These are the (new) hours of gastronomy

Fewer days of service per week and even fewer hours per day. This is the trend that is setting the trend in the hospitality business, but not because customers are asking for it, but because... teams are in charge!

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Not only is he one of the most creative chefs, as well as a skilled creator of gastronomic concepts, but Albert Adrià is a true expert in testing schedules. In June 2022, he reopened Enigma, the only business he maintains in Barcelona -after the dissolution of elBarri-, which had been closed for 27 months. He tried to apply the ‘lessons’ of the pandemic, implementing a more flexible offer under an à la carte format and discarding the tasting menu and, at the same time, opted for a really sui generis schedule: noon with the addition of the ‘tardeo’ baptized as Afternoon drinks, with cocktails, snacks and burgers made in view of the public. Goodbye to the night? “I’m afraid of losing that time slot, but we will change if necessary. With common sense, we have the ability to modulate and modify according to customers. If I close at 21:30, 00:00, 3:00 or 6:00, it will always be early”. And the youngest Adrià added: “I want the worker to work eight hours. We have set up a space for their 20-minute break with fruit and coffee, just like a McDonald’s or a cafeteria”.

It was only its first time trial. The second came at the end of August 2022, at which time the evening was restored, so much so that Enigma began to open only for à la carte dining Monday through Friday, because Saturday was eliminated as a service day. In March, its R&D took another turn: back to the tasting menu, only available during dinner hours, with the addition of Friday noon. “It is, above all, a question of economic formula; as we don’t want to double tables, we stick to six services a week (five evenings and one lunchtime),” argues Albert Adrià, who adds: “I am the owner and I make the decisions; on Saturday I want to be with my family. That comes first, but also, when you sign a contract with a worker, when you offer him a good salary and a schedule with Saturday and Sunday off, you expect him to want to stay and work with you”.

It is an example of how the schedules bring to turns the hoteliers. A year and a half ago, when the 11 p.m. limit for closing bars and restaurants at night was beginning to be diluted -that is, when the Covid restrictions were almost over-, Sacha Hormaechea launched a possible change in the habits of diners: “Customers do not want to dine late and there is no one who books at 9.30 or 10 p.m.; they even eat earlier”, observed the charismatic restaurateur, who thus uncovered the ‘last minute’ of the new post-pandemic hotel and catering business.

After that, there has been everything. There are those who observe that meals have almost disappeared in Madrid’s haute cuisine, as Diego Guerrero argues, who has detected it in his bi-starred DSTAgE -while in his bistro Dspeak he sees that midday meals improve in affluence as the week progresses until reaching Friday, increasingly livelier for lunch-. This could be supported by the possible trend of fewer and shorter business lunches. At the same time, some restaurateurs choose to open more at lunchtime than dinnertime because that is when business is at its best. This is the case in almost any Michelin-starred restaurant outside a large city. Or there are those who are clear that diners now ask to celebrate and have moved the after-dinner drinks or disco to after-dinner restaurants, where cocktails are mixed with music and entertainment. “Adiscotec restaurants”, as defined by Dani García, who, on reopening BiBo in Marbella, has opted for night-time opening hours -from 7.30 pm to midnight-, integrating this space much more into the festive atmosphere of La Plaza de Puente Romano, a luxury hotel where his bistro now adds a point of ‘adiscotecamiento’. For Nino Redruello, chef and partner of the Familia La Ancha group (Fismuler, Las Tortillas de Gabino, The Omar…), there is a clear trend towards “very festive restaurants with music”. That’s why Hijos de Tomás is not just a cocktail bar in Thompson Madrid, but “a Toni 3 piano bar, not 2, with a nineties karaoke soul”, he defines.


In other words, a real hodgepodge, which means that there are schedules for all tastes! But not for the diner. The underlying reality in the gastronomic market in 2022 and 2023 is different: restaurant schedules are not being modified so much in response to a change in customer habits, but rather to adapt to the demands of employees. Madness? Given the absolute lack of personnel in the hospitality industry, a truly pressing problem in the wake of the pandemic, to attract kitchen and dining room profiles and, even more so, to keep them in their teams, restaurateurs are forced to work shifts in order to meet or come close to the eight-hour workday, which has historically been scarce in these businesses.

