Now that so many jurisdictions ban smoking in restaurants and other public places, health officials are moving on to a new goal: the eradication of smoking in the workplace. The dilemma for restaurant operators is that their facility is both a public place and a workplace. Even restaurants whose dining areas are pristinely smoke-free can look forward to new levels of no-smoking enforcement.
How big a problem is smoking by foodservice employees? The biggest, according to a new study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an arm of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. It analyzed the nation's smokers by occupation and found that 45 percent of full-time employees who work in food preparation and serving had smoked cigarettes in the past month. That placed the foodservice industry first among all occupational categories studied.
On average, your staffers smoke more than the rugged types who work in construction and mining (43 percent), transportation and moving, i.e. truck drivers (39 percent) and factory workers (37 percent).
Cigarette smoking is most prevalent among 18- to 24-year-olds (40 percent of all employees), which helps explain why foodservice leads the pack.
The study's backers see these figures as cause to view the workplace as the next logical focus for anti-smoking activities. “This data really helped point out that the workplace is a really ideal opportunity to assess, address and help people with their smoking,” says Peter Delaney, who heads the agency's Office of Applied Studies.
No argument here, but there's a more important reason restaurant operators might want to participate in smoking cessation efforts aimed at their employees: time lost to smoke breaks. The advent of smoke-free workplaces has, among other things, given heightened visibility to smokers, who typically cluster in designated areas outside their place of employment. Now it's clear who smokes, how often they step outside to do so and how much time away from productive work they're missing.
Most estimates of smoking break length put them at six minutes long, with the average smoker taking six such breaks during an eight-hour workday. Not a problem for a restaurant, unless those breaks coincide with mini services lapses due to cooks and/or staffers grabbing a quick smoke while customers go unattended. Add in surreptitious texting and tweeting and the result can be many, many moments of inattention at some restaurants.
None of which would matter if your customers received great service anyway. But they don't, if complaints posted in online reviews and comment sections are accurate. Patrons routinely grouse about mysterious lapses in service and servers who unexplainedly disappear from the floor for lengthy stretches. Such complaints are especially prevalent about restaurants where open kitchens and visible service stands make it easy to see who's on the floor and who isn't.
Guests tend to think, rightly or not, that their missing server is grabbing a smoke or sending an instant message to a pal. Think we're exaggerating? Check out the message boards about your restaurant and those of a few competitors. Be ready to cringe, but at least you'll have a better idea of how frequently service misfires occur, and how sensitive customers are about them.
The no-smoking crowd wants your staff to stop smoking for health reasons. Fewer breaks and better customer service would be welcome byproducts for any restaurant operator.