Rota Scheduling Done Right in a Hospitality Business (without spreadsheets)

Spreadsheet rota planning for hospitality costs 17% more. Get 24/7 shift coverage with flexible & adaptive rota scheduling for employees & customers alike.
  • Author: Siva
  • Last updated: December 8, 2022
  • 10 Minutes
rota scheduling done right in a hospitality business without using spreadsheets explained by Papershift

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Managing employees and their shift schedules can be a time-consuming task, especially if you work in the hullaballoo of the hospitality industry. When you factor in the need for a shift schedule that covers all the business needs for the week as well as keeping staff happy, it’s easy to see how juggling shifts can cause a big rota planning headache.

All businesses need to have a disciplined and well-organized team for the business to thrive, but how do you go about ticking all of the important shift planning boxes and keeping everyone happy?

In this guide, we will look at how businesses in the hospitality business can create a shift schedule that works for everyone involved. We will also discuss how the company hiring policy is a good starting point and suggest ways of improving shift planning for all areas of the business.

Let’s begin

Why is rota planning for hospitality difficult?

Hospitality businesses face unique rota planning challenges. This is due to:

  1. A high proportion of part-time staff with different hourly contracts.
  2. A high proportion of temporary and seasonal staff.
  3. High fluctuations in staffing requirements within each day (e.g., lunch and evening service for restaurants).
  4. Last-minute bookings that drastically change staffing requirements at short notice.

The good news is that whether you’re building a kitchen rota or a schedule for front-of-house staff, there are a number of tried-and-tested methods for planning staff rotas for hospitality staff.

Kitchen Rota
Check our featured guide on ‘Holiday staffing & rota planning in Restaurants‘.

What makes a rota fair for everyone?

A fair rota system is one that aims to be inclusive, accommodating, and balanced. A rota schedule should ensure that all employees treated equally, while also taking into consideration what is good for the business as a whole.

A poor shift schedule can highlight (or insinuate) favouritism in time allocation for specific employees and changes in shifts distributed at the last minute can lead to confusion and resentment from employees. 

Fair Rota Guide
Here is our fair employee scheduling guide specially made for small businesses in the UK.

What are the benefits of a fair rota system?

There are a number of benefits that come with implementing a fair rota system. The main ones are: 

a. Everyone gets a fair deal

A fair rota will give staff a balanced mix of favourable and unfavourable shifts. No one should constantly work shifts they dislike, or get their favourite shift every week over another member of staff. Happy staff often equal a happy (and productive) workplace.

b. It can allow a business to make the most of their budget

A good rota system can help a workplace function at optimal efficiency, with employees working hard without feeling burnt out or undervalued. The business will also have the right staff available at the right times, essential in the hospitality industry where chefs, waiters, and front-of-house staff are often required in varying proportions. 

c. The business will get the right mix of people

Different situations require different skills, and therefore, different members of staff. A good rota system will ensure a business will always have the correct staff at the right time (see above).

d. It can help to avoid frustrated staff and low morale

Businesses that repeatedly forget that their staff isn’t free to work on certain days, or ignore their requests entirely, can be incredibly frustrating for staff. That, in turn, can lead to frustration and low morale in the workforce. 

It’s hard to feel valued as an employee when your boss schedules you for shifts that you’ve repeatedly told them are difficult for you, especially if the first thing you hear about it is when your name appears on the rota. You can’t expect staff to show up for work with a positive attitude if their rota negatively impacts on their personal lives.

A good rota system will fairly distribute shifts taking into account employee preferences and their need for a good work/life balance.

Rota Crimes
Check some commonly made rota mistakes that can make an employee instantly quit your business. 

Tips for improving shift planning for businesses in the hospitality sector

There are many things you can do as the owner of a business in the hospitality sector to improve shift planning and rota scheduling. Every bar, restaurant and hotel is different, but we’ve assembled some scheduling tips that we reckon will ease the rota planning headaches many businesses face. Here are a few ideas to get started with:

a. Start by recruiting quality candidates

It’s important for all businesses to recruit and hire only the best possible employees. Focus on creating a pool of talent where everyone buys into the company culture and have the flexibility to deal with the hectic nature of hospitality. Additionally, hire candidates who are prepared to work as part of a team rather than as individuals. 

b. Build a reliable and flexible staff rota

The key to successful shift planning is building a staff rota that does everything you need it to do. This is easier said than done in the hectic and unpredictable hospitality industry.

If all staff clocked in at the same time, rota planning would be a breeze. However, modern working arrangements are seldom like that. Moreover, at busy times rotas can be so complex they take weeks to plan and implement.

Primarily, you need to consider the components you’ll need at any given time. Your ultimate aim is to create a staff schedule that ensures the right number of employees are at work at the optimum times for maximum productivity.

If your business is primarily based on customer bookings or orders, plan ahead and make staff aware as far in advance as possible of when they will be required.

