There’s a lot to love about July 4th. It’s a natural opportunity to bring in more money with big promotions, but chances are your staff would rather be celebrating and seeing fireworks than bussing tables and restocking inventory. A savvy manager knows though that within every challenge is an opportunity. Done right, Independence Day is a chance to invest in your team and create a more rewarding company culture for everyone.

The reality of hospitality

“When you get into the hospitality industry, you go into it assuming you’ll have to work some, if not most holidays,” said Ayla Bergeaux, a Bay Area bartender, has been working in the hospitality industry for 13 years. “It’s tough though when managers either schedule you for all holidays or when you get scheduled for a holiday that you’ve already discussed as being really important to you. I’m a mother so I try never to work on Mother’s Day, but I don’t mind working New Year’s Eve at all.”

Like many career hospitality professionals, Bergeaux has worked at high-end restaurants, dive bars, and everything in between. In her opinion, the single most challenging thing about working holidays is never getting to celebrate them.  

Whether you’re working with year-round employees or seasonal staff, most people would rather not work when they could be lighting fireworks with their friends and family. However, there are a few key tactics a good manager can use to incentivize their employees to give high quality service on the busiest, most stressful days.

Here are three ways to get your staff to buy-in to holiday schedules – while empowering them in the process.

1. Do your due diligence and set expectations

There are many things about running a restaurant or store that can be unpredictable, but federal holidays are not one of them. To get ahead of staffing needs during holidays, start thinking about building a trusting and communicative relationship with your employees from day one.

“Before a new employee even starts, ask which 2-3 holidays are really important to them,” said Bergeaux. “For example, some people observe Yom Kippur but don’t care at all about Thanksgiving. The worst thing managers do in inspiring great staff culture is going back on their words and scheduling people when they said they wouldn’t – especially when you’ve tried to work together from the beginning about being transparent and flexible. I’ve known people who were threatened with firing if they didn’t show up to their shift even when they’d made an agreement when they were hired.”

As a manager you can easily start this conversation by giving new employees a list of federal holidays as part of their paperwork and ask them to fill out holiday preferences or add any that aren’t federally observed but may be important to them (Mother’s Day, Hanukkah, etc.). By approaching your staff’s needs at the beginning, you’re signaling that you respect and value their time, that communication is a priority for you as well as a two-way street. Bonus? You now have a rough sketch of who is absolutely not available on certain dates. It’s a win-win.

On a brass tacks level, it’s important to get final availability from your staff well in advance. Try to set a deadline of June 15th for all time off requests. You can use apps like Homebase to set blackout dates, lock in schedules a few days in advance to disable last-minute shift changes, and set notifications for manager approval any time alterations are made. That gives you over two weeks to finalize the schedule and conduct any training for the big day well ahead of time.

2. Be reasonable and offer options

Even though you’ve done your due diligence in preparing your staff about the reality of working some holidays, that doesn’t mean they’re jumping at the chance. Without too much additional effort though, you can easily incentivize your employees to volunteer to work big holidays like the 4th of July.

The key? Be reasonable. Only schedule single 6-hour shifts so your team can still have part of the day to enjoy with their friends and families.

“Scheduling double shifts may seem like it makes more sense on the books, but it dramatically decreases the quality your team can deliver,” said Bergeaux. “In fact, everyone who works in hospitality knows that big holidays like July 4th although extra busy are typically low-tip days because the staff is so run down that quality and attention to individual guests often suffer.”

Instead of risking your reputation on the days when you have the most people in your dining room, make it a game and offer your staff rewards for doing exceptionally well, both individually or as a team.  For example, you can offer overtime pay or an extra bonus for employees who opt-in to working double shifts. Another idea is an extra day off for staff members who volunteer to work on a holiday. (Just make sure you stick to your word!)

“The staff’s attitude will show their gratitude,” said Bergeaux. “It’s really uncommon for a manager to show and maintain consideration for their staff when holidays roll around and it’s even more important during those times to show employees they are valued.”

3. Empower your team

When was the last time you asked a member of your staff what his or her career goals were?

Perhaps one of your busser’s wants to level up to a server, a bartender wants to graduate into management, or a server wants to learn about social media marketing. Big holidays are opportunities for you to check in with your staff members. The benefits are threefold: employees buy-in to spending their holidays working because it as an investment in their personal future, you build credibility as a manager that cares about your staff’s personal development, and you get help during your busiest times!

“Giving senior staff the option to be in positions of authority – letting them manage for example, is something I’ve appreciated about my past supervisors,” said Bergeaux. “Since managers are often stretched thin on those holidays, we’re often tapped to step into other roles. It’d be nice to have formal recognition for that so we can claim it as real career development.”

These are conversations that should happen at the beginning of every quarter and can easily be conducted through employee surveys. Doing it regularly keeps everyone motivated to be constantly learning and improving, and keeps lines of communication open and strong. Depending on what employees want to work on, the time frame to incorporate them will change. No matter what though, you should respond to each goal thoughtfully.

Recognize opportunity

Big holidays are big opportunities, for your customers to test you and for you to test how your team works together. If done thoughtfully, you can turn July 4th into an opportunity to strengthen your team, inspire quality, and make money all at the same time.