A few weeks ago I witnessed Brad work around 90 hours in the week leading up to Mother's Day. As a chef, he has always worked long hours, stood for long days side by side with other soldiers in the kitchen, giving his all in the pursuit of perfection on the plate, aiming to please our guests. Its part of the job he says, it’s the norm .
I think he is one of the few people I know that truly feels fulfilled by his job and he has done so throughout his career. He is so passionate about food and he’s truly dedicated to his craft, often making personal sacrifices in order to deliver the perfect guest experience.
The pursuit of perfection comes at a cost and I have recently come to realise that the biggest sacrifice in hospitality is personal health and well being. This was particularly evident in the week leading up to Mother’s Day, with everyone working to a deadline to be ready for one of the biggest days of the year in the restaurant world. The pressure was palpable and I witnessed it first hand amongst our team. I also observed that whilst this type of teamwork is critical to the success of a business like ours, our culture of “ camaraderie” also has a flip side in that no-one would have even considered to call in sick, regardless of how ill they felt, for fear of “ letting down the team”.
This is a highly charged emotional industry that thrives on pressure. Both chefs and Front Of House staff will tell you that they love the adrenalin buzz of a busy service. However the long term effects of this relentless pressure, which is reinforced by increasing customer expectations and fuelled by the growth of social media, is starting to become more evident. Add to the mix the lack of available staff in the sector meaning long hours, isolation, lack of sleep and leading to increased drug and alcohol abuse – its clear to see we are an industry in crisis. I have been reflecting on this over the past few weeks and todays news that Anthony Bourdain committed suicide has resonated deeply with me . His book "Kitchen Confidential" was his professional memoir and a behind-the-scenes look at restaurant kitchens. He exposed the dark side of hospitality and provided insightful and humorous anecdotes whilst detailing some of his personal misdeeds and weaknesses, including drug use. It was probably the first book that really highlighted the underbelly of our industry.
It's made me realise that as hospitality employers, it is critical that employee welfare is at the forefront of our business. It is evident that there are health risks associated with this sector, particularly with regards to mental health and as such we need to ensure that we are doing everything we can to limit these risks. Just as we do as parents, we need to lead by example and support our employees while they tackle this tricky equation of dedicating themselves to this high pressure industry, coping with it's demands and try to balance their work and life balance. This is to ensure that in the future, there are less cases like Anthony Bourdain, who has given so much to this industry, but tragically at such a personal cost.