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MILK CRATE INTERVIEW // Shifting to a Four-Day Work Week Model

The milk crate is an iconic symbol of the working class hospitality stiff. These durable, utilitarian boxes are used as walk-in cooler shelving as often as they are transformed into make-shift chairs, stools or tables. Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant — front of house or back — has found themselves sitting on one for a moment of respite. They are ‘the great back-alley equalizer’, and because of this, they are a venue for some of the most authentic conversations and honest human connections happening in the industry.

Four days on, three days off. A new schedule is gaining traction, with several notable Vancouver restaurants now participating, and many more toying with the idea. But is it all it’s cracked up to be? Originally adopted by the white collar workforce, moving from five work days down to four simply meant a couple hours extra per day, to make up for lost time. This is a difficult model for restaurants to adopt. There are all sorts of logistical and financial hurdles associated with staff working less and the schedule having more slots to fill. It’s a complicated and contentious issue – one among many that the F&B industry – locally and at large – are currently facing. We decided to reach out to a bunch of local industry folks and get them to weigh in with their own personal experiences…

THE QUESTION

There is a lot of enthusiasm about moving from a traditional five-day work week to a four-day one (ideally with three consecutive days off). Do you use the four-day model in any of your restaurants or, if not, have you considered shifting to this model? What are some of the benefits and what are some challenges?

THE LINE-UP

Neil Hillbrandt | Chef, Bar Gobo

The mental and physical benefits of a four-day work week in the kitchen are exponential. If you take care of yourself on your weekend, you are coming back 100 times more refreshed compared to a five-day work week. The biggest challenge for our restaurant is waste management. We have to be really good at predicting pars (especially proteins) for the last day before the weekend because most things we make won’t be good after being closed for three days. I guess that you wouldn’t have to deal with that issue in larger restaurants where you’re not actually closed and you just have a larger staff rotation.


Devon Latte | Chef, Acorn

The amount of pushback we initially received (and will continue to receive) from cooks has been substantial. People either need to work enough hours to send money back home to family members, or to just flat-out pay rent in Vancouver. Whatever the reason may be, sometimes a kitchen wage with 40 hours or less per week just doesn’t cut the mustard… However, it’s been easy for me to adjust as I’ve had two real burnouts in my 15+ years in the industry and I’ll do anything to avoid another. I can no longer imagine working a five-day work week.


Shira Blustein | Owner, Acorn

We’ve been operating with a modified four-day work week in our kitchen for several years now. The benefits are apparent: less burnout, better work-life balance, happier staff. Plus, there’s usually coverage available when you need it. The downside is that it adds a significant cost to labour for salaried employees. It’s also easier to offer four-day work weeks in a restaurant that’s open seven days per week. I imagine it would be trickier to staff if you were closed for one or two days per week.


Antonio Cayonne | Operations Manager, The Mackenzie Room

We had the opportunity to pilot a four-day work week (pre-Covid) for our front of house and it was very successful. It staved off burnout, lessened time-off requests overall, our staff had more energy and more fun, and it provided a more focused team effort. I think the model can work well if you’re open seven days a week – however, if your restaurant is only open five days a week, there are suddenly new obstacles. Much like anything, it’ll take a few places solving the model for it to catch on. I’m curious to see how everyone makes it work. The last ‘work week’ innovation was in 1926, so we are due for a change.


Robbie Kane | Owner, Café Medina

Generally speaking, with the exception of a few key people and a few that prefer to work five days, everyone works a four-day work week. It is totally beneficial, if you can make it happen. Owner excluded, obvs.


Keith Allison | Owner / Chef, Pizza Coming Soon

I’m trying to move most of my staff who prefer it to a four-day work week. This could become quite challenging due to the shortage of restaurant workers and the constant difficulty of finding staff. I think taking an extra day off to decompress, and having a self care day, is crucial in avoiding a “grind” or a burnout. Just think: if staff, managers and owners can work together in finding a common ground and fairness when it comes to how much someone needs to work, it could make the entire workplace a much better atmosphere.


Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson | Chef, Published on Main

Our goal from day one at Published was a four-day work week. Obviously after the last couple years, it has been a huge challenge getting there. When we made the top spot on the Canada’s 100 Best list, we were already quite busy, but that accolade really helped us jam the books. Being that busy and doing those kind of sales made it so much easier to justify the switch in labour model. We were able to transition all of the chef de parties to a four-day week, and most of them (based on tenure) got a 10% raise. With the hours that are required to be a station chef at a restaurant, with the ambitious menu we have, and the volume we do, working a five-day week can be completely consuming. On a four-day model, days are still long, but cooks are typically working less than 50 hours, and a three-day weekend gives them plenty of time for activities, relaxing and life mise en place. I think there are so many benefits to this model. I think it’s the way of the future.


Winnie Sun | Co-Owner and Bartender, Zarak

We are on five-day service and we try to give our staff a four-day schedule, because allowing them to have days off to focus on other aspects of their life is really important to us. I personally can’t afford to work only four days in a week, but if I could, I would be working on my other hobbies and taking one day in a week for a mental health day, because constantly interacting with guests and coworkers in this industry takes a huge toll on the mind. I think, from the get-go of Zarak, we established a culture that we want our staff to have things to do outside of the restaurant. We recently closed for a week in October so that we could all go away for vacation before the Christmas season, and it was really well-received, so we will be implementing that every year.


James Iranzad | Co-Owner, Gooseneck Hospitality

We do have some folks in management that are experimenting with this model. Generally speaking, their work requires them to work longer days due to their restaurants having multiple services, so it seemed reasonable that five days of that may be excessive. The benefit, of course, is that these individuals would be working a fair amount of hours for their salary and having a healthy work-life balance. The challenge would only be that such key players would now only be in the building four days of the week instead of five, meaning that a higher level of organization is necessary to ensure operation is smooth during their absence.
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This feature was developed by:

RHYS AMBER | Rhys may have started his career in the restaurant industry as a line cook, but these days he’s using that experience to engage fellow chefs in discussions about what motivates them, what frustrates them, and how the industry can improve.

MICHELLE SPROULE | Michelle is Scout’s owner, operator, and from-the-hip picture-taker, who is very particular in her appreciation for margaritas, honey glazed donuts, and the thickness and grain of the paper she writes on. An experienced road-tripper, she’s got equal amounts of love for both roadside dives and hotel lounges.


GOT SOMETHING TO SAY? Do you want to contribute to this topic? Got another topic that you think would be a good fit for this series? Please send your suggestions to michelle [at] scoutmagazine.ca.

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