’s establishment.

How you show your appreciation is up to you. You could give them a pat on the back or thank them for their hard work. This may work with some staff. If you plan on going down this route, it’s best to start early. There’s nothing more cynical to an employee than what they may see as a false gesture that only comes once a year.

Or you could provide a bonus or incentive scheme that rewards hard work. Most restaurant workers will receive higher levels of tips over the Christmas period. Because of this, it’s important to have a system of distribution of the money to all staff in place.

  • Factor No Shows into Planning

Always be prepared for staff not to show up, especially during the holidays. It is the winter, after all, and bugs, viruses, and priorities may prevent them from attending work. Keep this in mind when scheduling and factor in a contingency policy for times where several staff fail to attend work.

One of the best ways to deal with no shows is to make sure your staff are jacks-of-all-trades. That is, they have the skills to do multiple jobs in the restaurant. This way, if someone doesn’t show up, there’s another person to step in and fill the gap.

  • Speak to Your Staff

Holding a staff meeting about holiday service before the festive season is a great way to get staff ready and make them aware of what you expect. You can use it to emphasise the need for attendance and highlight schedules. Explain to them which days are most likely to be the busiest and get their opinions of how staffing might need to change to accommodate.

In Conclusion

Staffing any business enterprise over the festive season can be challenging. But with extra customers, staff holidays, and bigger expectations from diners, the Christmas and New Year period can be especially challenging for restaurants.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our guide to holiday staffing in a restaurant. For more useful workplace guides, check out the rest of our website.

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash



Written by Siva

I write & describe the value & benefits delivered by Paperhift's rota planning, staff time tracking, and employee payroll management software. Especially useful for Shift Planners, Rota Managers, Team Admins, and HR Teams :-)