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Four-day weeks: This restaurant chain’s serving work-life balance

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The fate of the restaurant world seems to be hanging on the thread of personnel shortages. The entire industry is breathless from fighting over good recruits – but the solution may lie in rethinking their scheduling models. One star in the fast-casual sky is taking its fate into its own hands by proposing a four-day work week.

Shake-ing things up: QSR chain considering a four-day work week

Around fourteen years ago, a small hot dog stand opened in the center of Madison Square Park. Barely a decade later, Time Magazine named its owner, Danny Meyer, one of the 100 most successful people in the world. Shake Shack, the burger-and-fries chain that grew out of the hot dog stand, now threatens even giants like McDonald’s and Burger King. The secret to Shake Shack’s success lies, for one, in a fast casual concept that combines fresh, healthy-ish products with quick service. For another, Meyer’s solved a once-impossible equation: his QSR burger joints mix fast food with a feel-good aesthetic and garnished with a clear conscience.

skill shortage QSR 4 day week

Even as the restaurant chain expands throughout the world, it manages to retain company policies that are considered progressive overall – although not all of them have met with overwhelming enthusiasm.

Meyer has been criticized in the past for trying to do away with tipping, and for giving employees Apple Watches that would prompt them to serve more quickly. But even a guy widely considered a fast-food revolutionary can’t escape one of the biggest challenges facing the industry: good people are getting harder and harder to find. The restaurant industry is faced with an immense personnel shortage, and it’s no small challenge – employer branding is becoming a must, and so is finding ways of keeping good employees once they’re on board. Shake Shack is responding to the restaurant personnel shortage by addressing work-life balance: the QSR concept is considering moving to a four-day work week.

Personnel shortages: a question with no easy answers

The lack of qualified personnel is a global issue affecting every segment of the restaurant industry. Around 37% of US National Restaurant Association members called labor recruitment the most difficult challenge they faced last year. A Tripadvisor survey of German hoteliers and restaurateurs yielded similar results: 70% of them called personnel shortages the most urgent issue they faced. Currently, around 5,000 positions are unfilled in German chain restaurants alone. A UK study concluded that the country would be short around 11,000 cooks by 2020, and 64% of the restaurants surveyed indicated that they weren’t getting enough applicants with the necessary skills. In other words, the problem isn’t just a shortage of people, it’s also a shortage of training and abilities.

lack of qualified personnel QSR

Both of these problems aren’t exactly helped by the hospitality industry’s reputation – stress and long, irregular restaurant work schedules are practically seen as laws of nature. Over time, they wear people down physically and mentally, and also take a toll on employees’ social lives. Maintaining work-life balance is tricky when scheduling models and vacation time are determined on customers’ wants and needs alone. As difficult as it’s becoming to fill new restaurant industry jobs and recruit new trainees, restaurants need to act fast – they need to focus their employer branding on emphasizing their existing perks and creating new ones. Restaurant work schedules might be one area worth exploring new approaches in. Four-day work weeks could potentially right this staffing ship before it sinks.

lack of qualified personnel

Happier employees, happier customers


Four-day weeks might be a big opportunity for the industry to polish its reputation as a high-stress one. Even well-paid, secure jobs with lots of appreciation are only marginally attractive if they mean the end of one’s personal life. Compressing employees’ schedules to a four-day week creates space for more work-life balance, which means happier staff. Many companies fail to see how this will pay off for them, because it doesn’t have an immediate effect on their bottom line. But restaurateurs who want to find and keep employees by re-examining their scheduling models will still sense the difference.

Happy, relaxed employees are more motivated, which definitely benefits customers and the company as a whole.  It creates a feel-good atmosphere that keeps customers coming back for more, which translates to higher revenues.

Jobs kitchen chef

Companies that aren’t quite ready to make the (not insignificant) leap to a four-day work week still have other options to explore, though. Even “smaller” changes to scheduling models can have a positive effect. Part-time help, annualized work-hours accounts, staggered scheduling, or simply making employees part of the schedule planning process can all reduce workplace stress.

With its new locations in glitzy Las Vegas, Shake Shack is following in the footsteps of the Michelin-starred Maaemo in Norway, the 21212 in Edinburgh and the Aloha hospitality chains in Alabama. All of them are reducing working hours in an effort to find and keep employees. It’s a huge step, but a necessary one given the shrinking number of trainees and the growing personnel shortage. When it comes to scheduling models, restaurateurs who can think outside the box a little will find that four-day work weeks benefit them as much as they do staff.


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