Determining the right number of servers to hire for a restaurant is an important decision that requires careful consideration of many factors. The number of servers needed depends on the size of the restaurant, peak dining hours and seasons, average table turnover rate, and desired level of customer service. Understaffing can lead to poor customer experiences, while overstaffing drives up labor costs unnecessarily. Striking the right balance is key to running an efficient and profitable restaurant operation. This article provides an in-depth look at how to determine ideal server staffing levels based on a restaurant’s unique needs and goals.
Key Factors That Influence Server Staffing Levels
Several key factors should be evaluated when determining how many servers a restaurant requires:
Restaurant Size and Layout
Larger restaurants that occupy more physical space and contain more tables and seats will generally require more servers on staff. The layout and floorplan will also impact this – more spread out designs require servers to cover more ground. Open kitchens tend to improve visibility but can also mean servers need to walk further to pick up food orders.
Peak Dining Hours and Seasons
Customer traffic fluctuates throughout the day and year. Analyze sales data to identify peak dining hours and seasons where demand is highest. More servers will be needed to provide good service during rush times. For seasonal spots, staffing levels can be adjusted accordingly.
Average Meal Duration and Table Turnover Rate
Consider the average meal length and how quickly tables turn over. Casual restaurants often have a faster pace with a 30-45 minute turn time, while fine dining venues may need 1.5-2 hours on average. Quicker table turns equal more customers served and therefore more servers needed.
Number of Tables/Seats
While the physical restaurant size matters, the specific number of tables and seats the venue contains is also key. Having an accurate count of total capacity helps determine the optimal server-to-table ratio.
Service Style and Concept
The overall dining experience and service style will impact staffing needs. A fast casual self-service model requires fewer servers than a full-service white tablecloth restaurant. Service expectations also differ between a diner and Michelin-starred restaurant.
Customer Experience Goals
Staffing levels should align with customer experience goals. Lots of servers allow for very attentive service, while fewer staff may result in longer waits or infrequent check-ins. Determine priorities like wait times, check-ins per meal, and availability for questions/requests.
Steps to Calculate Necessary Server Staffing
Once these factors are analyzed, use the following steps to calculate the optimal number of servers needed:
1. Identify Peak Hours and Estimate Customers
Examine sales data to determine the restaurant’s peak hours for traffic. Estimate the number of customers expected during these hours based on reservation lists or average walk-in patrons.
2. Calculate Table Turnover Rate
Table turnover rate equals the number of tables turned per hour. First, determine the average meal duration. Then divide 60 minutes by the average meal length. For example, if meals last 45 minutes on average, the table turnover rate is 60/45 = 1.33.
3. Estimate Total Covers
Multiply the number of customers expected during peak hours by the table turnover rate. Using the previous example of 100 customers expected and a turnover of 1.33, the estimated covers would be 100 * 1.33 = 133.
4. Establish Server-to-Table Ratio
Typical server-to-table ratios range from 1:3 for casual venues to 1:5 for upscale establishments. Finer dining aims for more attentive service with fewer tables per server. Set a ratio based on service goals and concept.
5. Calculate Servers Needed
Divide the total estimated covers by the server-to-table ratio. With 133 covers and a 1:3 ratio, 133/3 = 44 servers would be needed. Round up or down based on budget and experience goals.
6. Factor in Days Off and Shifts
Servers cannot work every single shift, so increase hires to cover days off. Also factor in slowing business shifts where fewer servers may be scheduled.
Ideal Server-to-Table Ratios
The optimal server-to-table ratio varies based on the restaurant’s style and service goals:
Quick Service/Fast Casual – 1:8 to 1:10
Counter service models require fewer servers focused mainly on cleaning and assisting customers.
Casual Dining – 1:3 to 1:5
Moderate service levels with mixed larger parties and several table turns per shift.
Upscale Casual – 1:3 to 1:4
Elevated service for a polished casual dining experience and slower turns.
Fine Dining – 1:2 to 1:3
Very attentive, personalized service required for high-end dining.
Factors that Influence Server-to-Table Ratios
The following factors impact what server-to-table ratio is appropriate for a restaurant:
Average Meal Duration
Shorter meal times allow servers to manage more tables. A 30-minute average turn means servers can cover more tables than a 2-hour turn.
