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Ready, Set, Break: Tips for Tracking Meal Periods

To offer a break or not? You’d think this would be a simple question. But for the restaurant and hospitality industries, giving employees a break is just plain complicated. So what makes the issue so complex? First of all, federal law doesn’t require employers to provide meal or rest breaks under the Fair Labor Standards […]

To offer a break or not? You’d think this would be a simple question. But for the restaurant and hospitality industries, giving employees a break is just plain complicated.

So what makes the issue so complex?

First of all, federal law doesn’t require employers to provide meal or rest breaks under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). That at least seems simple enough.

However – and here’s where things get tricky – when employers do offer short breaks (usually lasting about 5 to 20 minutes), federal law considers the duration of the break as compensable work hours that would be included in the sum of hours worked during the workweek. Those hours worked plus the 5-20 minute breaks are also used to determine overtime.

Still with us?

Now, a Meal Period is different. How you ask? For one thing, a Meal Period typically lasts at least 30 minutes. Employees are also required to clock out and clock back in because the duration of the meal period is non compensable work time.

In the U.S., some states have very specific guidelines on how to administer a Meal Period, others do not.

In the state of California, for example, employees must have a paid rest period of at least 10 minutes for every four hours worked. That break must come in the middle of the shift – not at the beginning or the end.

Texas does not require meal periods. But as a general practice many employers will give their staff a break – permitted they clock out and clock back in.

If you are in a state that has specific rules around Meal Periods, rest periods and breaks and you want a smarter way to make sure you’re complying with the law here are some tips:

Stop Using Excel

You’ve got some mad skills and unlimited time under your belt if you’re taking the spreadsheet route. If you’re like most restaurant managers, however, managing Meal Periods and keeping labor costs in check can really only be successfully executed using a scheduling software.

Determine Your State’s Labor Laws

First, check out your State’s Department of Labor to understand how you need to handle Meal Periods. (We found this Website pretty handy).

Vet Your Scheduling Software

You’ll want to make sure they offer some sort of module or add-on that gives your operation control over Meal Period configuration so that you can adjust things like:

    • Meal Period Length
    • Jobs that need break coverage
    • When employees are break eligible
    • Which employees are break eligible
    • Meal period buffers, limits and black-out times

Leverage POS Data

Typically, the POS is where your employees clock in and clock out. That data will need to sync with your schedule to ensure that meal periods are being tracked.

Use Scheduling Templates

When you’ve got complex configurations working in the back-end to make everything come out pretty and organized on the scheduler, you don’t want to lose that work. Scheduling templates allow managers to create schedules based on the agreed upon Meal Period settings established company-wide.

Apply Meal Periods to Your Schedule

Meal Periods are hard to manage when you’ve got a lot of different jobs and different types of breaks or meal periods. That’s where technology can help. For example, with the HotSchedules Meal Period Planner Module, the shifts that require a break are highlighted for the manager. Shifts specifically intended to cover these breaks are then created for the manager to distribute as needed.

The Meal Period Planner also includes reports in the Scheduler and the Reports Tab that identify when breaks occur and which employees are assigned to cover those breaks.

This allows the manager to adjust the shift times to increase or decrease the number of employees that will require a break.

So you can start to see how all of this works. First, you set the Meal Period configurations, then you generate schedules and scheduling templates. Ideally, your POS syncs with your scheduling solution so your team can keep track of not only who clocks out and in, but when they do it so that you can consistently and easily manage your labor costs and track Meal Period compliance.

Click here to learn more about the HotSchedules Meal Period Planner Module. Or give us a little bit of information here and a member of our Sales Team will be in touch!

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