May 30, 2019

A Café Owner’s Guide to Scheduling


A successful café is based on many factors, but one crucial component is your staffing and scheduling. Too few baristas on shift can mean long lines and unhappy customers. Too many staff members at work can mean high overheads and crowding behind the bar.

So what’s the right level of staffing and what factors should you consider when making your weekly schedule? Read on for some helpful tips.

Lee este artículo en español Como Programar Los Turnos de Los Baristas en tu Tienda de Café

Sey Coffee in Brooklyn, New York. Credit: Ana Valencia

Know Your Café’s Peak Times & Efficiency

Take a look at your business records and evaluate when your peak times are. This means the morning rush and any other daily busy periods, but also means seasonal peaks. Do you experience more customers around the winter holidays? Are you near a university and see a slump in summer?

Don’t make assumptions about when you’re busiest, but actually evaluate the number of sales. This will provide you with a solid understanding of your business and a basis to start scheduling staff members.

Then, consider your café’s gross profit in relation to cost of labor. Some financial analysts consider a payroll-to-gross profit ratio as an indicator of efficiency. Are you spending a high percentage on labor, or is there room in the budget to increase the number of staff? It can be hard to evaluate what is a good percentage ratio and there are many different recommended figures, but keep track of your own numbers and use them to identify any patterns and anomalies.

You may also like How to Design an Effective Barista Training Programme

Partners Coffee Roasters in New York. Credit: Partners Coffee

How Many Staff Members Should You Have On Shift?

Once you know your busy periods and budget, you can evaluate how many staff members you need on each shift. This will vary depending on the size of your space, the average number of sales, and whether you serve food.

Jun Lim is the owner of Littlepeople, a coffee shop in Kuala Lumpur. He says, “We have two shifts in our café, each with two staff members. Our coffee shop capacity is 60 people. When it’s peak hour during lunch, there will be night shift coming in to cover the morning shift, [so there are] four staff members during peak hour.”

Jun says that having two baristas on a shift means there is always a person available in case of someone calling in sick or an emergency. It also means that there is someone on-hand to clean tables, stock fridges, and keep customer waiting times to a minimum.

Having two shifts cross over is a good way of covering busy lunch periods. Just make sure that everyone is clear on their tasks beforehand to avoid confusion. For example, perhaps one staff member starting their afternoon shift can be instructed to focus on bussing tables and stocking fridges while the others make drinks to keep service running smoothly without too many people behind the bar.

The espresso bar in a café. Credit: Neil Soque

Evaluate the needs of your own coffee shop. If you have a very small space with just a few seats, it may be possible to work well with just one barista. And if you are on-site doing paperwork or other business, you could serve as a back-up barista as needed.

You should also read up on your local labor laws and make that you comply with them. Be sure you’re giving staff members adequate time between shifts, an appropriate number of hours per week, and the correct rate of pay for any overtime.

Baristas working behind the bar. Credit: Neil Soque

Schedule The Right Staff Members

Knowing which members of staff to schedule is just as important as choosing the right amount of people. Evaluate your employees’ strengths and weaknesses and schedule them with the right tasks to make the most of their skills.

Don’t just consider their technical abilities – soft skills and customer service are also important. Try to pair compatible coworkers who support one another. It can be good to balance quieter personalities with someone more outgoing to provide a range of customer service styles. Some studies suggest that pairing a particularly productive worker with others will increase everyone’s level of productivity.

It’s also worth considering pairing experienced baristas with junior members of staff. This can help in skills development and provide some informal mentorship to the less experienced person. It can also balance the cost of staffing, assuming that you are paying senior staff members more than less experienced ones.

The Fix in Madrid, Spain. Credit: Fernando Pocasangre

Effective Scheduling Can Motivate Staff Members

Getting your scheduling right isn’t just good for your bottom line and customer satisfaction, it’s also important for employee engagement and motivation. When planning your weekly or monthly schedule, try to accommodate employees’ preferences and other commitments. A barista who knows you won’t schedule them to work on Wednesday evenings so they can attend band practice or has Saturday mornings free to take their child to soccer is more likely to be loyal to your business and driven to do a good job.

Similarly, staff members who know they’re working with coworkers they like or doing a task they enjoy are likely to be happier and more productive. Have regular check-ins with your employees to identify their areas of interest, abilities, and any personality clashes among team members.

Make sure to communicate with staff members about how they should request time off and how far in advance you need to know. Return the respect by letting them know their shifts at least two weeks in advance and avoiding last-minute changes.

Learn more in How to Motivate Your Baristas & Keep Them Engaged

George Howell’s café in Boston. Credit: Ana Valencia

Scheduling isn’t the most fun part of owning a coffee shop, but planning work shifts well can improve your profits, customer satisfaction, and staff members’ levels of engagement. So take a look at your business records and make time to check in with employees about their preferred shifts. With a bit of planning, you can make your café more efficient.

Enjoyed this? You may also like How to Keep Your Best Baristas From Quitting

Perfect Daily Grind

Want to read more articles like this? Sign up for our newsletter!