The Disadvantages of Set Schedules

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As Close As You Can Get As A Server


Saturday night I spent some time on the patio with one of the newer servers at my restaurant.  He is low on seniority, but has spent more years serving than I have.  I estimate total the two of us have between three and four decades of serving experience.  I am pretty high on seniority at my restaurant, but nevertheless we were in neighboring sections on the patio on a reasonably busy Saturday night watching the rain.  After nearly four hours (five for him) we were sent home without receiving a table.

I work at a restaurant that has a set schedule.  They take it a step further by rotating sections by an established system.  This means that seniority and experience do not factor into what station I have on a given night.  I know in advance what station I will have, what sidework is mine, and how likely it is that my station will be cut.  This has both positive and negative impacts on how I view my job.  Today I will discuss the negatives and tomorrow I will address the benefits of having a set schedule.

Here are some of the drawbacks of set schedules:

Not Merit or Seniority Based: Not all servers are created equal.  Servers who are stronger and have suffered through slow stations starting out generally are rewarded with better stations.  This is not the case in a set schedule/ station rotation system.  This removes the incentive to stay at a restaurant and work your way up the ladder.

Extra Servers: This often times leads to weaker servers on the floor thus necessitating more staff to cover the shift.  For example, if nine servers are scheduled for a shift that the five strongest could handle, a manager can cut to those five.  If they are not allowed to pick which five they want, they often will be forced to keep weaker servers on and therefore need six or seven to provide the same coverage.

Covering Shifts: When working with a set schedule, there is no allocation for requesting time off.  In order to take a vacation, you need to cover all of your own shifts.  I have seen several instances where this lead to panic trying to get a single Sunday lunch shift covered to allow for a month long trip.  With smaller staffs this makes you more dependent on the charity of coworkers.

Bad Weeks: This rotation system guarantees that a certain number of shifts will be spent in weaker sections.  I know that one out of every four weeks I will be on the patio for a given shift.  They also all line up on the same week.  Given the alternating rain/ brutal heat we have seen lately this means that three out of my last four dinners have resulted in me being cut before the shift or not receiving a single table.  That is tough to budget for.

Like any system set scheduling has it’s own set of problems.  There are definitely positives of a set schedule. The key is to be aware of the issues you can face and compensate for them.  Tomorrow I will get into the positive aspects of it.  I will follow that up with a post detailing the pros and cons for managers.  In the meantime, I am sure there is something I missed.  If you can think of it, leave it in the comment sections for everyone.

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8 Responses to The Disadvantages of Set Schedules

  1. yellowcat September 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm #

    My schedule is set. I work the same shifts week after week. Our sections rotate much like yours. But! If we are slow, the first in is the first off, or if someone is being a PITA I can cut them. We all get stuck with the shit section, but usually only one day at a time.

    I don’t think I would like your system.

    • tipsfortips September 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm #

      I think the difference is that I work at a place where on a Saturday night we have 17 servers inside, 5 cocktailers, and 6 more on the patio. With 28 people people complaining about their station or wanting to be cut would be hell on a manager. It also means that there are far more weak sections to distribute.

  2. Waiting October 15, 2010 at 12:18 pm #

    Our restaurant is union. We have set schedules and days off. We are supposed to rotate stations also but night shift is hard to rotate because your station kind of depends on which day shift server you are relieving. Our cuts/outs are based on who is scheduled to leave first and who wants to leave early. If you are in a crappy station then it’s pretty easy to just get someone who is in a better station cut and then move into their station. Also, we make so much money hourly, our managers are eager for people to leave to save on labor. Like most restaurants, there’s no shortage of people willing to leave early.

    • tipsfortips October 15, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

      I would imagine Vegas also has really strange traffic flows compared to the rest of the country. My restaurants traffic is pretty predictable which makes staffing and cutting far easier I would imagine. I can see how that would effect stations pretty dramatically out there.

      I’ve read your blog several times, but have you ever written anything about the difference in working in a union city? I think that would be pretty enlightening to those of us who don’t. If you have (or do in the future), let me know so I can link to it. I have been thinking about talking about this for a while.


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