Dig brings the 4-day workweek to the restaurant industry

Most four-day workweek trials take place in corporate offices with salaried employees. But fast-casual restaurant chain Dig is testing the idea with its hourly kitchen staff, giving them the option of working full-time hours compressed into four days.

The company began to consider the concept of the four-day week as it gained popularity before the pandemic. “The question was, really, how would we make this work for our vast majority of employees who work in our restaurant?” says Melinda Sharretts, vice president of people and culture at Dig. Then, as COVID-19 temporarily closed some of its restaurants and simultaneously began to put its staff at risk, Dig decided to test the schedule change.

“The disparity between people who still had jobs and worked from home and our employees, who still dined out, became increasingly evident,” says Dig co-founder Andrew Jacobson. “And while we can’t necessarily change that, we had an opportunity in Boston.” The Boston team ran five restaurants, but only one was still open; it seemed like a good time to try a new schedule. Workers had the option of coming one day less per week, if they wished, but still working the same number of hours.

[Photo: ©Nico Schinco/courtesy Dig]

In an industry where it’s common to work unpredictable shifts – and where workers also often have to take second jobs to earn enough money to survive – Dig was already unusual in that it offered 40-hour weeks . To maintain the same number of hours, workers who chose to switch to a four-day week had to switch to 10-hour days. Unlike a fast food restaurant, Dig’s food requires a lot of prep work, so long shifts make sense.

“Anything that changes our employees’ income was a nonstarter,” Jacobson says. Trials of the four-day workweek in offices are different: some companies are letting workers move up to four 8-hour days with no change in pay. (The fact that office workers remain as productive after the change might suggest that people sitting at computers don’t generally work as hard as people in kitchens.)

Some employees who have tried 10-hour workdays have found the schedule too grueling. Others adopted it. “I’ve worked for over 15 years, and this is the first place I’ve worked where I have three set days a week,” says Diante Scott, Sous Chef, who said the long hours weren’t enough . disturb him. Because restaurants are open seven days a week, most employees work three days, have a day or two off, and then work a fourth day. Unlike office workers, who may end up checking email on their days off, when restaurant workers are away, they can take a real break from their jobs.

The company currently offers the four-day-a-week schedule at six restaurants, including locations in Philadelphia and New York, and plans to add it to up to five additional locations in the first half of 2022. (Some employees are also already testing the calendar in other places that have not yet officially launched it as policy.) In an internal survey of 45 people who have participated so far, 87% said that they would recommend the new calendar. Workers also reported having a better work-life balance and more time for schoolwork and errands. Others said it had a positive impact on their mental health.

Dig plans to continue to study how well the new schedule works for people with different demands on their time outside of work.

“We’re hoping to see through the data, as we start collecting more of it, how it will affect people who are caring for children or the elderly,” says Sharretts. “Our assumption is that it will have a positive impact on these things. But we don’t want to be presumptuous about it. Childcare is a major challenge for workers in the restaurant industry, she says, and if the new schedule can help alleviate that, it could convince other restaurants to start offering the same benefit.

“What we want,” says Jacobson, “is not just to pressure ourselves to get this done, but to pressure the rest of the industry.”

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Cecil N. Messick