The Pros and Cons of Holiday Hours

Four cafés weigh in on why they’re closed (or open) during the holidays.


Cover photo courtesy of Verve Coffee Roasters

If you’ve ever worked at a cafe on a holiday, you probably experienced an uptick of phone calls and the inevitable question, “Are you open today?” at the other end of the line. At my last barista job, I got so used to the question that my canned phone response became, “Hi, we’re open! How can I help you?”

The holidays can mean time off, family visits, company parties, and special events, as well as trouble-shooting request-offs, reduced hourly schedules, and other stressors. Personally, I didn’t mind working on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day; I was grateful for the hours and the tips. Whether or not your café will be open during the coming holidays, see what these cafés have to say about some of the pros and cons of closing, or staying open, on these days.

Closing for the Holidays

Closing for the holidays is a great way to show appreciation to your staff. Richelle Parker, human resources manager at Olympia Coffee Roasting Co., says, “It was a very easy decision” to close for the holidays. “For us at Olympia Coffee, we advertise that we are a quality-of-life company, and we exist to improve the quality of life for our producers, our staff, and our customers. I feel like allowing our staff the day off on Thanksgiving and Christmas to really spend time with friends and family, and enjoy that holiday, contributes to their quality of life,” Richelle says.

Closing on the holidays is “a very easy decision” for Olympia Coffee Roasters Co.; they want to make sure staff members get to have time with their families. Photo by Olympia Coffee Roasters Co.

From a business point of view, it’s also common to close for a holiday when staying open could cost more than it’s worth. That’s why Red Elm Cafe in Tacoma, Wash., closes on the holidays. “We’re not making payroll for a day when we probably would not be busy,” says co-owner Jennifer Richardson.

On the other hand, closing for a holiday can be a missed opportunity to serve your community. Verve Coffee Roasters opts to stay open for reduced hours on holidays. Alexis Bolter, the SoCal regional manager at Verve, says, “Sometimes we are the only café open in the neighborhood, and we like to be a reliable meeting place for our community during this special time of year.”

Staying Open for the Holidays

For some community members, having a “business as usual” place to hang out over the holidays makes a big difference. Now in the early stages of converting into a worker collective, Burial Grounds Coffee in Downtown Olympia, Wash., believes in a social responsibility to stay open. “Because of the community we serve, because we deal with a lot of folks who kind of don’t have anywhere else to be, we’re open for usually a limited part of that day,” says Colin Bartlett, a worker-owner at the café. 

Burial Grounds Coffee lets staff keep the cash proceeds from the day as an extra incentive. Logo from Burial Grounds Coffee.

Burial Grounds has another perk for workers who choose to work on a holiday: “Usually what we end up doing, historically, [is] the cash that’s made that day goes to whoever wanted to [work that day],” Colin says. “Whoever’s there has a little bit extra they can take home, and no one’s obliged to work that day.”

Staffing on holidays can be difficult. “That means some of our employees and management must take time away from their own families and plans to serve our coffee community,” Alexis of Verve says, noting that sometimes non-retail employees step in to cover shifts, including CEO Mike Eyre.

It’s a good idea to announce your holiday schedule well in advance, so customers and employees can plan accordingly. Photo courtesy of Verve Coffee Roasters.

Other Considerations

A good idea is to announce holiday schedules well in advance. “We posted our holiday hours almost six weeks ago to give our customers a heads up about any changes to our normal hours, and to allow employees to make their holiday plans as well,” Alexis says. 

It’s nice to have a little extra incentive for employees who work on holidays, whether that’s holiday pay or another thoughtful reward. Both Verve and Olympia host staff parties, either before the holidays hit or in January after the action dies down.

Some cafés like Red Elm find extra-special ways to show up for the neighborhoods and communities they serve during the holidays. Jennifer says, “On Thanksgiving morning we fed the homeless people in People’s Park, and we will do that again on Christmas morning. We won’t be open on Christmas morning for customers, but we will be still taking care of our neighborhood.”

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Mark Van Streefkerk
is Barista Magazine’s social media content developer and a frequent contributor. He is also a freelance writer, social media manager, and novelist based out of Seattle. If Mark isn’t writing, he’s probably biking to his favorite vegan restaurant. Find out more on his website.