Improving Mental Health in the Foodservice Industry

The foodservice industry can be mentally and physically tough; long hours, shift work, varying wages and stressful conditions. It’s no surprise that many people change industries after a few years. But with challenge comes opportunity, a chance to reshape and improve mental health in the foodservice industry, so that restaurant staff can emerge better than ever.  

Read on to find out how it’s on all of us to change the industry from within and how to make it happen.  

Bunch of people holding hands

Pressures of the Industry – Before, During and After COVID-19 

The foodservice industry has never been easy to work in, even before the added pressures of COVID-19. But in the aftermath of the global pandemic, surviving the foodservice industry has become even more of a challenge. In and outside of work, people are experiencing more anxiety, stress, grief and frustration than ever before; even just going to work means risking their health and wellness. Combined with the pressures of trying to eke out a living when more than 10,000 restaurants have closed their doors for good since March 2020, restaurant workers face more mental health issues than ever before and with no end in sight.  

As COVID-19 gradually eventually becomes a bad memory, we have already seen that there is no guarantee things will go back to normal. With so many restaurants shuttered and fewer people looking for work it will continue to be a difficult work environment for many restaurants.

Not to mention, with the economy on a downturn, people are also spending less on restaurants and takeout. Tips are often less generous, with food industry staff having to go above and beyond to make anywhere near what they used to. In fact, many hospitality industry workers also have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, which adds even more pressure and stress day-to-day.  

The reality is that the foodservice jobs that are often looked down upon are some of the most challenging jobs to have before, during and after COVID-19.  

Stigmas in the Food Service Industry  

There are many stigmas in the foodservice industry. You can easily picture the trope of the head chef screaming at their staff or the bartender swiping free liquor. But not all stigmas are so innocent: not only are foodservice employees often seen as less intelligent or hardworking than salaried employees but they’re also seen as partiers and unmotivated. While of course, this isn’t true, these stigmas can affect the mental health of foodservice workers and make a hard job even harder.  

Unfortunately, some stigmas do ring true, to the detriment of the mental and physical health of foodservice employees. The restaurant industry is the highest out of 19 other industries for drug use and the third highest for heavy alcohol consumption, according to this study. The harsh reality is that many in this industry turn to drugs and alcohol to cope and have trouble exiting the vicious cycle of addiction when constantly surrounded by more drugs, alcohol and partying.  

The stigma against talking about mental health issues is especially prevalent in the foodservice industry. The fast-paced industry and work-til-you-drop mentality leaves little room for discussion about mental health issues. The only way to fix this is to start opening up to each other.  

Listening, helping and talking

Resources for Mental Health 

With tipped service workers being more likely to develop a mental illness than those in non-tipped, salaried positions, it’s clear that there’s work to be done. But unfortunately, resources are few and far between and often prohibitively expensive for foodservice industry workers.  

While Canadians are lucky enough to have a publicly funded health care system, it typically does not cover therapy or mental health services, leaving Canadians to pay out of pocket for these services. If more restaurants and foodservice providers were able to offer mental health benefits for employees, it would go a long way towards improving mental health across the industry.  

There are also a number of organizations dedicated to improving mental health in the foodservice industry, including: 

     •  Mind the Bar 
     •  Fair Kitchens 
     •  The Dandelion Initiative  
     •  In the Weeds  

    Raising awareness of these organizations is critical to getting staff the help and resources they need. 

    Training Staff Members to Improve Mental Health Awareness 

    Change comes from the top down and the foodservice industry is no exception. When managers and restaurant owners demonstrate and encourage healthy behaviours, staff follow suit. The good news is that every restaurant can easily start to implement good habits and help their employees take care of their mental health starting today.  

    Training owners and managers to better respond to mental health issues and recognize the signs of anger, depression, and abuse among their employees is critical and can go a long way towards bettering the work environment for staff. Owners and managers can also be trained on how to create an open and safe workspace where it’s healthy to talk about their issues. It’s also important to train staff to ask for help and encourage them to prioritize their health and wellness. 

    Talking and training about mental health in the foodservice industry 

    Tips to Improve Mental Health in the Foodservice Industry 

    Whether you’ve experienced mental health issues in your job or witnessed them in someone else, there are plenty of steps you can take to improve work environments for everyone.  

    Eat well and regularly. Food is energy and we need to nourish our bodies to function at our best. When you’re too busy taking care of customers and their needs, it’s easy to neglect your own but this can exacerbate mental health issues. Owners and managers can set up regular team meals before or after shifts to help encourage healthy eating habits. 

    Exercise. Though you may be on your feet all day, regular exercise is still encouraged. It gives you a chance to work out frustration and stress and can be incredible for your mental health. Owners and managers can set up bike locks to encourage bike riding or offer a gym stipend in their benefits. 

    Breaks. It’s sometimes impossible to find time for a break in the foodservice industry, but even just 10-15 minutes can be a much needed reset and mental break. Restaurants should be ensuring all employees actually take their scheduled breaks. 

    Reduce drug and alcohol use. Even if you don’t have an issue with substance abuse and mental health issues, it’s no secret that drugs and alcohol aren’t great for your health, happiness, and wellness. Owners and managers should discourage after-work drinking and lead by example.  

    Create an open, two-way relationship with staff. Let them come to you with issues they’re facing and try to help them through it. Keep resources handy to guide them. Encourage staff to lean on each other as well when they need help; caring for each other and not just the restaurant’s guests is key to overcoming mental health stigmas.  

    Feed your passion. Pursuing interests outside of work gives you a mental break and fuels your happiness.  

    The very best thing everyone can do to improve mental health in the foodservice industry is simply to talk about it. Once it stops being a taboo topic, the stigma disappears and people will feel more comfortable getting the help they need.  

    To Go: Final Thoughts on Improving Mental Health in the Foodservice Industry 

    No restaurant is truly successful if its staff members are experiencing mental health issues and is considered a toxic work environment. Changing the industry needs to be a team effort; no one restaurant or establishment can do it alone, but each can make small but effective changes that add up to a better environment for all.  

    Written by River Street Writing

    Eggs marked with emotional expressions