For years, the Muslim employees at Gramercy Tavern in New York brought their own food from home to break their fast together during the month of Ramadan. This year, however, the fine-dining restaurant, one of nine concepts operated by Union Square Hospitality Group, is not only allowing the men to take time off the floor to eat, but also is providing the meal at least once a week. During Ramadan, a time of self-sacrifice and spiritual reflection, observant Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. Because Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar, the timing of the month changes from year to year on the Gregorian calendar. This year Ramadan falls while it is still daylight-saving time. The Muslim employees, about a dozen immigrants from Bangladesh, miss the employee meal offered before the restaurant opens, and instead are eating around 7:30 p.m., just as the restaurant is getting busy. But providing the meal and the time for the employees to practice their faith has proven to be a worthwhile sacrifice for the restaurant, said general manager Kevin Mahan.
What does the rest of the staff do while the Muslim employees are breaking their fast?
Everyone on the team knows when it’s time to break the fast at sundown, and they step up and pick up the pace for these guys while they are downstairs in the prep kitchen breaking their fast. For the eight years I’ve been here, it’s never been an issue. No one has said this is not fair. We’ve never had to speak about it. It’s a great group effort.
How do you foster such understanding?
You have to understand and appreciate what employees’ interests are outside the restaurant, whether it’s a book they are writing, an audition, a painting or a religion. We tell them, “Whatever is important to you is important to us.” If an employee has the audition of his life coming up, we’ll cover his shift or help him get it covered.
How does that help the restaurant?
When you show you care what’s important to them, they care about what’s important to you, whether it’s how the tables are set up or how the food is delivered. Our philosophy is to embrace the passion and dreams of everybody on our team, instead of fighting them, which is what a lot of places do.