Why are so many restaurants adopting a four day working week?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th October 2018

More restaurants are adopting a four-day working week to provide staff with a better work-life balance but Stuart Ralston from Edinburgh's Aizle restaurant took an extra step when he became a 'dinner-only' operation.

Stuart Ralston's Edinburgh's Aizle restaurant has been adhering to a four-day working week for the past 12 months to help improve work-life balance. Why did he do this and what are the benefits for reducing down the number of days worked in the kitchen?

Stuart Ralston
Stuart Ralston

There has always been a demanding kitchen culture which has been defined by aggression and long hours and subsequently has led to both issues with chefs mental and physical health.

It certainly seems that this era is on its way out thanks to a generation of chefs who are wanting to achieve a better work-life balance for them and for their team.

Originally spearheading this movement, chef Sat Bains blazed the way back in 2015, opting to adopt a four-day week to improve the work-life balance of his team. His revolution continues with more and more chefs adopting this principle, most recently Paul Kitching who announced that he would be changing Restaurant 21212’s opening times in a bid to ‘put the team’s work-life balance first’.

In an article by Tony Naylor for The Guardian, Stuart Ralston, chef-owner at Edinburgh’s Aizle restaurant, has reflected on his own decision to change his team's working hours as he admits that he was ‘exhausted’ and that spending 20 plus years working 15 hour days left him ‘physically and mentally spent.’

Speaking to The Guardian, he said: “That’s not where I wanted to be for the next 20 years…I know how that story ends - I don’t want to die from a stroke at 59.”

Aizle has been adhering to a four-day-on, three-days-off, dinner-only operation since January and Stuart admits that despite the reduction in days, his team are still putting in the hours, but the difference is that they are not ‘dying on their arse’.

Stuart is not alone in not wanting the job to be the death of him, The Staff Canteen spoke to Niklas Ekstedt in September and he explained that the links between diet and lifestyle and mental illness were very interesting to him as a chef who doesn’t want to leave the industry but understands the effect the lifestyle can have.

He said: “As you know we work really hard and long hours. We have a very stressful life and I’d been thinking a lot about ageing and getting old in the industry because we have a very young industry.

“Most of us who work in the restaurant business are under 40. I’m now turning 40 and I’m looking at the second chapter, I’m not young anymore in my industry.

“I don’t want to leave this industry, I want to continue working as a chef and with the restaurant for the rest of my life….I want to do it until I die. But not so I die!”

The pressure in hospitality has always been prevalent and Stuart admits that when he was starting out that the number of hours you worked was almost deemed as a badge of honour.

He said: “When I was coming through, Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White were idols. It was a badge of honour to say I’ve worked this-many-days-in-a-row or so many hours. In places I trained, I don’t remember owners ever caring how many hours the staff worked or whether a chef had done 20 days straight.”

Some chefs rely on the likes of alcohol, cigarettes and even drugs to help them through the punishingly long hours and a recent survey from The Change Group found that one in five workers cited smoking (23%) and alcohol (22%) as the main remedies for relieving stress in the workplace.

Achieving an optimum work-life balance for the restaurant's team is a no-brainer for most chefs. Not only does it make sense to have happier staff, but it could ultimately help tackle the chef shortage too. A report from People 1st  revealed that 19,000 chefs are leaving the hospitality industry annually. By providing staff with a superior work-life balance could help restaurants to recruit and retain the best chefs.

Stuart admits that this is a factor and said: “I don’t want to train a sous chef for two years for them to go and work somewhere else.”

It certainly seems that the four-day working week movement is gaining momentum and it was recently announced that the Michelin-starred restaurant Checkers, in Montgomery will be relaunching in November as a daytime-only Checker’s Pantry. The hospitality workforce is wanting to have more than just work in their lives.

Tom Tanner, a spokesperson for the Sustainable Restaurant Association and blogger for The Staff Canteen, told The Guardian:

“The workforce is changing, and millennials aren’t up for crazy hours.”

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has called for the four-day working week to be adopted across the UK, with general secretary Frances O’Grady stating that technological advances should mean that ‘employees receive the same level of pay for working a shorter week’.

By Emma Harrison

@canteenemma

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 25th October 2018

Why are so many restaurants adopting a four day working week?