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5 Tips for Promoting Work Life Balance in the Restaurant Industry

Wondering how to help your kitchen staff avoid mental burnout? Here’s how to maintain work life balance in the restaurant industry.

Running a restaurant is tough and burnout amongst staff is common.

Restaurant jobs aren’t for the faint of heart. Kitchens bring on the heat and pressure and not only for the food. Staff burnout and mental health issues are rampant in the hospitality world. Restaurant owners and managers must form a tight bond with their crew to foster a healthy (and sane) work environment. If you want to protect yourself and your staff, you need to help everyone maintain a work life balance in the restaurant industry.

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These days mental health is a high priority in much of the business world. We hear a lot about team building, taking breaks, and maintaining staff morale. Yet, for many restaurateurs, chefs, and staff, work life balance in the restaurant industry remains a topic on the back burner. Commercial kitchens are intense places filled with heat, pressure, and stress. If there’s no outlet, your business will eventually suffer.

Over the past few years, the industry has seen several high profile suicides and deaths. Emotions run high in the kitchen (just watch any kitchen reality show) and the pressure for perfection is often too much. Combined with a hedonistic environment and constant access to alcohol, drugs, and unhealthy foods, it’s no wonder the culinary industry is boiling over.

Maintaining a work life balance in the restaurant industry is no easy task. As a restaurant owner, you’re often focused on the logistics of operating a business—food costing, customer service, innovative and new approaches to dining. The last thing on your mind is how everyone in the kitchen is “feeling.” Yet, the health and stability of your staff can’t be understated. A happy healthy kitchen will help your restaurant become more successful. Here’s how to avoid burnout for yourself and amongst your staff.

5 Secrets for A Work Life Balance in the Restaurant Industry

1. Lead a Healthy Work Environment

The most important part of running any successful restaurant business is effective management. As the owner, work life balance for you and your staff begins with YOU. Practice what you preach by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and caring for yourself first and foremost.

It’s important to recognize the impact running a restaurant has on your entire life. Restaurants typically run long hours and have a way of consuming every aspect of your everyday life if you’re not careful. This is an industry of margins, and the need to be constantly diligent takes its toll. A study conducted by PCMA found 38% of people with demanding jobs like hospitality missed important life events and moments due to poor work-life balance. This pressure impacts family life, support systems, and friendships.

Touch Bistro said, “While there is a myriad of more statistics that prove work life balance is necessary, it’s no secret the consequences of a work-work majority are detrimental to any business: burnout, employee dissatisfaction, resentment, high turnover.” Again, proving a healthy work life balance is essential and beneficial for your business, for you and for your employees.

This means, maintain your own health and check in regularly. Make time off a priority, schedule breaks, and vacations. Allow your staff to do the same. Nickle and diming PTO may seem important to a tight bottom line, but a refreshed, healthy staff will be more productive and happier. You are literally investing in the wellbeing of your staff and yourself, so you can continue to do a great job in the future.

2. Create a Clear Restaurant Culture

Are you running Hell’s Kitchen? It may be time to pull back on the reins a little and examine the culture you promote within your establishment. Many restaurant owners are focused on the external aspects of their restaurant culture, from the food to décor, but are you focused on the culture behind the scenes as well?

One of the running jokes in the restaurant industry is chain restaurants that promote their “happy staff” are often filled with demoralized workers who don’t care about their “15 pieces of flair.” It’s important that the culture permeates not just the look of your restaurant and customer perception, but your kitchen as well.

A clean eating restaurant may be focused on healthy dishes, but does your staff embrace the healthy lifestyle? Include your most popular dishes during family meal (an important bonding time for kitchen staff) so they can see what all the fuss is about. Get your waitstaff stoked about your great farm to table ingredients by letting them sample the best of the best. Meet with new purveyors and include all your staff in the discussion.

Never forget, the restaurant industry is all about the dining experience for your customers, but a positive staff experience is important as well. Maintaining a work life balance in the restaurant industry means keeping your team energized and excited about their work.

