How to deal with stress in a restaurant

Two smiling waiters in a restaurant
Two smiling waiters setting tables in a restaurant
Photo: DinnerBooking

Working in a restaurant is exciting and challenging, but it can also be stressful when the sauce is boiling over, and the orders keep rolling in. Learn how you and your team can help each other reduce the risk of stress and burnout.   

Constant stress doesn’t have to be an everyday reality  

In the aftermath of the pandemic lockdowns, many restaurants worldwide are understaffed. This means that the risk of work-related stress is even higher than it was before, but it doesn’t mean that constant stress is something restaurant managers and staff must accept and live with.

If a person’s stress levels are very high over a long period of time it can lead to a broad spectrum of negative physical and mental health issues.  

Getting rid of stress entirely isn’t possible but reducing it and making it less constant will give the brain and body a chance to catch up. Luckily, there are many things that can be done, and it’s not just about deep breaths and staying zen.  

Stress doesn’t always look like stress

Most of us think we know and recognise when we’re stressed. We even might feel we have a good sense of when those around us are stressed.

Nevertheless, stress can be sneaky and show up as symptoms that don’t feel or look like stress. Knowing how to discover signs of stress in yourself and others is key if you want to reduce stress in your restaurant team.   

According to WebMD, these are some of the most common symptoms of stress: 

Physical stress symptoms 

Less energy 

Tense muscles 

A faster heartbeat and chest pain 

Trouble sleeping 

Getting a cold or infection often 

Ringing in the ears

Cold or sweaty hands and feet 

Clenched jaw and teeth grinding 

Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing  

Emotional stress symptoms 

Feeling overwhelmed 

Finding it difficult to relax 

Overthinking  

Feeling sad and having low self-esteem 

Avoiding social interaction  

Becoming easily angry and frustrated 

Pay attention to your coworkers

If one of your coworkers starts showing signs of stress or changes behaviour, have a chat with them. Ask them if they’re okay and if there’s anything you can do. Naturally, stress isn’t always purely work-related, it can be a combination of many things adding up to too much.

No matter what the root of the problem is, it’s important to try to be as open about stress as possible. Personal things can remain personal, but if one restaurant staff member is feeling overwhelmed by the workload there’s a high risk the same is true or will be true for more than just one person.

Good mental health is the best starting point for being an efficient and happy restaurant worker. That’s why being open about stress is so important. Nobody should need to feel embarrassed about having stress symptoms.

Chefs plating burgers and salad with chips
Photo by Jesson Mata on Unsplash

Make sure everyone takes breaks 

Skipping the break can sometimes seem like the only way to get everything done in time. But even if it seems like a good idea here and now, it’s not good for health and business in the long run. Not having a break will eventually make everyone less efficient, irritated and unfocused.

Schedule breaks for everyone, and remind each other to take turns resting for 5 to 10 mins when it’s not too busy. These shorter breaks have a bigger impact on energy levels and mood than one might think. Pay attention to how you feel before and after a mini break. They really are important! 

If a big part of your restaurant’s staff is showing serious signs and symptoms of burnout, you could even consider closing on slower days. Data from restaurant analytics will tell you which days are the slowest, and although it can be a hard decision to make, staff health is important. There’s no way to run a successful restaurant when everyone’s energy levels are depleted. 

Shared staff meals and energy-boosting snacks 

Diet and stress are related but eating healthy is something we easily forget when we’re super busy. Too much sugar and empty calories will leave the mind and body more vulnerable to stress and fatigue. Naturally, a restaurant manager can’t decide what employees eat, but they can at least try to make sure energy-giving foods and snacks are available for everyone.  

Staff meals aren’t only about nutrients and energy, they’re also about sitting down together, whenever possible, to have a chat and a rest. In many restaurants, it can be difficult to find a time when everyone can sit down around a table, but it’s almost always possible to split up into smaller teams to enjoy a plate of stew or something from the menu.

Staff meals, or family meals, as they’re also called, will be moments everyone will look forward to. A great tradition that’s upheld by restaurants across the globe. There are even cookbooks full of family meal recipes from different restaurants, such as Come in We’re Closed by Christine Carroll, Jody Eddy and Ferran Adrià (El Bulli).  

Snacking throughout the day is another good way to keep the energy levels high. Have jars of almonds, peanut butter and crackers, fruit and other healthier snack choices somewhere that’s easy to access.

Make a refill schedule, so you’re all in charge of making sure the snacks don’t run out when everybody needs them the most!

Plan vacations and schedules 

Wall calendar with red pins
Photo: Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Not being able to make plans with friends and family can cause stress and uncertainty among the restaurant staff. If you’re a restaurant manager, your life will also be easier if you know when your waiters and chefs are considering a trip or are invited to a wedding. 

A restaurant is one of the most fast-paced work environments, and it’s easy to put aside administrative tasks and schedules during busy times, but pushing off these things can backfire.

Make sure to set a deadline for vacation and day-off wishes, so your staff gets a chance to pick the time they want. The same goes the other way, let your staff know in good time whether or not their wishes were approved. 

With a clear schedule and vacation plan, everyone is on the same page and can look forward to their trips and time off activities. One less thing to be concerned about means one less stress factor and happier restaurant staff.

Don’t let stress replace the good kind of busy 

After all the lockdowns during the last couple of years, we’re happy to see restaurants back in business! Guests are hungry for dining experiences, and that means busy restaurants with busy kitchens and busy floors.  

Restaurant work calls for multitasking skills and being able to work at a fast pace. This is also what makes it fun, dynamic and never boring. In other words, the good kind of busy, the kind that makes you remember why this world is your passion. Stress shouldn’t be allowed to ruin this feeling, and it won’t if you and your team work together to keep it in check!