Paid time off, also known as PTO, isn’t easy for restaurant companies to navigate. It can enhance the likelihood of retaining top-tier talent, but it can also be easily abused. PTO is never fun when it leads to vital personnel gone when you need them most, but it’s a lot worse to have them burnt out and quit because they never get time to recharge. An effective PTO policy leaves you in control to make decisions and lead to what’s best for your company and not be at the mercy of a poorly designed policy.
I can tell you from firsthand experience that controlling paid time off is a nightmare when you have a job that is not a straight-up nine-to-five. It takes a lot of communication and staying on top of schedules to mitigate employees taking advantage of the system or the ambiguity of not knowing how many days off they have left and how to request vacation properly. Depending on where you live, because each state law is different, employees can come in for 20 minutes and legally negate that as a complete “day off.” With an ambiguous PTO policy, actions like working a little bit and taking the rest of the day off might not count against their PTO in court.
Along with that, a salaried manager could move the days that they usually work up to earlier in the week and then push the following week’s start to later, use some half days at the beginning and end, and turn it into a five-day break. They could do this and legally say they didn’t miss a workday unless you have a signed policy addressing actions like this. Even then, that might not fly in a court of law. Playing fast with hours happens all the time in the restaurant industry, with employers left with little they can do other than be on top of managers not to approve requests, assuming they are checking requests off at all. It becomes a lot harder when the person you trust to be in charge, i.e., a GM, is the one you have to control.
Below is my PTO policy; yours might be much different, but this is significantly better than the average policy. This policy leaves us in control to make decisions based on the situation.
PTO is for salaried managers only, and it’s accrued monthly.
PTO can be taken early in the year with permission submitted via an official document to a company owner or an area director.
PTO cannot be rolled over into the new year.
If a person is terminated or quits, only accrued unused PTO up till that point will be paid.
GMs are allowed an extra 40 hours above the standard, regular calculation.
PTO hours are based on the following metrics:
1-2 years = 40 hours PTO
3-10 years = 80 hours PTO
10+ years = 120 hours of PTO
Feel free to do what works for you; this is only a guide. It’s advisable to use the term hours instead of days. Instead of one week of PTO, it’s 40 hours because each day will count as eight hours of PTO. Going about it otherwise gets very murky, regardless of how many hours your managers typically work.
No federal or state laws require any employer to give paid vacation, but most salary jobs in America have that assumption. Here are the nuances of that. The honest debate is; sick days vs. vacation days vs. holidays and what should be official PTO. Our restaurant Andolini’s is only closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving, so yes, if someone wants to take off Valentine’s Day, then that would mean they would need to request PTO because that is a non-applicable PTO day, which we have very few, but that is one of them. Everyone works that day.
Now, if someone’s sick and another manager covers for them, do I, as the owner, really want to put that against their PTO? I don’t because I want my managers to go on vacation because it refreshes them and makes them appreciate the job. I don’t want it all used up on legit sick days where they are doing the right thing by staying home and trying not to get others sick. However, take that with a grain of salt because it all needs to be regulated and evaluated.
If someone was playing fast and loose with requests off, I would call that out before changing our whole PTO approach. We typically don’t go after sick days or dock bereavement. We don’t seek to dock anything that is not a vacation day. We reserve the right to, though.
The process to get approval is to fill out an online form and submit it. I’ve seen this done with an officially e-mailed PDF or specific payroll software and some scheduling programs have this capacity. Whatever you choose, make sure you have one singular portal and a clearly delineated path to filling out the PTO request. Otherwise, a text message could be inferred as an official request for PTO.
I’ve had employees that, only weeks after being hired, said to their direct supervisor they were going out of town and had mentioned it in their interview. That new hire expected everyone to know that that was their PTO. Or worse, no one noticed that this should’ve counted toward PTO, and then they kept doing it multiple times a year and, when asked about it, said, “well, I never got a notification that they had gone past my allowed PTO.” As a result, they went way over their PTO, and we have little legal recourse. These things happen when there’s ambiguity.
Regarding regular non-salary employees getting paid time off, we will take care of them if they have to leave for something we forced upon them, like a temporary store closing or a cataclysmic life event. But no, if a server who’s not on salary wants to leave for three weeks and still be paid, it’s not fiscally possible.
A strong PTO policy is designed to enhance the employee’s work-life balance and for you to have a more refreshed employee and limit attrition. That is the goal. It’s there is to be a competitive incentive. Whatever you choose, you must have it reviewed by an HR professional, even a lawyer, to ensure that you abide by all applicable labor laws relative to your state.
This article is simply a guide; it is not legally applicable to every state. This is a good framework for where to start when deciding your path to a strong PTO policy and procedure.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @mikeybausch