It’s a problem that all restaurants face. A beautiful summer day and the phone rings with one of the staff taking a “sick day” or unexpected time off so they can enjoy the beach or an unplanned vacation away.
“With summer, many workers may take planned or unplanned vacations, which means there is a chance for the restaurant to be understaffed if they do not have proper procedures in place to combat that,” says Debbie Roxarzade, founder and CEO of Las Vegas eatery Rachel’s Kitchen. “A restaurant’s biggest challenge is making sure the restaurant is staffed as efficiently as possible.”
Rachel’s Kitchen policy requires planned time off to be requested two weeks in advance, and, for unplanned time, the company requires documentation to show why it is needed.
“These policies help our entire team, as it eliminates confusion and details the process in place for these situations,” Roxarzade says. “We find that with these policies, our team works together to make sure the restaurant is staffed efficiently as much as possible. Our managers pick up additional shifts when a team member needs unplanned time off if they cannot find someone to cover them.”
Brad “Paco” Miller, director of operations with Synergy Restaurant Consultants in Newport Beach, Calif., notes offering incentives like additional time off, paid holidays or preferred schedules for working on “prime summer days,” weekends or holidays can help stem the outflow.
“The restaurant labor market is so competitive that offering any kind of benefit may give an employer an edge,” he says. “Utilizing scheduling technology can make the shift-covering process seamless, but managing time off, no-shows, and last-minute absences will always be difficult. The real key is offering incentives to stem this practice.”
For example, one of Miller’s clients in Hawaii, which faces notorious challenges with staffing, started offering “like-for-like” time off, with no questions asked, if an employee has agreed to work a weekend or holiday. That, plus a rule requiring two weeks notice, allowed the restaurant to better manage time off.
Chris Benner, owner of 23 Captain D’s restaurants throughout Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Alabama and Kentucky, says staffing issues today are as challenging as they’ve ever been.
“It’s sometimes hard to push back on unpaid vacation time, but we require all paid vacation time be submitted with four-week advanced notice,” he says. “With that four-week notice, we have enough time to figure out a game plan on how to cover the vacation, whether we decide to request help from another restaurant or hire a seasonal employee.”
Benner manages paid vacations on a first-come, first-served basis, and two vacations in one department (counter, kitchen, management) cannot be taken at the same time. He’s also implemented a rule allowing employees to cash in one vacation annually, allowing them to receive vacation pay and not the vacation time, if they prefer.
Mary Dohner-Smith, a partner in the Nashville office of Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP, a law office specializing in workplace law, says all restaurants should have a vacation policy in place.
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“An effective policy does more than just identify the amount of vacation employees can earn; employers who want to be proactive about planning for vacation season use their policies as a tool to ensure they have appropriate staff coverage when faced with high demands for time off,” she says. “Employers who want to be prepared should consider including deadlines for vacation requests in their vacation policies. Setting a deadline well in advance of vacation season gives employers an opportunity to properly assess staffing levels and avoid staff shortages.”
“The restaurant labor market is so competitive that offering any kind of benefit may give an employer an edge.” -Brad “Paco” Miller
The policy should be communicated to all employees in writing upon hiring, discussed during the orientation process, and either re-distributed on an annual basis or posted where employees cannot miss it, she says.
“Ensuring employees know how the vacation policy actually works may prevent those last-minute unscheduled call-outs from work,” Dohner-Smith says. “Transparency can also help to sooth sore feelings when vacation requests cannot be approved.”
She recommends rotating the coveted summer holidays so that an employee who is approved for vacation over the July Fourth holiday moves to the bottom of the list of vacation requests for Memorial Day and Labor Day.
“Utilizing processes that allow employees to submit vacations requests including their first choice, second choice and so on can be used to help ensure all employees have a chance to vacation over prime holidays,” she says.
Roxarzade notes that a plan’s success begins with the culture a restaurant creates.
“Managers need to build a fair and trusting culture at the beginning,” she says. “Our time off policy is shared with all employees when they begin. I also recommend managers review all time off requests quarterly to make sure that the same people are not always asking for time off and that they are providing proof if needed.”
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