California has some of the strictest labor laws in the country. For the better part of a decade, I adopted the mentality of most of my peers by thinking these laws were clearly written by people who are not in the service industry. We were warriors, proud of our marathon shifts. We would generally cover each other for just enough time to scarf down family meal or a burrito. And that seemed like enough.
At the 2013 National Leadership Conference, we were asked a pivotal question: How do I dedicate my life to the service industry and get out with my health, a little cash, and my sanity in tact?
I’ve been considering the full impact of this question ever since. I mean, is this what we signed up for? To sacrifice our own physical health and well-being? To cripple ourselves to feed people or get someone that next drink a little faster?
These questions have significantly impacted the decisions I make in my work both in leading the USBG and my bar staff. As an employer, I began to feel that I shouldn’t be asking staff to harm themselves to get through the night.
So we began the process of integrating meal and rest periods into our schedules. The integration required a complete overhaul of our family meal process, and even requires some employees to come in a little earlier than their shift begins. Since we use staggered shifts to cover our 9 hours of service, and conclude service at 2am, serving one family meal at the conclusion of business was an impractical solution. It took several months of trial and error, but now we have a solid system of meal periods and our entire staff takes at least 30 minutes to sit down, eat some food, and rest their brains during every shift… and the results have been impressive.
Although I do not have any empirical data to support this, casual observation suggests that the stress levels and overall health of the staff have definitely improved. Colds still get us here and there, but overall they seem shorter now and the traditional “I’m so tired” mantra has definitely slowed down in its ubiquity. Now that we’ve worked out the kinks, there is no looking back.
Not every state has laws to provide a meal period during a shift, but you should definitely get to know your employee manual and find out your company policy on meals and breaks. If your bar or restaurant doesn’t have a clear policy, consider asking for more support from your management team to allow meal and rest breaks. As future managers and owners, consider the impacts of 10-14 hours shifts on the long-term health and well-being of your staff.
Ask yourself, should it really hurt to do this job? I hope you’ll come to the same conclusion we did. If you make the effort to make this change, you, and your team, will be very grateful.