Closing on Saturdays is starting not to be so rare, with the welfare of employees -or the fear of continuous team turnover- as a background. It began to do so in 2018 Disfrutar, third best restaurant in the world led by Eduard Xatruch, Oriol Castro and Mateu Casañas, which after a hiatus in 2021 in which it did give service on Saturday, recovered the full weekend break more than a year ago -others, such as the Valencian Ricard Camarena Restaurante, also signed up a year and a half ago to closing on Saturday-. In this space in Barcelona, they make clear something that is already a general rule in haute cuisine: to enjoy a tasting menu, you cannot start lunch or dinner after 13:00-13:30 or 20:00-20:30. After-dinner meals are no longer infinite. At Disfrutar, DiverXO or El Celler de Can Roca, it used to be customary to close the shutters at 2 or 3 in the morning, but now this is avoided and, apart from starting dinner earlier, diners are given the feeling that the staff cannot stay until they decide late in the morning. In other words, owners and teams are organizing themselves to finish earlier so that the clientele does not have to wait until March 2020.


About six years ago, the Roca brothers decided to reorganize their teams at El Celler de Can Roca, with measures such as the creation of a double kitchen brigade; one working the midday service and the other for the evening. The aim was to guarantee a work-life balance, at a time when some key employees began to have children and it would have been difficult for them to continue working in this haute cuisine restaurant in Gerona. They take turns on a weekly basis so as not to stick to a single type of schedule. “They organize the shifts among themselves. We decided to do so in order not to lose talent and to give our employees options for personal and family reconciliation,” says Joan Roca. “It meant an economic effort, but it was the way to build loyalty among our teams,” he adds. With his brothers Josep and Jordi, he had already added other measures, such as closing on Tuesdays at midday to dedicate this time to staff training, which meant not invoicing the equivalent of 55 customers (with an average ticket of around 300 euros).

In the midst of the pandemic, increasing staff numbers in order to build team loyalty with more reasonable working hours has become an objective for UniverXO, Dabiz Muñoz’s group, with his wife, Cristina Pedroche, as president. In the context of the professionalization of the company that brings together DiverXO, RavioXO, StreetXO and GoXO, supported by an office with 16 people dedicated to management functions, the only three-starred chef from Madrid seeks to “build a very horizontal company, which changes some historical paradigms of the hospitality industry, such as how team schedules are managed, how talent is cared for and how it is given continuity to offer it a long career within our organization”. A simple example: RavioXO has cooks within its team who are not in the lunch or dinner service, but who enter first thing in the morning to produce, for example, the dumplings and pasta with which these bites that conceptualize this space opened a year ago are made.


For chefs and restaurateurs who do not have the organizational and economic capacity or the size of the Roca or Dabiz Muñoz groups to increase staff and thus tend to 8-hour working days and give at least two days off, the only way is to open fewer days and/or shorter hours. And that is already a trend. “I have noticed that after the pandemic, all the restaurants that have reopened have not stopped modifying schedules because we all find them with a reality: you have everything full and, in the end, we see zero euros”, says Albert Adrià, who believes that “in the sector we all call each other, we know what is happening: it is no longer about having good equipment, good waiters, the question now is if you have waiters”.

If Amaranta Rodríguez points out, from Culler de Pau -two stars in O’Grove-, that “the first thing someone who opts for a position in our team asks today is the schedule, before the salary”, Vicky Sevilla shortened schedules and improved conditions at Arrels. “As a result of the pandemic, we had to reduce seating capacity, which we then chose not to raise; we kept it to bill for less covered, doing everything better and with higher-priced menus. It is clear to me that we have to respect closing times and we have to explain it to the customer if necessary,” he explains.

New projects tend to open only four days a week. In Barcelona, Come by Paco Méndez, opened a year ago in the premises that used to be Hoja Santa, closes from Sunday to Tuesday; and Alapar, in the former Pakta, now operates only from Thursday to Saturday. It is not known if customer habits have changed, but what is clear is that the employees have caused a change in the hours of the hospitality industry. And what remains.