Prioritize Your Wellness
Taking steps to add balance to your life is imperative in the restaurant business.
Whether it’s doing yoga to ease body aches after a long day of work, practicing meditation to ease the mind or taking a break from drinking, putting your mental and physical wellness first has become a priority for many.
“I came up in the restaurant business when it was the norm to reward the staff with a drink at the end of a shift,” says Chicago’s Urbanbelly owner Bill Kim. “I was never a fan of this and never adopted that practice as a leader and business owner. I’ve witnessed first-hand the negative consequences and how people slowly start to lose control.”
Kim’s wife, Yvonne, introduced him to transcendental meditation a few years ago to help with stress reduction and relaxation. He started practicing daily, and it had a profound impact on him.
“My sleep improved, my creativity soared, and I’m better prepared to deal with the challenges that come up on a daily basis with greater awareness of the present moment,” he says.
Kim also suggests finding hobbies outside of restaurant life and also says you need to take care of your physical body, too. Get a good pair of shoes with custom orthotics and see a chiropractor. And force yourself to get some rest.
As a manager, that point is key for Mark Schettler, general manager at Bar Tonique in New Orleans, where 10-hour shifts aren’t unheard of. He limits his staff to three shifts a week. He also offers health insurance and PTO, and encourages people to take mental health days.
“I want people to look forward to coming to work and not have it grind them down,” Schettler says. “I want to make sure you have a full life, so you’re not living to work, but working to live.”
That’s what Cleetus Friedman, executive chef of Chicago’s Kitchfix, focuses on. In August 2018, a month before his wedding, he stopped drinking. He realized how much better he felt, so he stayed on the wagon and put his energy into working out.
“You need to find a healthy cycle,” Friedman says. “After work, find a way to unwind: yoga, meditation, exercise. There are ways to blow off steam. You have to change your culture—and if you’re in a management role, it’s important to set that culture and not buy a round of shots at the end of the shift.”
The restaurant industry can be tough on people and can produce toxic environments that cause people to drink and do drugs. It doesn’t have to be that way. No one needs to feel like they’re going through it alone. Marc Jacksina, executive sous chef at Southminster Retirement Community in Charlotte, N.C., and host of the “Order/Fire” docuseries, reminds people to check on co-workers instead of telling them to simply, “Tough it out.”
“You can’t keep piling everything on one side of a seesaw, mentally or physically, and not expect to create a slide that goes straight to the bottom or a steep hill to climb,” Jacksina says. “As a chef, understanding the importance of balancing unctuousness with acid, soft with crunch seems intrinsic. Balancing work and life? Not so easy.”