Last week’s abrupt closure of Natural Cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo was a shock to longtime customers of the 13-year-old business, which specialized in healthy food and drew many vegans and vegetarians.
Even worse, the shutdown also caught the staff off guard. An employee of the Higuera Street restaurant told Tribune reporter Nick Wilson that the staff of about 20 workers only learned about the closing March 27, the same day the business closed.
A vice president for the Central Coast chain — there are nine other Natural Cafe locations in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties — said employees weren’t given more notice because it can be difficult to get workers to show up for their shifts once an imminent closure is announced.
Giving employees little or no warning of a shutdown is a somewhat common practice in the restaurant business. Unlike retail businesses, restaurants typically have no inventory to liquidate, so there’s no need to keep employees around for going-out-of-business sales.
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A few years back, the Sacramento Business Journal reported on a spate of restaurants that closed without giving employees prior notice.
“I don’t think they’re intending to make the consumer and the public angry,” a restaurant consultant told the Business Journal. “It doesn’t mean that they don’t take care of their staff. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.”
This isn't just happening in California; the internet is full of similar reports of sudden restaurant closures across the country.
“While it seems very harsh, the owners typically will close the restaurant without telling any of the employees,” a columnist wrote in the Pensacola News Journal, a Florida newspaper.
Sorry, but we don’t like it.
Just because it’s an accepted business practice — and perfectly legal, though there are laws requiring large companies to notify employees of mass layoffs — doesn’t make it OK.
It’s considered good form for employees to give their employers two weeks notice. If at all possible, employers should extend the same courtesy to their workers, especially if they’ve been loyal employees for several years, as was the case with some of the staff at Natural Cafe.
It’s hard enough being laid off, but to have a job one day and not the next — and through no fault of your own — makes it far worse.