A Balanced Plate for Restaurant Workers

Thanks to industry changes restaurant workers are finding it easier to lead a more balanced life.

A Balanced Plate for Restaurant Workers

Is it really possible to have a normal life and work in the restaurant industry? Several years ago, the answer to this question undeniably would have been “no.” 

However, times have changed, and the restaurant industry is beginning to recognize that it must adapt to the workforce’s changing needs to attract the best candidates. That’s not an easy task, but a number of employers are making strides. 

A Shorter Workweek 

Hal Pyke, director of recruiting for Cosi Inc., recognizes that the industry still has a ways to go. "It’s a work in progress," says Pyke. "We are learning that we have to deal with quality-of-life issues to attract and retain employees at all levels of the organization." 

Forward-thinking companies, like Cosi, are limiting the number of hours employees can be scheduled to work. "We are striving for a 40 to 50-hour workweek," says Pyke. In addition, Cosi is trying to schedule employee time off on consecutive days. The company also provides all employees with at least one weekend off a month. “This makes good business sense if you want to retain people and give long-term productivity and service,” he says. 

Rick and Deann Bayless, chefs and owners of the internationally known Mexican restaurants Frontera Grill and Topolobampo take the same approach. They chose locations for their restaurants that allow them to close two days a week, Sunday and Monday. This permits everyone to have two days off in a row and gives the owners time for a life outside of the restaurant as well. They also close their restaurants for two weeks a year around Christmas so employees have time to spend with their families during the holiday season. 

Manager Incentives 

Applebee’s has a different approach. This company recognizes that turnover has a direct effect on a restaurant’s ability to provide consistent service, says John Prutsman, executive director of field human resources. Applebee’s believes the way to retain employees is to have a management team that is sensitive to employees’ needs. "Managers receive bonuses and are valued based on their ability to retain associates," says Prutsman. "They have an incentive to work with their employees on scheduling issues." 

A Benefits Package 

In the past, workers have shied away from the restaurant industry because of a lack of employee benefits. This appears to be changing. At Cosi, most hourly employees are eligible to participate in the employee benefits program. "We want the hourly folks to be able to improve their career opportunities," says Pyke. As part of the program, Cosi subsidizes its hourly employees’ education by providing stipends that can be used to pay for books and incidentals. 

Improved Flexibility 

Prutsman believes there is more to benefit programs than just the tangible items. Workers in this industry have flexible hours. "It’s a lot harder in a 9-to-5 job to get time off to see your kids play soccer," says Prutsman. He adds that, with enough advance notice, workers can switch shifts with other workers or request days off. Mothers and fathers also have the opportunity to eliminate expensive day care options by choosing shifts that allow them to be home when spouses are at work. 

Assess a Potential Employer 

So how do you know if a company’s idea of work-life balance will meet your needs. Try these tips:

  • Look Around: Pyke believes that can tell a lot about a restaurant’s culture just by being observant. "Look for people smiling," says Pyke. "If employees look like their dog just died, walk away." 
  • Ask Questions: Prutsman advises job seekers to make interviewing a two-way street. He suggests candidates ask the hiring manager about turnover numbers. "If they take great care of their people, they should have numbers that reflect [a low turnover rate]," he says.

The restaurant industry’s work-life balance movement is gaining momentum. Restaurants know that employees are the key to continued profitability and growth. They know that if they want to be family-friendly destinations, they need to start by taking care of their own families. 

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