Operations

Canlis attempts bold experiment: Summer weekends off for all

Staff members at the high-end restaurant will finally be able to experience the civilian joys of a Saturday and Sunday off, doing things non-restaurant people do.
Canlis restaurant
Summer is high season for Canlis in Seattle. But with good weather, workers want to go out and play on weekends too. | Photo courtesy of Canlis.

Working in a restaurant has one built-in downside:

You have to work weekends.

And that means missing the weddings, kid’s soccer games or camping trips that civilians (people who don’t work in restaurants) can enjoy together on the traditional weekends.

But the fine-dining restaurant Canlis has announced plans for an experiment to see if the 118 workers at the Seattle venue can enjoy real weekends off for a change—at least for the summer.

Mark Canlis, the third-generation co-owner of the family-owned restaurant, announced on Instagram over the weekend that Canlis would operate Monday through Friday for the summer, between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

 

For Canlis, it’s really the shift of the weekend. The restaurant is already closed Sunday and Monday, which gives workers the benefit of two consecutive days off. That is already a rare perk in the industry.

The summer experiment, however, will allow for Saturday and Sunday off, which will give team members the chance to go camping, or go out with friends on a boat or do all the things non-restaurant people do on a summer weekend.

“There’s a big difference between having a Sunday/Monday off and having a Saturday/Sunday,” he said. “There’s the weekend, and there’s the weekend everyone else has. No one wants to go camping with you on a Monday. Or no one wants to go out on the boat on a Monday, they were all out on Saturday. No one gets married on Mondays.”

This idea comes with a considerable amount of risk, he noted. In fact, when maître d’ Kyle Johnson first proposed the idea last year, Canlis said he chuckled and said, “Right. Close on a Saturday. It’s suicide.”

Summer is high season, and Saturday nights—like most fine-dining venues—are traditionally the biggest night at Canlis.

But Canlis has a long history of taking risks, especially when it benefits workers.

Founded in 1950 by Mark Canlis’ grandfather, it was one of the first restaurants to hire women in roles traditionally held by men, for example, and was an early adopter of team service practices.

During the pandemic, the restaurant created 17 new business models to keep workers employed through the dining shutdown, and no one was laid off.

When Canlis reopened, the restaurant moved from a six-day week to five to ease exhaustion levels. For managers at the restaurant, every other weekend is a three-day weekend.

“That’s a huge cost to me, but it’s good for their souls,” he said. “You can see them come in after and they’re just alive and glowing.”

Canlis wants to see if summer weekends off will have similar benefits for the rest of the team.

“I think it will be very restorative,” he said.

 What makes this even possible is a risk the Canlis family took back in 2016 by eliminating tips. Instead, workers are paid what Canlis described as “a high hourly wage” to give them a stable income. So they are not dependent on Saturday night tips, for example.

“My staff makes the same amount whether the restaurant is full or empty,” he said. “Tipping is fraught with a lot of inequities sometimes.”

Still, this is very much an experiment. Canlis said there has been a huge response on social media to the Instagram announcement, but he’s as anxious as everyone else to see whether this will work.

“I don’t know that this is a good idea. I don’t know if I can do it,” he admitted. “But I want to see if we can use our company to model a different way of doing things.”

And to those cheering on the bold move, Canlis had a simple message: “If you like the fact that we’re doing this, we need you to come and eat on a Monday.”

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