Let's face it: this is a grueling business, and workers need time off not only to recharge their batteries, but to have fun and enjoy life outside of what I believe is a fun industry.
Students -- teen students, in particular -- who are employees bring a different challenge to restaurant operators when it comes to time off and scheduling. There are student employees whose academic schedules (not to mention child labor laws that restrict their working hours) demand limited work periods and constant time off for school-related activities. It can be an administrative headache for operators if some basic guidelines are not in place.
For those of us who, as students, worked jobs to contribute to the family income, that doesn't always settle well with our "old-school" way of thinking. (And don't forget our two-mile walk to school everyday ... up hill ... both ways!)
So how does one orchestrate this benefit for hourly employees to increase productivity and
1. Anticipate students' schedule needs: As you typically look forward to the seasonal events that increase business, anticipate homecoming dances, proms, holiday breaks, etc. Try to make room in your staff's schedule so they can participate in what are traditional life experiences for young people. And since we're all young only once, it's important they participate in these as much as possible.
So be proactive by asking the teens ahead of time -- I recommend three months out -- about upcoming events. (Don't be like the waiter who suspected his customers would want separate checks, but failed to ask them and then got all stressed out because [sure enough] the table asked for them after he presented one check!) Don't wait on them to ask off the week of the big game, the dance or whatever. Chances are they'll forget to ask in advance, so help them and you by looking ahead.
2. Don't place adult schedule demands on your teen employees: A common complaint of operators working with teens is the difficulty of scheduling them within legal work hour limits. Don't forget, the restrictions are there not to allow teens to be lazy workers show up for short shifts only. Rather those restrictions ensure teens keep their priorities straight, such as school and free time, while earning a paycheck by helping you run your business. This time of their lives is filled with activities that push employment down the priority list, and if you hire them, understand that your operation comes third, fourth or fifth -- not first -- in their lives. They're going to need the time off, so anticipate it with the right attitude rather than feeling they're taking advantage of you.
3. Set policies to reduce schedule chaos: Establish policies and procedures for switching shifts, when the need arises. Include management approval of all changes and accountability for employees involved. This will require organization on your end and follow through on the teens' end.
Any changes to the schedule should be made with both employees -- or any number of staffers required -- present at the time the request is made. Don't let one party tell you his buddy said he'd cover for him, when he never said such a thing. Also make both employees initial the change on the schedule; that ensures they accept and understand the agreement.
4. "Sell" schedule flexibility as a benefit of employment in foodservice, not a burden: The schedule flexibility of this business is a real benefit for both students and veteran employees. And what's important to remember is that teen employees whose employer helps them enjoy that benefit are much more likely to become long-term employees as they go through school and beyond.
This past month, one of my associates decided to take off a whole month to vacation in Hawaii, while another career waiter I know takes three vacations a year to Mexico. There aren't that many jobs out there which allow so much flexibility.
So "sell" that as a benefit -- but never as an entitlement -- of working at your place. Help teen workers understand that you'll do all you can to give them time off for special events, but that they'll also need to be flexible in covering for other coworkers when they need time off.