Organizational Health, Problem Solving

Smoke Break Management In Restaurants

8 min read

Smoking is still a very prevalent thing among restaurant employees. Oftentimes it can interfere with giving good service and serving good food in a restaurant. Many times employees may disappear, come back smelling like smoke, or use a smoke break as a means of getting out of work. While smoke breaks can be frustrating, with a little simple management you can make sure everybody is happy and productive.

Have Strict ‘No Smoking’ Times

One of the easiest ways to start managing smoke breaks is to have strict no smoking times. For instance do not allow smoking between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. or 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. these times may vary with your restaurants, but this is a good spot to start. These times are likely when you are most busy. Further, you likely have employees that start their shift shortly before these times, and therefore no break should be needed so soon after starting the shift.

By having these strict no smoking times you allow employees to focus on their customers instead of hoping to get outside for a cigarette. Hold these times even when it’s slower. In this way, you’ll be able to hold the standard and manage expectations. By doing this, your employees won’t be asking to go out early on other days when it is busier.

Only With Manager Permission

Even with the strict no smoking times you should ensure that the employee always asks a manager prior to going out for a cigarette. This is done for a couple reasons. First, having a cigarette is a privilege. If an employee is getting paid while not working that is a privilege. This privilege should be granted via a manager. Further, by always checking out with a manager, the manager can ensure that the employees work area is at a state that allows them to leave. Additionally, if an issue arises or the restaurant suddenly gets busy, the manager knows where to find the employee.

That said, be reasonable. Smoking can be a large stress reliever for those that do smoke. This short break can be very helpful for their mental health and allow them to work more efficiently afterwards. If work really needs to be done, obviously don’t let them outside to smoke. However, if the employee made a reasonable effort to cover their area and make sure everything is clean in their area then allow them to go out for a cigarette. This type of odd reward, actually helps employees notice the undesirable parts of their area and encourages them to clean it without supervision or reminders. Obviously, this is a good thing.

One At A Time

Oftentimes, the argument against smoke breaks is the fact that all of the employees like to take their break at the same time. This often leaves the non-smokers behind to clean up the restaurant and handle all of the guests. This is not fair to the non-smoking employees. Additionally, this can be very aggravating to managers that notice a dirty and disorganized restaurant with nobody around to help clean it up.

Furthermore, when many employees go on a break at the same time this leads to a couple other problems. First, employees typically stay out on their smoke breaks longer while they socialize with other employees. Second, they are more likely to smell like cigarette smoke when they come back inside as more cigarette smoke leads to a greater chance of smelling like smoke. By limiting smoke breaks to one person at a time you can reduce these issues. Also, if an employees know that only one person can go out at a time, they will make sure their work area is clean so that they can be the next to go outside.

Manage The Smell

Managing the smell is an important part of controlling cigarette breaks. The smell of the cigarette can affect the smell and taste of the food you are serving. This is obviously a negative effect and can be repulsive to those that do not smoke. You need to make sure as a manager that no employee that will be around guests or food smells like a cigarette. Further, make sure that you’re smoking area is far enough away from guest dining areas that smoke from the area does not blow down wind.

As discussed above, limiting the amount of employees that are smoking to just one at a time can help reduce the smell of cigarettes. Additionally, if an employee does smell like cigarettes when they come back inside, an easy fix to this problem is the use of a dryer sheet. If a dryer sheet is rubbed against the clothes of the smoker it can help to reduce the smell of cigarettes. Don’t overdo this however as it can go back the other direction and make customers food tastes like laundry. Yuck. Mints can be used to help bad combat the bad breath.

E-Cigarettes Included

If I were you, I would include e-cigarettes in with the cigarette policy. E-cigarettes should stay with an employee’s jacket, car, or in an employee locker area. While it may not have the bad smell or toxicity that a typical cigarette would, it still causes a hygiene hazard as employees are constantly touching it to their mouth. You don’t want to have a strict cigarette policy, only to have employees carrying around their e-cigarettes and disappearing around the corner to quick take a puff on it.

Hygiene Is Important

We already discussed the smell of cigarettes, however the hygiene does not stop there. Make sure that all employees that come back in from their smoke break are thoroughly washing their hands and making sure that no foreign toxins or bacteria are coming into contact with any food or food surface.

Allow Non-Smokers A Quick Break As Well

Don’t forget about your non-smokers. They often get the short end of the stick. While your smokers all get a break, your non-smokers are left behind cleaning up everybody else’s mess. I’ve known a couple co-workers that have picked up smoking just to get the break and you likely do not want to encourage new employees to start smoking. Instead, you can give non-smokers a quick break to calm down when needed. They should follow the same procedures as smokers however. You should only let one employee break at a time, they should get manager permission, and they should have a clean work area before they go.

No Breaks While There Are Dirty Tables

As we touched on above, no employee should go on break while they have a dirty work area. However, you should extend this to include that no server or bartender can go on a smoke break when there are any dirty tables in the restaurant. No employee should be taking a break while your guests have to stare at a bunch of garbage and food scraps left on a table.

Smoke breaks can be frustrating aspect of a restaurant for managers. However, with a little bit of management as well as a clear policy for employees, smoke breaks don’t have to be a burden and can be used as a tool to help employees notice issues in the restaurant before you have to point them out. Further, a short break for both smoker and non-smokers can help to relieve stress and help employees become more friendly and less reactive.