You have read about the shortage of line cooks. You have read about how minimum wage is going up across the country. You have probably also read about the move Danny Meyer made to eliminate tipping at his restaurants. What you may not have read about is the Fair Scheduling Act.
What do all of these stories have in common? They are all movements in order to make wages earned in restaurants fair. They also aim to eliminate the gap between FOH wages and BOH wages.
The Fair Scheduling Act (and bills like it) encourages a more predictable and dependable schedule for hourly workers. Employers would be required to give their employees at least two weeks’ notice on their schedule. While this particular bill is aimed at larger companies (with 500+ employees and 10+ locations), it also tackles an industry-wide problem of abusive practices. Larger companies have been known to employ complex algorithms in order to perfectly schedule a staff by using data such as season, weather patterns, politics and sales trends. An employee can be expected to “call in” to a line at 1pm to find out if he/she is working at 3pm!
This makes it impossible for employees with children or dependents to secure care. In an interview with NBC, a young mother working for a corporate retailer explained, “They expect me to be available all the time, 24/7.”
In addition to being horribly inconvenient for workers, this kind of opportunistic last-minute schedules makes the job unreliable. If a worker is called off three days in a row during a snowstorm, where is he or she going to make money? On the other side, busy holiday seasons could call for zealous over-scheduling. There is a scary unpredictability for hourly workers.
As of 2014, about 58% of the nation’s workforce are hourly workers. About half of hourly workers are women. This is a huge population of Americans in need of protective rights.
There was recently a gathering at San Francisco’s City Hall to discuss these rights. I was able to catch up with the Jennifer Piallat, the owner of Zazie, a popular San Francisco french bistro in the Cole Valley neighborhood. Jennifer was invited to this panel as she has always been an outspoken proponent of hourly worker’s rights. In fact, Zazie has been operating on the tip-free format since June of 2015 with very few hiccups. The staff at Zazie is also ahead of the ball on scheduling. When I asked Piallat if she got her schedules done two weeks in advance, she laughed and said “We have our schedules done forever!” The staff at Zazie knows their schedules. If a server needs to pick up his son after soccer practice next Tuesday, he already knows he can do that. That seems like a basic enough right for any hourly worker.
To play devil’s advocate, I asked about whether employees get upset at not being able to continuously work the “money shifts”, the busiest shifts, typically on the weekend. At Zazie, much like other restaurants, employee shifts are set by seniority and performance. The more senior staff will work the busiest shifts. The younger, less experienced employees will likely work the slower weekday shifts, enabling them to learn and increase their performance. If a senior server needs a shift covered, he or she can use their mobile scheduling software to request coverage from another equally-qualified server. The permanent schedule in place flows along nicely and allows employees to have a life outside of work or even another job.
These are a lot of changes for a restaurant to make. It seems like a lot to ask. Remove tips? Increase menu price to compensate? Have no flexibility in scheduling? These all seem like changes that would be met with staff-wide dissatisfaction. As with any large changes you make in a business, you must always weigh the pros and cons. You must decide whether the risk is worth the reward. It is, however important for these discussions to be taking place. We do not want to wake up on a Saturday in a world with no pancakes! If the inequality between front of house and back of house continues, there may be no line cooks around to whip up a stack of pancakes for you.
What do you think about eliminating tipping?
What do you think about increasing pay for back of house?
What do you think about hourly employees having set schedules?