How to Forecast Your Holiday Labor Like a Pro at Your Restaurant

By Kim Warner

A woman holding a tea cup filled with coffee with a Christmas hat on.

Ever notice how, no matter what, the holidays always just kind of… sneak up on you?

It’s springtime, it’s summertime, then you blink, and – poof! – you suddenly find yourself adrift in a snowglobe of festive sweaters and clinking flutes of New Year’s Eve champagne. Every year you swear you’ll be more prepared for the restaurant holiday rush. Next year you’ll schedule just the right amount of staff and everything will go smoothly, right?

Well, we have some good news for you: we have some tips that will get you on the right track to planning this year like a pro. Hold on to your eggnog, because here come three ways to successfully staff your restaurant for the holidays – reducing your labor cost and make maximizing your profit.

1. Strategize Early

Some of your staff will want to take time off around the holidays: that’s inevitable. It’s also inevitable that a few of your employees will actually prefer to work during the holidays to earn extra cash (or maybe they don’t celebrate). Either way, here are some tactics that can help avoid hard feelings when the holiday schedule arrives.

First, request holiday availability submissions early. After you receive requests, chat with your fellow managers to determine the best course of action. Depending on your restaurant’s culture and precedents for holiday scheduling, you have some options:

  • Grant time off on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Draw numbers to determine whose request is honored first.
  • Consider temporary restaurant staffing to fit your needs.
  • Our favorite: take a look at your restaurant scheduling software to see who worked the holidays last year and give them first claim to the shifts they’d like to work or not work.

If you’re feeling the strain of scheduling restrictions, reach out to students who have some time on their hands during the holidays. Make sure that you budget for the time and labor required to get any temporary employees trained and ready to take on the holiday rush!

2. Analyze Your POS Data

Check last year’s labor data on your POS: how busy were you around the holidays? Check several years back: the more insight, the better! Let your restaurant POS system guide the way — if you notice a trend, it’s wise to plan for its reappearance.

After you’ve checked your past data, consider whether opening during statutory holidays is worthwhile. If all data tells you it makes sense to open for the holidays, zero in on holiday-specific hours and adjust to capitalize on the festive hustle and bustle.

The Hart House in Burnaby, Canada, for example, has been hosting Christmas dinners for more than 20 years, and it’s their busiest time of year. The demand for the restaurant’s seasonal feast is so ravenous that they’ve had to open up their second floor to allow for additional tables and multiple seatings. You can bet they’ll be continuing the tradition for years to come!

Bonus feature: Set a prix fixe holiday menu based on last year’s bestsellers. Your POS data can help take the guesswork out of what people love to eat during the holidays. When you use data to make decisions about your prix fixe menu, you’ll be creating a bang on holiday customer experience as it’s one of the best Christmas promotion ideas for your restaurant – and bumping up tips for your staff.

3. Incentivize Your Staff

Holidays move as quickly as they appear. The pace tends to be frantic, so keep this in mind when scheduling your staff – they’ll be working hard to ensure their customers are happy. Shorter shifts, a different shift rotation, or a different distribution in certain sections of your restaurant might be the key to managing the crowds.

Provide pizza or treats to reward your staff for a job well done. You can even provide a reward, and bring in coffees or cookies at the start of the shift to incentivize the team to join forces and do an awesome job.

Since patrons are more comfortable spending money during the holiday season, you could try what Jay Bordeleau of Maven in San Francisco does. Over the busy season, he adds an automatic 20% gratuity to every bill. From a customer perspective, he says, “This allows the guest to have a fantastic time without worrying about awkward social norms or doing math.” From a restaurant perspective, the tactic allows for a tip pool environment that includes the entire house of hourly employees, including the kitchen staff who doesn’t necessarily receive tips. His method ensures that everyone who’s working hard is being rewarded fairly, and serves as a built-in holiday bonus for staff.

Something to remember is that your presence will go a long way to keeping things merry and bright. Having managers around to support staff during holiday times shows fairness and solidarity. After all, you’re all on the same team! Managers can help keep the energy up and can lead by example. Negative attitudes can spread quickly, but a positive attitude can turn things around even faster – be an upbeat, supportive leader, and the wild pace of the season will breeze by.

While the holidays may seem like they appear out of nowhere, you can definitely prepare. When you start early, use data to make decisions, and treat your staff like gold during the holidays, you’ll be setting yourself up for a smooth and profitable holiday season for your restaurant. And if you create an employee retention strategy, you can keep your staff happy and engaged year-round.

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by Kim Warner

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