LPM Restaurant & Bar Dubai
LPM Restaurant & Bar Dubai: LPM wants to expand the concept to its other Middle East restaurants in Qatar and Saudi Arabia Image Credit: Facebook/LPM Restaurant & Bar

One of Dubai's most popular power lunch spots is moving permanently to a four-day workweek.

LPM Restaurant & Bar, formerly known as La Petite Maison, says servers, cooks and other staff members will take on longer shifts on two days and have three days off per week at both of its branches in the United Arab Emirates. Overall, staff members will work slightly fewer hours per week and keep the same salary.

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The French restaurant is making the change in a bid to attract and retain the best employees in a notoriously high-pressure industry. "It was really necessary to act," says Alexandra Audon, director of operations in the Middle East at LPM. "In an era when everyone is talking about a work-life balance, I can assure you that the hospitality industry was never known to tick the boxes."

The move comes as a companies and governments around the world experiment with four-day workweeks, accelerated by COVID-19 pandemic disruptions. Some studies of pilot programs last year concluded that the reduced or compressed hours were good for both businesses and employees. In the UK, 88 per cent of companies that tried out the shortened week last year said the new schedule worked well.

In the ideal setup"-the one championed by New Zealand-based 4 Day Week Global"-employees would reduce their hours per week by a full workday but retain the same pay. At LPM, staff will work three fewer hours than before.

Other restaurants around the world have also started to experiment with their staff's schedules. New York chef Dan Barber reimagined the schedule at Blue Hill at Stone Barns so that staff members spend two-thirds of their time doing their traditional restaurant jobs and a third working on research and development.

More common in tech, finance, professional services

The four-day workweek is more commonly tried in tech, finance, professional services or in other office jobs than in the hospitality sector, says Joe O'Connor, director and co-founder of the Work Time Reduction Center of Excellence and former chief executive officer of 4 Day Week Global. That's in part because there's less slack in restaurants: fewer meetings that could be emails.

"It probably requires a somewhat more innovative approach," O'Connor says. Still, he has seen it succeed. Some restaurants have automated certain processes such as reservations or payments, while others have gone so far as change the layout of floor plans to give servers shorter routes between two points, he says.

Companies that offer the same pay for fewer hours get a flood of resumes and have low turnover, O'Connor says.

The UAE already has a shortened workweek for public employees. A year ago, the country moved its official weekend to Saturday and Sunday, in line with global business schedules, and made Friday"-an important religious day"-a half day for most government workers. The emirate of Sharjah, north of Dubai, moved to a four-day week, altogether forgoing the half day on Friday.

LPM tried out the new workweek for several months in each location: Dubai, with 110 staff members, and Abu Dhabi, which has 67 on staff. The operational staff (think office workers) aren't included in the new schedule, just staff in the front-and back of the house. While some people said they had to adjust to the new routine, there were no complaints, Audon says.

LPM wants to expand the concept to its other Middle East restaurants in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Following suit in its other four branches"-in Cyprus, London, Miami and Hong Kong"-might prove trickier, Audon said, in part because labor laws vary.

"We all know the line, 'Happy staff, happy guest,'" Audon says. "There is no other way to work."