"Just-in-time" work schedules, or shift assignments with no advance notice, harm employee response in the restaurant industry, a new study finds.

Led by Masoud Kamalahmadi from the University of Miami, Yong-Pin Zhou from the University of Washington, and Qiuping Yu from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the study examines 1.5 million transactions across 25 restaurants back in 2016 to visualize the effect of "just-in-time" work schedule on the industry, particularly on revenue and server sales efforts.

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A Restaurant Server in the New Normal
(Photo: Photo by Hector Vivas/Getty Images)
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - JANUARY 29: A waiter serves an order to a customer in a restaurant that has opened with tables on the street on January 29, 2021, in Mexico City, Mexico

Just-in-Time Work Schedules

The new study, titled "Call to Duty: Just-in-Time Scheduling in a Restaurant Chain," appears in the INFORMS journal Management Science, first published on February 24. It reveals that checks for events handled by servers to work extended shifts with no advance notice dropped by an average of 4.4 percent.

Based on the findings, giving employees information a couple of days before the shift - also known as short-notice scheduling - has no discernible effect on the employees' sales efforts. However, real-time scheduling or altering their supposed work schedules on the spot, usually by requesting them to stay longer and work extended hours, has a negative effect on restaurant revenue.

"Our analysis indicates that this occurred because servers reduced the effort spent on upselling and cross-selling additional menu items," explains Kamalahmadi, who is an assistant professor of management science at the University of Miami. In their research, they also factored for employee fatigue.

"We also show that the reduction in server's sales effort is more profound among less-skilled workers, during the weekend or non-rush hours," added Yu, who is an assistant professor of operations management and business analytics at Georgia Tech's Scheller College of Business.

Furthermore, researchers observed that a reduction in real-time, or just-in-time, employee scheduling leads to more predictable work schedules and could even drive the projected restaurant revenue by up to one percent.

Considering Trade-Offs in the Restaurant Industry

Researchers noted in their paper the rise of just-in-time scheduling in the service industries, owing to its capabilities of reducing staffing levels and, therefore, labor cost. They were prompted, however, to identify its effect on worker productivity and overall restaurant revenue.

Since its growing adaption in various facets of the service industry, a 2017 study examines employee scheduling for industries with flexible employee availability in demand. It aims to generate an employee assignment plan that meets a number of criteria, such as ensuring government and labor regulations and balancing employee schedules in terms of holiday assignments. The findings for their study were reported in a large healthcare facility in Belgium.

Consequently, a 2015 report published at the nonprofit Economic Policy Institute (EPI) warns about the consequences of irregular work schedules. Including various irregular work schedule setups such as on-call, the EPI report claims that about ten percent of the US workforce is assigned to these scheduling arrangements. Additionally, about seven percent of the workforce are on split or rotating shifts.


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