Hot Schedules Reviewed: Part Two

Is this the future?

Hot Schedules is coming.  Its rapid growth has it on track to become the dominant scheduling system in restaurants.  As a user for several months, I want to provide a frank and unbiased view of the system.  These opinions are mine alone and in no way represent the company that I am employed by.  They simply represent some ideas to keep in mind when considering adopting this system.

In part one of this review I addressed the first two advantages claimed by the makers of Hot Schedules on their website.  I found that the communication ability and time savings were greatly overstated.  The time savings came with unanticipated costs and the communication was less effective than cheaper alternatives.  In this post I will address the real financial advantages claimed on their website: reduced turnover and labor cost controls.  Even with all the problems I found with their first two claims, the system would still be worthwhile if it delivered on these benefits.  Unfortunately I have seen more problems they don’t disclose in advance.

Reduced Turnover: Turnover is without question a tremendous financial and mental burden to employers.  The significant costs of recruiting, hiring, and training new employees is something all employers wish to address.  Hot Schedules addresses this by providing accurate up to date schedules to all employees anywhere they can access the web.  They claim that this improves the work/life balance and creates higher employee satisfaction.  Improving employee satisfaction will lead to retaining employees and thus reduce turnover.

This is all based upon the premise that the reason for turnover is lack of access to accurate schedules.  I have left jobs for a variety of reason and had numerous complaints about places I worked, but lack of access to schedules has never really been a problem.  Managers who post schedules late will still post schedules late.  Employees, who are not responsible enough to remember that they picked up someone else’s shift, will still be irresponsible.  This has to be one of the most outrageous claims on their website.

There is a huge drawback hidden in this claim.  For employees without set schedules, they could previously have requests for time off approved far in advance using a “blue book” type system.  With Hot Schedules a manager can avoid approving requests off until the schedule is actually published.  Schedules are still generally published only a week or less in advance to account for any unforeseen separations or injuries.  This means that employees do not have the security to buy tickets in advance for a vacation or to a concert.  Whereas before a manager could sign you off on a request in advance physically, the digital version takes away this comfort.

For employees with set schedules it reduces some of the benefits.  If I am permanently scheduled on Thursdays, I could previously swap shifts with an employees scheduled on Wednesdays months in advance. Again with Hot Schedules this cannot be done until the schedule is published.  You can make agreements with coworkers in advance, but nothing is formalized until it is agreed upon digitally.  This can lead to spending your vacation time waiting online for the schedule to be published and then constantly monitoring it to make sure coworkers uphold their end of the bargain.

Like I said earlier, I had never really considered access to schedules a quality of life issue.  That was true until Hot Schedules was adopted.  Simple shift changes that were only a minor inconvenience before are now huge headaches.  Instead of simply gathering a few initials, I am dependent on a manager to publish the schedule, another employee to get online to make a change from home, and a manager to get online to approve it.  Whereas before this would all be done weeks in advance, now all the pieces must fall into place after tickets have been purchased and plans have been made.  This has created such a big problem that to maintain quality of life the restaurant has implemented a fail safe to circumvent Hot Schedules that is identical to the system we used before.

Labor Cost Controls: Realistically this is the true benefit of Hot Schedules.  Restaurant owners do not spend money on something unless it will either make or save them more money.  The benefits they claim here are twofold.  First, employees are prevented from clocking in early or clocking out late.  Second, Hot Schedules will provide accurate labor forecasting and generate a labor pro forma to show actual labor versus the forecast.  They claim these benefits in the long run will save far more money than the system costs.

Hot Schedules does prevent you from clocking in early.  Nearly every POS system I have worked with in the last decade has this functionality built in.  Even when this function is not used employees who clock in before they were scheduled can have their hours modified or face reprimand.  It can be modified fairly easily with most POS systems from a computer in the office.  It is time consuming, but far less so than the issues created in clocking employees out.

