What’s Happening With Your Dental Office Lunch Breaks?

The question regarding staff lunches arose on two US based dental chat forums earlier this month.

Now I know that things can be different in the USA compared to in other parts of the western world, but primarily, what this dentist was asking for was a consensus from his peers as to what was going on out there in the land of practicing dentistry.

A wide variety of answers came back from various practice owners.

Some dentists don’t take a lunch break.

Other dentists have staff who choose not to take a lunch break, as lunch is unpaid time and these team members would prefer to work and earn rather than break and go unpaid. That’s interesting…

Other dentists stagger their team members’ lunches so that the phone and front desk are manned at all times.

Other dentists simply close the doors, put on a message on their phone, and HOPE TO HECK that any person wanting them during that time leaves a message, or phones back at the appropriate time… and that’s even more interesting…

The facts are these…

Unless you are Nostradamus and have superhuman or supernatural powers of perception and prediction, nobody out there can tell who is going to phone a dental office at any particular time and request an appointment for veneers, implants, full mouth rehab, etc….

So if that’s the case, it makes no economic sense whatsoever to close the doors, and turn off the phones and HOPE TO HECK that people wanting to schedule an appointment to discuss a need or perceived need for complex treatment will happily phone back when it suits the dental office.

The best thing that having the phones answered all day does is create the perception for callers that your office does have some sense of customer service value.

Any dental practice that has calls going to a message during business hours is simply “advertising” the fact that they [the dental practice] don’t understand the facts about service and supply and demand.

Back to the topic of lunches and lunch breaks…

The dentist wrote this:

“I have had a lot of turnover and staffing issues so the rules for lunches are getting more blurred. I take full responsibility for not clearly defining this in our handbook and I am looking to correct this. My fear is that if I cut their [staff] time for lunch, they will quit and that would be detrimental to my practice”

My thoughts:

A little bit of chicken and egg theory here… I think the handbook protocols for lunches need to be clearly defined and understood in the first instance to prevent any blurring occurring.

Secondly, staff need time that they can rely on receiving to be able to do errands, such as shopping or banking, or buy lunch. And these times need to be independent of practice “disruptions”.

So there needs to be purpose to the dental schedule to allow for staff to receive their entitled time. And an hour each is best for them.

Secondly, don’t jam your emergency time in immediately before lunch break. Never do that. Emergency time must be allocated to end at least one hour before lunch time.

My answer to the question was this:

“Stagger lunches so everybody can get an hour. End the morning with one hour appointments [not emergencies] so some team members can go early to lunch. Not all team members need to be present during that final hour of treatment.

Allow the late lunchers to take a full hour and return after the first afternoon patients have begun treatment. Again, with patients immediately  after lunch only requiring a check-in at the beginning of their appointment, the workload for team is less at that time.

Short lunches are one of the biggest gripes team members will have and hold against you and your practice… staff won’t mind working hard during their shift, so long as they can get an hour to go do what they need to do…”

Don’t be seen to be mean…

As an owner, making sure that your team all get a full hour each for lunch goes a long way to creating harmony and an enjoyable work environment.

Sure, staggered lunches do mean that some team members do not get to go to lunch together, but that’s a very small price to pay in a small business work environment.


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