About nine years ago, a general manager working for Parkside Projects had a heart attack and died. At the time, Shawn Cirkiel, owner of the Austin, Texas-based restaurant group, was living a stereotypical chef lifestyle—working long, hard hours during the day and imbibing with industry folks at night. “That was the realization that things had to change,” Cirkiel says. Since then, Cirkiel and his team have been committed to helping staff live healthy, emotionally balanced lives.
A major part of the initiative has been offering a better work-life balance for employees—a selling point in this always-on-the-job labor climate. Creating truly flexible schedules is hard, but worth it, Cirkiel says. “As a restaurateur, it’s a unique time,” he says. “If you set some clear goals of who you want to be and how you want to accomplish it, you can do it. And your staff will reward you with loyalty and sales.”
Here are a few ways Cirkiel and other operators are making flexible schedules business as usual.
Start from the top down
Parkside Projects employees can take an unlimited amount of time off. When managers first join the team, they are often hesitant about the restaurants’ scheduling policies. A key ingredient is hiring people who really care, Cirkiel says. “When you create that kind of trust in your team, covering a shift is just an opportunity to take care of someone else.” Also, communicating why Parkside Projects operates this way and how it benefits the restaurant group helps managers see the value in flexible scheduling, he says.
Build up manpower
The industry is shifting and the days of working a minimum of 12 hours each day are over, says Terri Stark, co-owner of Stark Reality Restaurants in Santa Rosa, Calif. The group has hired more managers, so that no one has to work a 60-hour week. "They get to come in later in the day, and everybody has a better quality of life,” Stark says.
Many restaurant staff juggle multiple jobs, creating a complicated scheduling process. Texas-based Razzoo’s Cajun Cafe tries to offer employees enough hours so they don’t have to work elsewhere. To help workers rack up hours, Stark Reality Restaurants offers employees shifts at different locations within the group.
It’s an understatement to say the phone is a big deal to employees, says Razzoo’s CEO Jeff Powell. The operation has been able to offer more flexible schedules since they adopted a restaurant scheduling app where employees can swap shifts. “They can solve the scheduling problem before it gets to managers,” Powell says.
But being flexible and supportive doesn’t mean managers don’t have expectations and standards, Cirkiel says. The system requires a higher level of communication, he says. Last year, a supervisor approved a two-week vacation for a couple chefs during the restaurant’s busiest time of year. Everyone involved had to have a conversation about judgement, and the employees ended up taking their trip later in the year.