The benefits of preventing employees from clocking in early are redundant, but the problems with employees clocking out late are unique.  It is impossible to tell when a late rush will keep a cook a little later or a table of campers will keep a server late.  When this requires an employee to stay later than they are scheduled, a manager again must clock these employees out.  This requires them stopping any paperwork they might be doing to close the restaurant to manually clock the employee out.  To respond to this inconvenience, the manager simply pushes back the “out time” the employee is scheduled for.

The main issue with this for employees is that it builds in numerous extra hours that they are scheduled for, but will most likely not work.  This often times means that an employee cannot pick up an extra shift because Hot Schedules shows that it will put them in overtime.  This is a tremendous quality of life and income issue for some servers.  Servers who don’t clock in until they have to and clock out as soon as they can to save hours for an extra shift are blocked.  This means that they are bringing home less money and they spend more time on the clock than they did before which costs the restaurant more in labor than before.

The benefits of forecasting and the pro forma are also eliminated because of the managers pushing back “out times.”  If all servers are scheduled until an hour after close, the forecast provided is in no way accurate.  The best forecasts and pro formas are still created by managers in the restaurant with a far more accurate view of what is happening.  Again Hot Schedules is circumvented because its information is made irrelevant.  Restaurants with these systems already in place will continue to use them and those without will see only inaccurate information.

The return on investment with Hot Schedules is impossible for me to determine.  I have no idea what the system costs to restaurant owners.  I anticipate finding out would only lead to me spitting out my coffee all over my keyboard.  A calendar, an email account, and a copy of excel will achieve the same results for what I am assuming is only a miniscule fraction of the cost.  Spending the same money on training, equipment, and promotion will yield the benefits that Hot Schedules claims with far more certainty.

I remember opening an invoice as a manager for our new set of manager logs and schedule requests books.  I stared at it and was certain it was inaccurate.  After all they were just books.  I decided that producing these had to be the biggest racket in the business.  By comparison they are a steal and far more effective than Hot Schedules.

(Note: My opinion is mine alone and in no way reflects that of any company past or present that I have been associated with.  My experience with Hot Schedules is only that of a server.   My opinion is solely based on my experience.  I have not been contacted or compensated by any company regarding these opinions.  This is based only on experiences gained at one restaurant.  Your results may vary.  Please don’t sue me.)

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About David Hayden

David Hayden is a restaurant marketing and training consultant based in Kansas City, MO. He writes a series of 9 blogs collectively known as The Hospitality Formula Network and is the author of "Tips2: Tips For Improving Your Tips" and "Building Your Brand With Facebook"

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  • Ashley

    It is interesting to read a review of hot schedules from someone working at another restaurant using it. It certainly has it’s flaws, but it does have it’s benefits as well. Hot schedules is actually quite customizable to fit the needs of the specific restaurant it is working for, and some of the problems you have mentioned seem like kinks that your store simply has yet to work out. For example – the shift end time feature does not have to be used. At my restaurant it is set up so that there is a start time only. Also, all requests off are approved on a first-come-first-served basis, and hot schedules lets you know your place in line so if you are say, the 25th out of 26 people to request New Year’s Eve off, then you know you’re not going to be making any party plans. You might mention some of these problems to your management, and hopefully your scheduling process will run a little smoother. Can’t say anything about reducing turnover though! ;)

    • http://tipsfortips.wordpress.com tipsfortips

      I agree with this. I think the point still stands though that the benefits they advocate are not particularly practical, For example eliminating out times takes away from all of the benefits of the forecasts and proformas. At my restaurant we have a set schedule which means there is no requesting off. I can see where knowing your place in line could be more helpful, but it still leaves a cloud of uncertainty that having a manager sign off on the request in advance would eliminate. It still seems like a really expensive way to do something that most restaurants have been doing for a long time.

      A coworker of mine said after reading this post, “Want to reduce turnover? How about not buying this schedule and giving me a decent health insurance option.”

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