Some of the world’s best restaurants– Noma and Relae in Copenhagen, Maison Baumé in California, Attica in Melbourne, Aizle in Edinburgh– are shortening working hours for their chefs and staff. But they’re not the only ones, and the examples of more casual restaurants are, arguably, more important than the big names. A two- or three-star Michelin restaurant can pretty much charge what it wants, since they can be booked months in advance and have huge waitlists. But all other restaurants live and die by razor-thin margins, and it’s easy to imagine that they can’t afford to shorten working hours for chefs and staff.
However, I’ve been finding a fair number of casual dining places that are experimenting with four-day weeks. In Brisbane, Australia, for example, Sasquatch Bar, a casual craft beer bar and restaurant (they boast of “international cuisines that have been interpreted into our idea of great drinking food”) has implemented a four-day week for chefs. Casey Poland talks about it in this interview that I just came across. He started working in kitchens at 15, and almost 15 years later, he’s worked as a head chef and restaurant consultant.
Having 3 whole days off a week is amazing. It’s changed my life. It has changed the lives of the chefs I have at work. I have chefs who have kids, I have chefs who have businesses on the side that they run.
I have a wife and I’m trying to start a family, and the most important thing, I’d like to say, before my work is my wife. I need to be at work on Saturday and Sunday, and if I only have two days off and it’s the middle of the week and my wife has to work late, I only end up having dinner once a week with my wife. It’s terrible. Just the opportunity to have one more dinner with my wife a week has been amazing, you know?
Recently, Baumhower’s Victory Grille, a 10-restaurant chain in Alabama, shifted its managers and staff to a 4-day week, apparently with no reduction in pay (I’m trying to verify that). Baumhower played football for Bear Bryant at Alabama (if you don’t know American college football I can’t explain how significant this is, but it’s huge), then went on to a career with the Miami Dolphins, before getting into the restaurant business; and for them, it’s about recruitment and retention. As Baumhower says in a press release,
So much of what we do is about celebrating, making memories, and enjoying amazing food… [and] we want our teams to be able to enjoy those things too. Allowing our managers to have the life-work balance they desire while being able to better serve our guests at the same time makes this revolutionary concept a no-brainer. It’s funny how ideas come to you, and you wonder to yourself – ‘Why didn’t we do this years ago?’
It’s important to note that for restaurants, a 4-day week doesn’t necessarily translate to a 32-hour week: you might still be working 12-hour days normally. But there’s still a significant difference between 48 and 60 or more hours, and having three days in a row off is huge.