Building a break schedule that promotes restaurant performance.

This can be a touchy topic for many restaurant owners and employees. And I get it, restaurants can have small margins, low staffing budgets, and an unexpected busy schedule. But it has always stood out to me that one of the obvious ways to get a break in the industry was to take up smoking. Nicotine seemed to be the no questions asked way to take a moment away from your work station.


But just because the standard is to use an unhealthy addiction to create breaks in the industry doesn’t mean we can’t be better. Creating breaks that promote employee performance will save money and boost retention. Instead of the band-aid smoke break that is so often seen.  

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the statistics:

19% of injuries in the hospitality industry are caused by over-exertion.

According to Work Safe BC overexertion accounted for 11.6 Million dollars in loss for restaurants from 2014 - 2018.

How much does losing a trained employee cost to you?


Why we need breaks during our workday.

The human body is like a machine in many ways. It can do a task repeatedly with a high level of precision. But unlike our machine counter parts, humans can become fatigued if they don’t take time to recharge.

Driving our employees to fatigue may seem like a issue that only effects the individual but I think I can argue the cost benefit analysis of this as well. But before we do that, what does fatigue do to our productivity? And what danger does it open ourselves up to.  

Fatigue: Drop in performance.

Our brain and our muscles allow us to do our jobs in an efficient and productive manner. But how does our function decrease when we have fatigue?

We will see:

·         Decreased muscle activity

·         Decrease sensory perception

·         Decreased cognitive function, which will interfere with execution of tasks.

These outcomes may pile on top of each other but let’s look at some restaurant specific examples with each one.

Decreased Muscle Activity

Have you found that it is more difficult to lift something when you are tired? All of a sudden something you could lift easily at the beginning of your workday now is a struggle.

You thought you could lift the pot full of water onto the stove but your muscles aren’t working as well as they used to. You lift it and feel a pull in your back. Boom you now have a back injury doing something you did before because your muscles did not activate like they were supposed to.

Decreased Sensory Perception:

Chef’s can prep things quickly and create plates of food quickly on the line. But they need to know where they are in space to get this done. And a kitchen can be a dangerous environment. A drop-in perception will cause a drop-in accuracy.

I always noticed that I never cut myself with a knife at the beginning of the shift. It was always at the point where I was tired and could no longer perceive the speed I needed to move while still knowing where my hands were in space. And it would always happen when taking 10 minutes to deal with a nasty cut dragged the whole team down.  

Decreased Cognitive Function:

Restaurants require people to move fast. When you need to move fast, a high proficiency of the tasks in front of you will allow for a high pace. But fatigue will slow down your ability to process what is happening around you. You start to become a little bit slower when you have to enter in your guests’ orders on the POS system. But because your sensory perception is lowered you start have a few mis-fires and order the wrong item. This is not noticed until the food is made and now you have caused a delay in the kitchen, slowing down service and possibly screwing over your whole team.

The Compounding Effects of Fatigue.

I have noticed a trend with the effects of fatigue. When one team member becomes fatigued, we have a compounding effect on our whole team. It can just take one small problem to affect the whole restaurant. Before you know it, the problems compound and you are in a restaurant shift nightmare where everyone is fighting to drag themselves out.

And this doesn’t even account for the absent from work claims I mentioned above!

Creating breaks that combat fatigue and promote performance:

I know what you are thinking. And no, I am not going to promote an employee taking a break in the middle of the rush. We can avoid this if we are little bit smarter and not lose productivity.

But a break should do 1 or more of three things:

  • Refuel

-Restore the energy stores the body needs to maintain a high-performance level

  • Refocus

-Allow the mind to regain and reset its cognitive ability.

  • Reset

-Give the body and mind a chance to reset itself for a return to work.  


Styles of Effective Breaks:

Step 1: Analyze the length of the shift.

Shift length is going to have a massive effect on how many or what style of break you will want to implement. And this isn’t always cut and dry because rushes can show up at unexpected times.

Always start with the longest shifts in the restaurant. Who is working the longest and are they building any downtime into their workday? I’m mostly thinking of anyone logging in 8 – 14-hour days. Head and Sous Chefs are notorious for logging in these kinds of hours but bartenders and service managers will do this too.

You may not have time build in a 30 minute and two 15-minute breaks into your break schedule. But you could micro dose your breaks and cover any of the goals above. Since everyone is running outside to smoke anyway couldn’t we make these moments more productive?

Breaks that tackle specific needs:

Take a 5-minute walk outside. Remove yourself from the premise to RESET your mind and body when you return to work. This works well for chefs who may have been stationary at their workstations. These are best applied directly after rushes or right before a service is ready to start.

Take 10 Minutes to eat a prepped snack:

REFUEL your system by eating a quick snack high in complex carbohydrates. This will give you the energy to keep performing your best. Think whole wheat crackers and peanut butter or veggies and hummus. This should not take very long to do. This can be combined with hydration to really prep yourself for service!

As a restaurant you can easily have something like this ready to go for your team. Even use something that you won’t be serving to guests. (Obviously don’t break any food safety laws.)

These are best applied right before or after the service rush.

Perform 5 stretches to manage muscle fatigue:

Taking 5 minutes to perform 5 stretches allows you REFOCUS and RESET your systems. You will allow blood flow back into your extremities and your brain will be able to focus on the task at hand again. Think stretches that work large muscle groups and promote mobility. Remember a stretch should cause discomfort not pain. And should be held anywhere from 15 – 30 seconds.


Step 2: Create space for breaks to occur.

Is there a space for employees to recharge if they can take a longer break? Mostly this could be used best for employees who work split shifts but cannot go very far from work. Create a space that is separate from the restaurant area. Possibly a part of the restaurant that isn’t used until service. This can be a place to sit down and reset themselves for their return to work.

Step 3: Communicate Shift Projections.

I always found it funny that certain people could walk into a restaurant 15 minutes before a shift and be fine with not knowing in any way how a shift was supposed to go. I could never do that without having a small nervous breakdown but maybe that is just me.

It can take 2 minutes to email out quickly the number of reservations that are expected that night and how many employees are on shift. Then your team can come into the restaurant in a little bit better head space of what to expect. They will budget their energy accordingly and take breaks at ideal moments.

In Conclusion:

If I have not already convinced you. Building better breaks will keep your employees safe and performing their best. Boost retention by creating a workplace that supports employee performance.

This article just skims the surface of what is possible to promote performance through break schedules in your restaurant. Do you feel like your restaurants break schedule could be a little more restorative? Or maybe you have found a great way to promote breaks at work?

Comment below! I would love to hear from you!

And if you have made it this far:

You obviously care a bunch about how to perform better in a restaurant! Fortunately, I can help you achieve your goals even more!

For Restaurant Organizations:

It may seem obvious how to implement breaks but sometimes you need a little more assistance when it comes to planning effective breaks into your restaurant. Fortunately, an occupational health consultant like me can help with that. Head over to my business services page to see how I can promote performance in your restaurant.  

For Individuals:

This Fall I am going to be launching a curated restaurant portal with all sorts of resources to perform better at work. Become a member and you will get:

  • Techniques to manage your workday in a restaurant. Covering topics like nutrition, exercise, injury prevention and pain reduction, workday recovery techniques, workday warm-up policies, customer management, team communication.

  • Printable infographics to place in break rooms and staff training sites.

  • Streamable Webinars

  • Full length Articles from industry experts.

  • Members only Facebook Community.

Click the Link Below to be notified for early access and the early bird discount!