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Stress and Mental Health in Hospitality

17 May 2018

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and one industry that struggles to deal with mental health issues is ours – the restaurant industry. Cin Cin founder David Toscano believes it’s time for everyone in this business to open up, so he’s written the following piece about his own experiences and how Cin Cin is trying to tackle this issue.

Restaurants are fun and exciting places to visit. It’s what customers expect. A jolly little place where you can put down your worries of the week and be looked after by someone else. Even the term itself – restaurant – refers to the restorative powers of great food and attentive service.

But restaurants are also stressful places to work. In the short time I have been in this business, I have seen some pretty obvious red flags of people struggling to deal with the pressure of working in hospitality. Those struggles have ranged right across the spectrum of stress from fatigue and exhaustion, to heated and sometimes explosive arguments, to walk outs from those who refuse to try to cope any longer and regular drinking from those who decide that is the only way they can get through.

There are many reasons why restaurants are stressful. No matter how calm we may look during your meal, this is a difficult industry to work in both physically and mentally, and a tough business to make money from. Don’t get me wrong, we love this industry and it is a privilege to be working on something everyday that people take joy from. But there are a few obvious issues that, to me, are feeding into people’s stress and anxiety, and the hospitality industry has been slow to talk about.

So I am hoping through this short piece I can start a conversation with the fantastic restaurateurs, chefs, waiters and kitchen porters of Brighton to shine a light on this issue during Mental Health Awareness Week and help anyone I can.

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Firstly, we have tried to tackle long hours and exhaustion at Cin Cin.  We open five days a week, giving everyone a full two-day weekend over Sunday/Monday. We also rota staff on for no more than 8 services a week. This helps keep maximum hours to 45 per week and we can track that through an app that records hours in real time so we can see when they might be fatigued and can challenge that.

Overworking and exhaustion has a real impact on work-life balance. It often means partners of those in the industry bear the brunt of the long hours we all put in. It can lead to accidents in the workplace, which are a real risk to both staff and customers, and extended periods of stress and pressure can lead to anxiety and depression. The best way for us to combat this is by keeping a close eye on hours worked and to take a personal approach to management so that those who need an arm around the shoulder rather than a verbal kick up the bum, get that. TV has glamourised the shouting head chef that gets food out by pressuring his team and while those chefs still exist, they are definitely in decline, and rightly so.

We are also trying to make hospitality more of a career than a job. All restaurants are struggling with recruitment and retention of staff. We believe a big driver of that is the way people perceive the industry as being strictly hierarchical and getting results through fear rather than encouragement and development. It’s also clear that there are a lot of thwarted ambitions lying on the floors of restaurants where people are held back until they ‘earn their stripes’. To combat this, we are trying to set personal milestones for each of our staff so that they have input into the direction of their career and hopefully through that collaborative approach, they feel more included in our decisions and therefore stay in this industry longer.

Finally, we try to make it clear that our staff and how we each treat each other is the highest priority in the business. Before customers, before suppliers, before profit, before everything. It sounds silly but hospitality itself can be addictive and it is very easy in this job to give everything you have to make customers happy while not looking after yourself or looking out for your colleagues. That only leads back to stress, anxiety, exhaustion and depression. And we cannot have empathy for or be hospitable to our customers if we do not first care for the team of people who make it all happen day in day out. That goes from the managers and head chef to the kitchen brigade and waiters to the kitchen porters and those ever-valuable irregular staff who fill in a shift when you get caught short.

Restaurants are both enjoyable and stressful places to work. Sometimes those stresses get missed and they manifest in behaviour that can be a risk to a staff member and those around them. I don’t have all the answers but I am hoping that this little piece during Mental Health Awareness Week starts a conversation and brings us all closer to a calmer and happier hospitality industry.

Join the conversation on our Twitter or Facebook, if you work in a restaurant, let us know about your experiences and how you think our industry can tackle the issues of mental health.


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