I have been asked to provide potential solutions for a generations long dilemma in the hospitality industry, a dilemma that has resulted in physical, mental, and emotional burnout and even a dependence on drugs and alcohol to serve as a band-aid for the wounds that are formed. 

“My question to you is, how will management of Restaurants, Clubs and Hotels try to provide a sense of balance and wellbeing for the chefs who have the history of working from dawn until well into the night, six and sometimes seven days a week.
There has been much talk during the pandemic of all the hours chefs work, the drug and alcohol issues but I have not seen much if any solutions for helping to provide the balance necessary for staff to have a better mental attitude towards work and to not become dependent on the substances surrounding them.  I thought you would be a great colleague to ask.”

*The reality is that there is no quick fix for a challenging situation that points fingers back to a variety of culprits.  Certainly, one could say that the nature of the industry is such that excessive hours and stress are the nature of the beast.  Some point to the industry itself as the primary culprit – an industry of service that rarely rests and job descriptions for a number of positions that are close to impossible to adequately fulfill – thus, chefs and managers have no real choice but to invest an obscene amount of time on the job in an attempt to meet the demands.  Is there truth to this?  Of course, this is true so what is the solution?


Yes, the hospitality industry has plenty of responsibility for this situation that can only be resolved through teaching and training managers and chefs to be more efficient with their time, able to discover how to prioritize their tasks and learn when and how some of this work can trickle down to other staff members.  Truly understanding what each position should focus on is essential rather than simply assuming that managers and chefs are responsible for everything and rely on their ability to determine how to approach the job.  The best managers, and the most effective chefs are the ones who hire competent people, train them, encourage them, and delegate what is best suited to their position.  The manager or the chef should, wherever possible, be the conductor of the orchestra, not a person trying to play every instrument.

*Others may point to overly demanding owners and operators who expect that a salary paid infers that managers and chefs must be present whenever the restaurant or hotel is open for business.  “The buck stops here” is, in some people’s minds – carte blanche to use and abuse employees in certain positions.  Is this true?  Of course, there are examples of owners and operators who expect blood, sweat, and tears for the salary offered.  Even though there are parameters, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and a number of State Labor Departments that limit this type of thinking – there is no denying that it does exist.  So, what’s the solution?


Ultimately, owners and operators care about results.  Whether it is product quality, brand image, smooth operation of a department, or profit to budget realities – this is what drives the train.  Those operators who simply hire for key positions and allow that person to determine how to proceed without clearly defining objectives and training these managers how best to approach them will always be pushing the ball up a hill and will simply rely on chefs and managers to be present as a way to assess their effectiveness.  “The quality of your food wasn’t there last night – where were you?”  “You missed your budgeted profit again and your food cost was too high – why weren’t you here for every shift last week?”  “Occupancy rates are way down – what have you been doing?”  Effective managers need to understand the: what, why and how outcomes are determined – hire and train the right people, delegate responsibility and measure results against owner expectations. 

*Some may point a finger at customers who seem to have unfulfilled expectations of excellence that require the presence of the manager or chef.  If the restaurant or hotel is open, then this level of management must be present to ensure adherence to standards and solve problems when they arise.  Is there truth to this?  Yes, of course there is truth to this expectation – unrealistic as it may be – the customer does feel that the manager or chef must be there for the business to operate.  So, what is the solution?


Customers don’t understand how their food or how a hotel room is prepared for their enjoyment – they really only care about the results: clean room, everything in working order, key works, meal is well prepared, service is courteous and efficient, and value is evident.  When this does not occur, then they are looking for resolution – this is when the presence of a chef or manager seems to be front and center in their minds. 

A well-run hotel or restaurant meets or exceeds standards regardless of a manager’s presence.  This is the result when there are well-designed systems in place, when everyone knows their job and how it relates to outcomes, when staff members are trained how to problem solve, and recognition of properly executed work is a standard operating procedure.  Finally, measuring customer satisfaction/dis-satisfaction and building effective recovery strategies is paramount to helping managers and chefs feel comfortable when they are present or absent.  When employees are allowed to own a problem, are trained to effectively deal with the problem, and are encouraged to make decisions then the need for excessive, super-human efforts from any one employee is diminished.

*Finally, there are some who point the finger directly at the people in question (chefs and managers).  I have found that in numerous professions there are individuals who view what they do as being synonymous with their own self-worth.  They are chefs, managers, doctors and nurses, lawyers, owner/operators, scientists, artists, financial planners and investment bankers, writers and reporters, carpenters, and administrators who do what they do because they love the work or feel the need to constantly prove themselves.  These individuals rarely work the hours they do because someone schedules them to do so, they work excessive hours and take on the stress of meeting objectives because that’s who they are.  These individuals do not understand how to say “no” to any request, have a difficult time accepting anything produced by another person because it doesn’t meet their personal standards. These are obsessive people who tend to gravitate to the positions that provide ample opportunity for self-abuse.  As an example – I have never met a chef who works a schedule that someone else has created.  They work, what they feel they need to work to be able to look themselves in the mirror and say: “I did all that I could”.  Furthermore, since the answer to this mirror question is inevitably: “No, I could do more”, the cycle continues.  So, what is the answer?


Type A individuals (most chefs and managers) are oftentimes less confident than one might assume.  They have a difficult time backing away from a request even if they know how difficult it might be to get the expected results.  The way that some will deal with this situation is to simply invest more time, assuming that less will go wrong if they are there.  Insecurity is rarely resolved by working harder – resolution comes from working smarter.  This requires, again, lots of training, mentoring, coaching, encouragement to delegate and train others to take on many tasks and showing managers and chefs how to trust good employees to do the right thing.  Even with all of these tools in place- Type A individuals will need help in breaking bad habits and learning how to step away.  Helping them create other diversions in their lives will help to some degree: providing them with a gym membership, enrolling them in a class, insisting that they attend conferences and workshops, encouraging them to coach a little league team, insisting that they take days off and vacations, or scheduling them to provide some type of community service will help to take their mind away from the everyday nature of their positions.

I don’t have the solutions to these challenges that restaurants and their employees face.  It is the responsibility of everyone involved to recognize it and collectively work to save good employees from the dangers of single-minded workaholism.  When individuals are pushed past their threshold of tolerance then they may look for unhealthy ways of dealing with their physical, mental, or emotional stress. 


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