Simple foods require less service than complex, multi-course meals spread over hours.
Level of Service Desired
Aim for fewer tables per server if you want very attentive, white-glove style service. More tables per server offer good but less hands-on service.
Veteran servers can typically handle more tables than new hires still learning. Factor experience into ratios.
Restaurant Size and Layout
Compact restaurants allow closer supervision of tables, while expansive spots necessitate more tables per server.
Value Per Check
Higher check averages and price points mean servers can manage fewer guests and provide exceptional service.
Support Staff Ratios
More support staff like busboys and food runners means servers can focus more on guest service than running food and bussing.
Steps for Adjusting Server Staffing Levels
Server staffing needs to be continually monitored and adjusted based on business fluctuations. Here are steps for adjusting staff appropriately:
1. Track Traffic Patterns and Sales
Look at updated sales data weekly and monthly to spot new trends and changes in peak hours. Update forecasts regularly.
2. Monitor Queue Times
If customers are waiting too long for tables, boost staff. If servers seem overstaffed and idle, cut back.
3. Solicit Customer Feedback
Survey diners on service levels and wait times. Use feedback to identify staffing gaps.
4. Observe Server Performance
Watch to see if servers can handle assigned tables or appear stressed and overwhelmed.
5. Review Reservation Books
Monitor upcoming reservations to anticipate heavier booking days.
6. Add or Cut Shifts Strategically
Based on updated data and observations, add or eliminate shifts strategically to align with busier and slower periods.
7. Cross-Train Support Staff
Ensure support teams like busboys can help with basic serving tasks during crunch times to maximize flexibility.
Using Scheduling Software
Restaurant scheduling software platforms like 7shifts and Planday can optimize staffing and forecasting:
- Sales data integration
- Labor cost tracking
- Forecasting and schedule optimization
- Shift swapping capabilities
- Accuracy based on real data
- Efficient shift scheduling
- Easy adjustment of shifts
- Lower labor costs
Investing in scheduling software provides robust data and tools to calibrate server staffing for ideal service and efficiency.
Best Practices for Server Scheduling
Some top practices for scheduling servers effectively include:
- Stagger start and end times to cover peak hours
- Schedule by skill level – match more experienced servers with busier sections
- Implement consistent rotation of weekend and closing shifts
- Cross-train support staff for added flexibility
- Provide schedule consistency and give notice for major changes
- Limit consecutive closing shifts to avoid burnout
Strategic scheduling keeps staffing aligned with business needs while supporting work-life balance for employees.
Server-to-Table Ratio Recommendations by Restaurant Type
Here are suggested server-to-table ratios based on restaurant service style:
- Michelin Star Level: 1 server per 6 guests
- High-End: 1:10 ratio
- Upscale: 1:12 to 1:15
- Polished casual: 1:20 to 1:30
- Family style: 1:30 to 1:40
- Order at counter: 1:50
- Full service: 1:30
Use these as a starting guide but customize to your restaurant’s concept and needs.
Key Takeaways on Server Staffing Levels
Determining adequate restaurant server staffing requires analyzing:
- Restaurant size, layout, seats
- Peak hours and seasons
- Average meal duration
- Average check and volume
- Service style and level desired
- Experience of servers
Optimal server-to-table ratios range from 1:2 in fine dining to 1:10 in quick service. Schedule experienced servers for busiest sections. Adjust staffing regularly based on data and observations. Take advantage of software and stagger shifts strategically. Providing the right server staffing levels takes effort but is crucial for success.
Calculating appropriate server staffing levels for your restaurant involves evaluating multiple factors such as the size of your venue, peak hours of operation, average table turnover rates, and your desired level of customer service. Establishing ideal server-to-table ratios based on your restaurant’s style and service goals is key – for example, fine dining restaurants may aim for 1 server per 2-3 tables while casual spots can handle 1 server per 3-5 tables.
Steps like determining peak demand hours, estimating total covers, and factoring in days off are essential to figuring ideal staffing numbers. Continually monitoring and adjusting schedules based on updated data is also important. Taking a data-driven approach, leveraging scheduling software, implementing strategic shift rotations, and maintaining flexible cross-trained support staff will help dial in optimal server staffing. This effort is well rewarded by maximizing customer experience and operational efficiency.