Update Staffing & Scheduling Software

The bar industry is constantly at the mercy of last-minute forces. Weather, holidays, crowds, special events, and other issues can make scheduling—the dark art of juggling employees and shifts—a nightmare for managers and staff alike.

In fact, scheduling is one of the most underappreciated aspects of running a business, but it’s the literal blueprint of how one stays functioning on a granular level. If it’s not up-to-date, it’s irrelevant.

And if it’s taking hours a week, then you’re doing it wrong. It’s not just to save your time. A good, fair schedule lets employees know that they’re getting the shifts they want. A good schedule needs to be balanced so that everyone feels like they’re getting treated equally and that you’re not just copying and pasting the same shifts in each week. The manager that can create a strong schedule strikes that delicate balance that makes everyone in the workplace ecosystem feel taken care of.

Classic scheduling—drafting schedules, printing, and posting physical copies in the back room—has gone the way of the buffalo. It’s become the equivalent of traveling by horseback: slow, inefficient and obsolete while still wasting valuable resources. So instead of scheduling as horrendous time-suck, we recommend conducting some due diligence and learning all of your modern-day tech options that you may not even have considered.

If you can modernize your game, you’ll cut down on wasted managerial time, and in the process, make the staff happier on all fronts.

Here are some tools and tech to start you on an improved path to get schedule chaos under wraps and tips to make sure you’re never short-handed.

Get Ready To Say Goodbye To Your Old Method

If you’re reading this, you’re likely either opening your first bar or looking for ways to improve your old one’s system, and we can almost guarantee you that you’re missing out on opportunities for things to run smoother while hopefully saving your business money too. If you come from an old-school mentality and your bar’s been open since the ‘90s—or God forbid, the ‘80s!—you just need to know that there’s a better way of doing things today (see previous horseback analogy). The Brave New World of service industry tech should have multiple solutions to bring your business up to speed in 2017.

Research The Market For The Right Software Solution For You

There are many suitable scheduling software options for basic needs. Call up some of these companies to get a quote based on your business size and take it from there. We can’t really tell you which is best suited to you, but know that there are plenty of solid, cost-effective options out there. There is one scheduling company we spoke with—perhaps the first in the digital scheduling space in America—who offers both basic and advanced services for owners and managers out there who really want to squeeze the most profit out of every shift.

Austin-based HotSchedules has been in the scheduling game since the beginning of this century. Co-founder Dave Contu conceived the idea “out of the frustration of running a 160-employee restaurant. The pain we had between staff and management were that staff schedules were dynamic; they were constantly changing. And because of that change, there were constantly issues of them misreading the schedule or thinking they had a shift they didn’t.”

Contu says he averaged about four hours a week building the schedule in his spare time. Scheduling became a pain point not just for managers, but also employees.

“Managers are either short-staffed or get an employee who comes in who doesn’t have a shift. Our thought was ‘let’s get it on the web,” Contu says. “Even having employees call into the restaurant was a burden.”

The benefit to the staff is freedom and flexibility. “There was always someone online going, ‘Are there any shifts available?’ We call them ‘shift sharks,’” Contu explains. “The manager can see that shift trade, the skill levels, whether that would push into overtime. You could have multiple people trying to pick up that shift.”

HotSchedules gives the employee and managers the ability to swap shifts based on skill levels. It also helps increase visibility when an employee could start going into overtime. And HotSchedules offers 24/7 human assistance, which you’re going to want no matter what service you sign up for.

“We’ve done a lot of case studies on our site, and we think it’s 75% reduction in a manager’s time,” Contu continues. “There’s a little over 230 PF Chang’s [one of their clients], whose managers are spending 30-45 minutes per week.”

It also saves the manager time of having to go down a list, calling employees. Instead, he just puts a notice up that a shift is open. But Contu and company had a vision that this data could be used to even further enhance a manager’s ability to run the business with the most relevant information possible.

“[The service] gives managers the ability to go through all that historical data, schedules, when they requested time off, who made that approval,” Contu explains. It also helps managers clearly see how much a certain shift will cost them as far as labor is concerned.

The real advanced managers will want to check out their POS integration service, which gives them a mountain of statistical information that helps a business forecast future sales. “Where we’re different is at our point-of-sale integration,” Contu explains, “so you can pull a lot of data. That’s where it starts to scale up. The ROI we see is five times on the low end and on the high end could be 15-20 times.”

Regardless of your choice, do your homework and see which service best fits your bar’s needs.

Establish Relationships With Staffing Companies

There will likely be times that your regular staff will not cut it. Whether it’s because you’re increasing in scale for special events, off-sites, catering, or you’re having issues with being unable to fill a last-minute shift. Many bars will need to go outside their regular pool of warm bodies at one point or another, so best to have a plan in place for when that happens.

The problem with vetting and training new people, as you already know, is that it can be extremely time-consuming and its own vortex of energy. A good, competent staffing company will take this off your plate—at a fee of course (usually a commission based on the part-time/temp staffer’s rate)—and be able to work with you given a few hours notice.

Chicago-based staffing company Shiftgig is a two-sided mobile platform that serves many verticals, including bar and restaurant and hospitality. They have offices in ten different markets and have worked with big businesses in virtually every state.

“The nice thing about the app—especially on the owner side—is that because it is on-demand, we do a lot of the background work ourselves and we onboard them ourselves,” Shiftgig’s Tricia Cagua says, which means all the part-time staffers they send out are full-time Shiftgig employees. “They’re all fully vetted and background and skill-checked, so we know when our clients call us for a single shift or multiple shifts, whether it’s for tomorrow or 30 days out, they’re getting quality people.”

Once a client is onboarded, they can use Shiftgig as their needs dictate and simply pay a small per-shift commission, like at most agencies. “You can say ‘I need a server tonight,’ and we can service that up to a few hours beforehand,” Cagua explains.

The last-minute ability to fill shifts with qualified people has many applications. “We were doing an event with the Cubs when they were in the playoffs up at Wrigley Field, and of course on a day-to-day basis, they wouldn’t know if they were advancing to the next game until the last minute. So we supplied them on demand once they knew,” she says.

I reached out to an Atlanta-based catering company that uses Shiftgig regularly. Jessica B. told me, “We’re always moving 1,000 miles an hour. and our clients love to throw us curveballs at the last minute. So we’ll go up in guest count or want to add a bartender last minute. Shiftgig gives me the ability to put a call out immediately. Or I can call up my account manager and explain the situation, and he’ll go out and bend over backwards for us and our client.

“I used to dread asking for outside help because I was always uncertain of what I’d receive. but now with Shiftgig, I always have confidence.”

By Heather Florence Marple

Photos: Shutterstock.com