[Series Description: The Lemonjello’s Way posts are an intricate look at the many things that went right (and a few things that went wrong) in the story of Lemonjello’s Coffee in Holland, MI. It’s hard to build a successful shop with longevity. My initial lack of experience led us to try some out of the box things that worked. My eventual experience allowed me to tweak and refine those things.]

The biggest complaint I hear from service industry people has to do with schedules.

“I have to work another double.”

“I was going to go to this concert, but I can’t find anyone to cover me.”

“My manager scheduled me in an hour early but didn’t tell me so I got in trouble.”

You’ve probably heard (or said) these things before, especially if you’ve worked for a restaurant.

On the other side, these service people environments are tight knit families. People take care of each other. They spend time together outside of work. They build life long relationships because they’re in the trenches together when things are busy.

I think there is a missing opportunity here to create really incredible company cultures.

I’ll explore some of what I see as key company culture elements from my experience at Lemonjello’s in my next couple of posts.

Right now, I want to talk about scheduling.

I tell everyone I interview that we’re busy. And we’re especially busy early mornings, late nights, weekends, and holidays. That’s our industry. Expect to work those kinds of shifts.

That aside, I understand that if it’s possible for people to take time off for their lives when they want/need it, they will work harder when they are here.

It has always been to my benefit to spend the time accommodating barista requests for shifts or shifts off. That doesn’t mean I never say no. It means that I try to incorporate a work-life balance that removes an element of stress from their work life.

I’ve done this from day 1 at Lemonjello’s. I didn’t realize its importance until later, but it’s been a huge part of our culture and having fairly long retention rates for this industry.

Here’s my rules.

  1. Regular Shifts.

For the most part, I schedule people for the same shifts every week. When changes need to happen, I will switch it up. But most weeks things are the same.

We’re in a college town, so we operate on a semester-like schedule. Every semester, I review those shifts and make modifications for the season.

This way people know, for the most part, when to plan on working. This allows them to plan the other activities and responsibilities in their life. I promise, this will make them like happy. It will make them like working for you more. As much as people fight it, most people prefer reliable schedules & patterns in their life.

2. Allow Time Off.

Unless there’s a really good reason or there really are too many request off, I will do what I can to grant time off requests.

If people feel like they can do the things they want, take trips, visit family, take time to move & resettle, have guests in town, etc., then they will value that work environment over one that is more volatile.

It will also make them more willing to cover for other people. And it will make them more willing to cover, let’s say, that next holiday shift when you know your café is going to get slammed.

3. Emergencies Happen. Fix Don’t Fret.

People get sick. They get injured. They have family members pass away. They get behind and don’t finish a paper. Their cars die. They just can’t and need a personal day.

They are already in a heightened emotional state because of whatever is happening in their lives.

If you deal with it, take care of the necessary shift(s), and don’t add to their stress, they will be loyal to you. And they will help when someone else has an emergency.

If you add to their stress, you become part of the negative memory of that experience.

4. Weekends Are A Thing.

People need “weekends.” They need a break. They need to be able to recharge.

That can happen in a variety of ways. Learn your staff. We have to work weekends, so I find other ways to make this time happen. Some people need their 2 days off in a row. Others want it spread out. As much as possible, I won’t put anyone on both Friday and Saturday night unless they offer to pick up a shift. If someone works every Sunday morning, I’ll prioritize their weekend request off when they have one.

This requires a combination of me being stern about “This is a weekend heavy job” and making sure that they have the time & space they need somewhere else.

Usually it’s a conversation when they start working for me and an occasional check in along the way to make sure it’s going well.

That’s it. It’s not hard. It just takes changing your mentality a bit.

Yes, your focus is the shop itself and its needs. But if you create a culture that better blends that work-life balance we all talk about wanting to achieve, then your staff will take care of your shop, it’s needs, and you.

[Lemonjello’s Coffee was started in 2003 by Matthew Scott and continues to operate as a coffee shop with its own on site bakery. It also operated as a concert venue from 2003-2012. Located in bustling downtown Holland, MI, it is in the heart of a thriving independent business scene. It’s also a block off the campus of Hope College and a tourist attraction for those visiting the shores of Lake Michigan.]