Attracting and retaining great staff has always been a bugbear of the hospo sector – made infinitely worse by pandemic-related disruptions to the sector. One idea to try when addressing these challenges is the four-day work week.
The idea with the four day week is that by working fewer hours overall, the goal is to improve worker’s quality of life, allowing staff time for personal priorities, and ultimately improving productivity, morale and staff retention.
For some business this means cutting down days, for others it means extending hours and increasing staff numbers. The second option is what Auckland restauranteurs Sid and Chand Sahrawat are about to try. In August, the couples’s contemporary Indian restaurant Cassia, in Fort Street, is shaking up its operations, extending opening hours, switching to a seven day-a-week schedule, boosting staff numbers and introducing a four-day working week.
These changes are in response to customer demand, but Sid and Chand Sahrawat say another intention is to enable better staff work life balance. “We used to close two days to give everyone the same days off, but we know work life balance is important to our staff and we want to make this happen for them with a four-day working week, for those who want it. We feel like the way to achieve this is to open seven days to give both the team and our customers what they are asking for”, says Chand.
The Sahrawats are expanding their team from 20 to 35 to meet the extra days of operation, which will enable kitchen teams to work a four-day week, but still earn the same salary. The move will allow the team greater flexibility, enabling staff to swap shifts to attend family-related events. This is something the Sahrawats recognise as vital to attracting and retaining staff long-term. Front of house teams, meanwhile, will be able to work extra shifts if they choose to, as these are paid on an hourly basis, as opposed to a salary and will (like the kitchen teams) have more flexible working hours and days.
Chef Sid says Cassia’s move comes amid an extremely difficult time for the restaurant industry. “We all need to look inwards and see what we can do,” he says. “The last couple of years we have learned we have to work with what we’ve got, and we have long recognised we need to make the industry more attractive in order to attract and retain staff.”
The Sahrawats (who also own fine dining establishment Sid at The French Café) have long recognised some changes need to be made to retain existing team members – and attract more to the industry. They view the increased wage costs as a necessary cost of doing business. They are also quick to recognise that few operators in the industry are currently in the position to take the same measures they have, due to a continued lack of available or willing staff and the risks associated with increased operating costs and reduced margins.
The staffing and timetabling restructure coincides with Cassia celebrating its eighth year in operation. While the restaurant has managed to secure most of the 35-strong team it requires for this move, the Sahrawats are still looking for a few more staff.
Cassia will open seven days for dinner and Wednesday to Sunday for lunch. (It currently operates Tuesday to Saturday for dinner and Thursday and Friday for lunch.)
It is hoped the move will be popular with customers. “Cassia has always had demand from customers to open on Sundays and Mondays, as there are very few places open on these days that are family friendly and fun. Also, our other colleagues in hospitality tend to miss out as we are closed the same days,” says Chand.
“We used to close two days to give everyone the same days off, but we know work life balance is important to our staff and we want to make this happen for them with a four-day working week, for those who want it. We feel like the way to achieve this is to open seven days to give both the team and our customers what they are asking for.”
Restaurant Association of New Zealand CEO Marisa Bidois says initiatives like this one are a great way for businesses to think outside of the box when it comes to attracting and retaining employees.
“The four-day week is a concept that is being trialled in workplaces globally as a way of increasing employee satisfaction, reducing stress levels and increasing productivity”, says Bidois. “With the current worker shortage, many businesses have had to reduce opening hours to ensure staff are well rested.”
Cassia’s new operating hours come into effect on Monday, August 15 with the restaurant open from 5:30 pm seven nights a week, and lunch Wednesday to Sunday. À la carte, Business Lunch and set Journey Through India menus are all available.