Catering for mental health in the hospitality industry

May 24 2022

White curve
Many people in the hospitality industry struggle with mental health problems. Our guest blogger, Sam Harrison, is a restaurateur and longstanding supporter of CWT.

I think there is a huge demand for eating out at the moment and good restaurants have never been so busy – I think some of this is still pent-up post pandemic demand. At the same time, the shortage of staff and people wanting to work in hospitality is the worst I have ever known it. I have been working in restaurants for 33 years and never known anything like it.

Much of this is the perfect storm of Brexit and the pandemic. However, I also think a lot of people don’t want to work the long hours, nights and weekends. It is very hard and physical work – that’s just hospitality. It is also hugely rewarding and satisfying – though you have to accept that it’s hard on social life and family life. But if you are good at your job in hospitality you will never be out of work and you can use it to travel the world. 

I think customers are probably suffering a lot from stress themselves and often bring this to our restaurant, Sam's Riverside – we can see this in the way they behave and speak to the team. This is only a small number, but it is definitely on the increase. We always treat our guests with care and dignity and I worry it doesn’t always reflect back.

 

My small team are having to work extra hours and shifts to cover the gaps. Also, because we are busier than we have ever been, the shifts themselves are physically and mentally more taxing. I have never had so many staff wanting to talk to me about mental health concerns, the stresses of life in general, 

London living and financial concerns. Currently two full-time members of the team have had to take time away from work because they are finding it so tough. This of course then puts more pressure on the rest of the team. These are very difficult times for many people.

We try and provide as much support as possible. I am always here to talk and help, and I hold regular ‘drop in’ chat sessions. We provide access to a wellbeing app; we have set up an employee assistance programme with external support and counselling; and we point staff towards the Charlie Waller Trust and your online support. I am also training as a mental health first aider. But the main thing is to try and get the right work/life balance for our team – though there will always be long hours – and to achieve this we need more staff members.

When I had two restaurants in 2014, I had a mental breakdown and had to spend some time in hospital. The pressure of running two places and the hours involved eventually took its toll. I had to take some good time away from the business. 

The problem is that this business is always full on and always a little pressurised by nature. I have learnt so much about myself and about dealing with depression and anxiety. I have learnt to see the signs of when I am spiralling out of control and I think I know how to ask for help and to use coping mechanisms. I hope it also makes me more sympathetic towards my team and their own problems. We all try to support each other. It’s the only way, I believe.

I worry that there is a whole generation of people who don’t want to work in the business. I feel they are missing out on the wonderful world of hospitality and the career it can provide. I think wellbeing and work life balance is so important, alongside all the rewards and benefits that hard work can bring.

We have to look after our bodies and our minds. We have to nourish them and care for them. I think it is finding what works for you, but I talk to my team about food, sleep and fitness. It’s so important to find your own way to relax and destress. For me I find exercise and fresh air very important, alongside some very watchable ‘switch off’ telly!

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