Thursday 13 September, is 'R U OK? Day'.
By Jeremy Ryland
As you will be aware, this is a day to promote the “R U OK?” message (ruok.org.au) – the need to start a conversation to ensure everyone around you is OK. Last week we published the results of a survey by RU Ok? into hospitality workers - RU OK? encourages hospitality industry to look out for each other - which shows that we need to make time to talk to one another. Gault&Millau supports the work of RU OK? and other groups that support hospitality workers.
At Gault&Millau, we have our own community programme, called tête-à-tête. “Tête-à-tête” is French for “head to head”, which is about communication: one on one, sharing and confidential. And it is not just about mental health, but a forum for discussion about a range of issues affecting restaurants and their staff.
“Tête-à-tête” will be an initiative of Gault&Millau to encourage chefs, restaurateurs and food professionals to talk openly about daily issues, industry problems, their own problems and share their fears as well, as their ways of coping or addressing the problems. Building trust and open discussion will help to remove the stigma and unease of mental health, as well as other issues such as underpaying staff, finding good service staff, dealing with bad reviews etc.
This is something we will do through our newsletters, Mise en Place forums and other initiatives, such as “Cheers to the Chef” (coming soon).
Running and working in restaurants is tough. The hours are long and unsociable. Most kitchens are “pressure cookers” fueled by stress and adrenalin. You have 250 guests, you are short on fresh fish, the dishwasher is not working, a service person has not turned up and the sous chef has just cut her hand. Failure is not an option. Hospitality employs a wide range of people of all ages and passions who work long hours. Dealing with customers is stressful. Running a restaurant is the only industry in which you are criticised, compared, scored and scrutinised – every day.
Chefs tend to be perfectionists. They are competitive. They take criticism hard. Depression and anxiety are well-known issues in the hospitality industry. Long hours, sleep deprivation, isolation and easy access to alcohol and other drugs takes its toll.
Stress and mental health problems affect one in three people. Yet it still has a negative stigma. And chefs are not known for sharing their fears and anxieties. Several high-profile and many other unknown chefs have taken their own lives in recent times. The crazy-tough macho image portrayed by Marco Pierre White, Gordon Ramsay and others still simmers away in many kitchens, but it is changing. It is important to normalise the conversation and treat the problems like any other medical issue, like a broken arm. Mental health issues can be managed like any other condition.
So, here are a few things you can do to encourage good communication within your establishment:
· Regular start meetings – these not only ensure your staff know what is on the menu today but also ensure everyone is included.
· Train to connect, communicate and to care – with guests and co-workers.
· Encourage staff to ask for help if they need it: long days and the pressure of the kitchen can be a badge of honour. Make sure there is support.
· Give new staff a “mentor” to help them settle in and appoint a “wingman” to each and everyone to support one another.
· Long hours are a fact of life but make sure staff take breaks and have some “me time” off.
· Stress and adrenaline are also commonplace in a busy kitchen – balance this with praise and positive feedback.
· Encourage everyone to get exercise, sleep and eat healthy food: provide healthy meals if you can.
· Provide quiet spots where staff can escape, sit, relax and recharge.
· If you see someone struggling, don’t criticise. Instead, ask them if they need help.
· Start a conversation.
· Identify the issues that are causing stress.
· LISTEN without judgement, but don’t try to problem solve. Encourage action. If things are serious, advise them to seek professional help. And check back soon to see how they are travelling.
· Happy staff promote good service which in turn creates happy customers.
Remember, every day is the day to ask, “Are you OK?”