Shift Reports and Managing the Front of House

The 80/20 Rule essentially says that on the average you’ll spend 80 percent of your time dealing with 20 percent of the problems on a day-to-day basis. This is generally true at each level of an organization, whether you’re the owner, a general manager or a supervisor. So, the best way to make an impact on your available time (for things like growth and improvement) is to identify and attack repeat problems in that 20 percent.

Now, the above concept is probably not new to anyone. Something that might be new to you is how to go about identifying and attacking those problems: shift reports. Anyone with a little experience in a highly-structured work environment (especially a 24-hour operation) will probably have some negative things to say about shift reports. But here’s the thing, they work.

Shift reports are often overly complicated and try and capture way too much information. The basic idea behind a shift report is that one person or group can quickly and easily communicate the major issues from the off-going shift to the oncoming shift. A well-designed shift report should be:

  • Written: accompanied by an easy conversation
  • Short
  • Focused

Generally, you tend to see improvement in the performance for area(s) that you measure. And, shift reports are a way to measure performance in key areas in the front of house (FoH).

A well-designed shift report can be used to zero-in on repeat issues and develop strong information around an issue. Whether the issue is personnel, tools/resources or management problems, patterns become easy to recognize and the information can be used for training, counseling and developing a solution.

Let’s say you have three servers/bartenders, two busboys, a maitre d’ and two chefs/cooks. If you’re having consistent problems/complaints with “the service,” how do you figure out whether it’s the kitchen, the bar, the wait staff or where/who?

If you talk to the maitre d’, do you just take her word for what the problem is/was? Customer comment cards are great, but don’t tell you a lot of detail or how to address the problem. Some of the information could be teased out of timecards or food tickets, but, a shift report—even if it’s just done by area—can be extremely useful and easy to review when searching for potential problems in your operation.

A shift report should include:

  • Date
  • Shift
  • Who’s working
  • Problem(s)
  • How the problem was dealt with

As you would expect, the more “check-the-box” you have, the better. That makes it easier to fill-in and reduces differences among how people report the same issue.

At the end of shift, the manager needs to collect the shift reports and have a (very) brief conversation with each person or area to make sure you understand the issue(s).

File the reports and review, even briefly, no less than once every couple of weeks. Weekly is better. You’ll be surprised at the patterns that you start to notice. Some good, and some not so good. In either case, you’ve got more information to attack the problem or improve on existing strengths.

So, if you’re looking to correct issues, or take your team to the next level of performance, consider using shift reports as tools to analyze your operation.


John Szymankiewicz is a homebrewer and attorney based in Raleigh, North Carolina. John’s practice, Beer Law Center, focuses on helping breweries, bars, restaurants, wineries and distilleries with their legal needs. Becoming an attorney was a second career for John after spending 15+ years as an engineer and project manager in the pharmaceutical and specialty chemicals industries. Working in beer and alcohol law pulls together two of John’s passions craft (beer and the law), with the added bonus that he gets to work with great people all over the craft beverage industry.