Like to see a live demo of hospitality rota online? Register for a free consultation.

c. Make administration as simple as possible

Depending on the size of the business, the number of employees, and the nature of customer bookings, rota planning could easily become an administrative nightmare.

One of the best ways to avoid things becoming too confusing is to create a simple checklist. Include the fundamental characteristics that the shift planning should be based around, including listing the skills required at each time period that the schedule is to cover.

Often, you can categorise staff, their abilities and availability. This can help you to ‘slot’ employees into time periods easily while offering back-ups if necessary.

The main aim should be to create a framework that is as quick to build as possible. What’s more, it needs to be adaptable as plans change and the business evolves.

d. Anticipate what employees expect from a rota

Employees want to have the certainty of planning their lives around their work arrangements, which can be difficult to provide in the hospitality industry. However, if the rota is not accurate or sensitive to their needs, businesses will soon face the spectre of unhappy workers.

Another key issue is regularity and stability. Consistent shift patterns that provide employees with the same amount of work at roughly the same times each week will keep complaints to a minimum. What’s more, this will help to reduce staff turnover.

If this isn’t something you can provide, then you’ll need to offer other avenues for making employees happy by either publishing rotas early to give them time to plan their lives around them, or offering flexibility as to when or even if they work by providing something like a shift swapping service.

Additionally, businesses should make access to the rota as easy as possible for employees. Your staff will want to be able to see their shift pattern with ease. That is a good reason for making it available online. That way, they won’t have to call and speak to a manager or HR employee.

e. Choose the right scheduling system

Of course, all businesses want to find a quick solution to their scheduling requirements and set a system in place as quickly as possible. However, it will be better in the long run if managers or HR staff take the time to research solutions that specifically works for the business.

There are many different types of scheduling options available to businesses in the hospitality industry as well as a variety of software tools that can help plan rotas. Spend the time researching which ones are right for you. A critical point to keep in mind when selecting a scheduling system and putting it all together is that you are building something for the long term. Don’t settle for a quick fix instead.

f. Make sure your scheduling system has the correct data

Your rota can only be as good as the information you give it. If you don’t cover all the right options and create all the relevant fields of data, you will not get the maximum benefit.

There are numerous standard software packages that could provide the framework you need. For instance, there is spreadsheet software that comes with your standard office package. However, consider the complex nature of rota planning for hospitality businesses and your need to create a system that you can rely on by taking a look at an online rota management system.

Spreadsheet Rota Costs 17% More
Spreadsheet rota planning adds to the confusion in shift planning and costs 17% more. Check how!?

Most rota planning software packages come with a host of useful features, with the best ones offering the flexibility required in the hospitality industry. Have a system that allows you to set up working days and schedules quickly and offers a way to slot employees into gaps based on their skills.  

g. Build a rota template without assigning staff

To help deal with the unsure nature of hospitality, think about instead of slotting shifts in for each employee, build a rota template for the next week, two weeks, or month that matches your expected staffing requirements for that period.

Don’t worry about being too precise with shift times at this stage, a rough draft will do. You can build this template within rota planning software, a spreadsheet, or even on paper. This gives you a rough template that forms the foundation of your rota.

h. Separate rotas by role or location to improve visibility

Building a rota for dozens of employees, from chefs and kitchen porters to receptionists and housekeeping staff gets confusing quickly. It can also make budgeting issues harder to spot.

To make things clearer, break your rotas down based on role or ‘location’ (say, front of the house, kitchen, cleaning, etc). This is particularly effective if there’s little to no overlap in roles (your front desk receptionist doesn’t work as as a waiter or a room attendant, for example).

With separate rotas, you can also break down costs by role or location. This helps to detect under and overstaffing issues and resolve them quickly, while still staying within budgetary constraints.

i. Consider split shifts

Most staff dislike split shifts, as they require sticking around at work without being paid. However, if you have some staff who live locally, split shifts might be more appealing.

Alternatively, you could leave it up to staff to choose whether or not to take split shifts. Publish a set of ‘open shifts‘ that aren’t assigned to anyone, including what you imagine to be split shifts of, say, 10am-2pm and 4-10pm. Employees could claim both halves of the split shift or just one, depending on their preferences and circumstances. You’ll need to use rota software if you want to do this efficiently.

j. Have contingency plans

We’ve all endured staffing disasters where a member of staff doesn’t show up and it takes hours to find a replacement, if you can find one at all.

Take the time to consider what contingency plans you can put into place for situations like this. For example, you could build a list of staff who live nearby and are able to work at short notice. Or you could use rota software with a notification system whenever new shifts are up for grabs.

You won’t be able to plan around every eventuality, but by using the experience of past incidents you can reduce the cost of many common staffing disasters.

In conclusion

Rota planning is the last thing you want to do with your workday. But if you want to maintain a good standard of service, it is paramount that you get it right. After all, the more efficient your rota management is, the better it is not just for you, but your employees and customers too.

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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 :-)