Your kitchen and front of the house must function together as teams. The kitchen can’t be about barking orders and rushing through service. Cultivate a culture of comradery and connections. Not only will your staff be happier, but this happy culture will be apparent to diners as well.

3. Cross Train All Staff Members

Restaurant success often depends on consistency. Maintaining consistency depends on cross-training your staff.  Now, that doesn’t mean your dishwasher is going to fill in for your head chef, or your bartender will jump on the line. Cross training simply gives everyone a chance to walk in the shoes of their coworker (and truth be told, in a pinch you may discover your dishwasher can run the fryer just as well as your line cook).

Your restaurant probably feels very different during lunch than it does during dinner service. It’s easy for everyone to fall into their various roles and familiar tasks. But a lunch customer should get the same quality service and dish, whether they order it at noon or at 6pm.  If you have multiple sous chefs, it’s especially important that they cross train.

The other benefit of cross training is that your staff (and even you) may be able to take a well-deserved vacation now and again. Vacations and days off are key to maintaining a work life balance in the restaurant industry. Don’t skimp because you’re too dependent on your maître d to give him or her a day away from the door. You may burn your key staff out completely and lose them once and for all.

Establish clear training procedures to properly cross train your staff. Rotate them into different roles occasionally and ensure there’s more than one person who knows how to do every job from washing dishes to mixing martinis.

4. Learn How to Delegate

One of the most important words for maintaining work life balance in the restaurant industry is DELEGATION. You’re only one person and the fact of the matter is, you can’t do it all yourself! It’s vital to the success of your business to learn when to hand off tasks to free up your time. Management and leadership should do the same.

The ability to delegate tasks when a manager is away or an issue arises will save you from certain disaster. There are many tasks to juggle in a restaurant. The pressure for perfection that drives food service also promotes a “do it yourself” attitude. There’s no better way to burn out than to think you’re the only person who can do it all.

Delegating tasks is a key trait of effective leadership. Sharing responsibilities not only prevents stress and burnout, but it helps every single person feel their contributions are important and needed.  In fact, an experiment conducted by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found, “Delegation is closely related to empowerment. People experience psychological empowerment when they feel responsible for meaningful tasks. They also feel empowered when they believe they are competent and make a difference.”

This study proved the immense benefits of delegation. Not only does this study show delegating tasks improves productivity but it’s also clear delegation done right “motivates subordinates to enhance their skills and expertise.”

If you want to promote leadership in the kitchen, give your staff MORE responsibility. Let them take on new tasks and help shoulder the workload.

5. Set Goals and Celebrate Success

It’s important for most people to evolve and grow in their jobs. In fact, many employees leave a job if they feel their growth and professional development has reached a standstill. This is particularly true for the restaurant industry. A big part of growth is seeing successes and setting tough-but-attainable goals.

When we set goals, we see successes and wins. Those successes should be celebrated and promoted to help build your team morale and form even stronger bonds. For example, setting a monthly customers served goal, aiming to reach a certain cash flow number, or striving to cut restaurant costs are great attainable goals for building work morale. Achieving your smaller, more realistic goals on a monthly basis will allow you to regularly celebrate wins and acknowledge your team for their hard work.

Another reason to set realistic goals for your staff is to connect and bond together. In the long hours of a commercial kitchen, you spend the majority of your time with the people you work with. Your coworkers often become like family and it’s one of the aspects of the hospitality industry that really draws people to restaurant jobs. Working together as one to meet certain standards or achieve a goal will help further nurture and develop these close work relationships. Goals really promote a team spirit.

Successes help ease the demands of the high-pressure kitchen. If you’re looking to promote better work life balance in the restaurant industry, helping your staff set goals and celebrate wins will bring on the positivity. Keep your kitchen culture thriving and growth-oriented. Not only will your staff be better off, but your customers will also benefit.

Preventing burnout for restaurant staff is a tall order, but it’s achievable with the right approach. The kitchen is busy and intense, but also exciting. Help your staff find success in hospitality by promoting a healthy work life balance in the restaurant industry!


Featured image via Pxhere. All images licensed for use via Pxhere and Pixabay licensing.

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