Beat the winter blues


I don’t want to bring any additional employees on board for the holidays, knowing I won’t need them in January. How can I keep my overwhelmed stressed-out employees motivated through the busy holiday party season?

– Abby Singh, Owner-Operator, Canteen 900, Forty Fort, PA


The art of scheduling is in keeping employees—especially tipped employees—busy enough that they are excited by the work, high energy, and well-compensated, while not so busy that they are frazzled or quality of service declines. It sounds like in your case, the negatives of the busy holiday season—overwork, stress, long hours—are outweighing the positive—more money for you and for them!

Rick Camac, Managing Partner of the Fatty Crew restaurants deals with the same challenges and shares his approach: “The holiday season is tough on all employees.  A few simple things can make it go a bit easier:

  • I don’t schedule anyone for all Holidays (Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Years).  I always stagger and if, in a particular store, I don’t think we'll do enough business, we close.  Not worth the business for the hit to morale.
  • Lots of positive reinforcement.  Always important but more so when employees are exhausted.
  • Try to stagger shifts so that someone closing doesn’t open the next day.  I have people that work till 4am.  I don’t want them on the brunch shift.
  • Contests - make it fun.  These prizes can be minimal or substantial (for a day, week or month).  And typically your POS does all the tracking.
  • Gentle reminders that they are making more money (assuming they are tipped) and that they'll wish for some of these hectic days shortly.  Also remind them it is for a finite amount of time (light at the end of the tunnel).
  • To lessen stress, be organized about side work and have everything ready before a shift begins.  Nothing adds more to stress in the toughest times than disorganization.
  • Make your staff take scheduled breaks whether they want to or not.  They need it but their adrenaline tells them otherwise.”

Some other ideas: pull out the vacation calendar for the winter and let overworked employees claim their days off for after the New Year to keep their eye on the prize. If you know you’ll be slow in winter, be more generous with schedules than you normally would be, for example, giving someone a whole weekend off if requested.

Do not forget to take care of your non-tipped employees, of course keeping in mind the slower months to come. As a former cook, I can tell you the resentment that builds as cooks watch servers, bartenders and owners make more money all month while their checks stay the same. 

Camac adds a final suggestion, “Yoga, meditation, and prayer (pray for the Holidays to be done).” Happy Holidays!